Growing up by the Atlantic Ocean in Southern Brazil, surfing has been a big part of who I am since I was born. After spending many years living in places like California and Australia—where surfing is part of the status quo—I found myself living on the shores of a pristine but flat lake in Toronto. I spent my first couple years struggling with the lack of surfing here, until I went on a trip to The Bahamas. While surfing one of the few established breaks there, I met a stoked surfer in the line-up who was from Toronto. He turns to me and asks ‘do you surf on the lakes’? And my immediate response was ‘you can’t surf on a lake!’ He assured me I could and advised me to look further. Challenged by that encounter, I returned to Canada and began researching surfing on the Great Lakes.
Having left all my surfboards in Brazil and California, I found myself a board that would work for the lakes and set out to find the waves. I started following a couple online discussion boards and read somewhere there would be waves in Kincardine, ON over the weekend. I packed my car and drove for 3.5 hours until I got to a beautiful sand beach that looked much like the ocean, and there I encountered my first lake waves. Not only that, but I met the most stoked and welcoming surf community I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. From that moment forward, my life would change completely. After endless hours of trying to understand the science of wave generation on the Great Lakes, and multiple 3-hour drives to beaches searching for waves and finding a flat lake, I finally figured it out. I had become a Great Lake surfer.
After surfing here for a few months, I began to notice the growth in the community. I also noticed people wanting to get started here and not having access to the knowledge and training required to surf on the lakes. I lost count of how many times I saw people putting their lives at risk without fully understanding the dangers of our rip tides. This was a sign that something was happening here and there was a need for education. Having taught many friends how to surf throughout my life, I decided to go to Costa Rica to take an open water rescue course, and also took a Surf & Standup Paddle Boarding (SUP) instructor course organized by the International Surfing Association. That’s how Surf the Greats was born. Since then, I have been teaching surfing and SUP here on the lakes and abroad. I have also created a Forecasting Workshop to teach people how to predict waves and how to practice the sport safely. To give back to the environment, I have been organizing beach cleanups with other organizations and members of our community.
That same community that received me with open arms, is the community we are growing and nurturing in a sustainable way. We are setting the standards for safety and surfing education on the Great Lakes, and want to continue collaborating with other companies, organizations, and individuals to affect change. As well as targeting the recreational water user level, we also work closely with policy makers to ensure our lakes remain swimmable, drinkable, fishable, and surfable for generations to come. We have created a strong online presence to connect the different surf communities from all over the Great Lakes, while putting the lakes in the global surf map. Through this community, we are coming across surfers, photographers, filmmakers, artists, environmentalists and surfing enthusiasts to collaborate on a variety of projects. The short documentary by Jake Kovnat ‘On Days Like These We Must Surf’ is a great example of that. I hope you enjoy this snapshot of the community on the lakes.
Director: Jake Kovnat
Cinematographer: Kris Bonnell
Editor: Andrew De Zen
Produced by: Skin & Bones Film Co.
Music by: The Junction
Stills: Jordan Fritz