Great Lakes surfers come to play in Terrace Bay, Ont.
The feeling of catching a wave is like flying, say Great Lakes surfing enthusiasts
Think of surfing, and you might conjure up images of a sunny oceanside beach in California, or Hawaii.
But for Chris Dube, a Great Lakes surfing enthusiast living in the small town of Terrace Bay, Ont., on the north shore of Lake Superior, nothing says 'surfs up' like a cloudy, blustery, cool day in late fall.
"In the fall, the winds are up, it's raining ... That's the time I want to be outside, on the water, catching waves," said Dube, who took up Great Lakes surfing about a decade ago, when he moved to Terrace Bay.
On the weekend, Dube hosted a first-time gathering that brought Great Lakes surfers from various points across northern Ontario, and from as far away as Winnipeg, together for a weekend meant to celebrate the sport, and to strengthen bonds within the lake surfing community. On an overcast Saturday they gathered at Hydro Bay, a scenic, horseshoe shaped sandy beach that Dube lovingly refers to as a "bathtub for angels."
He called the event, which drew about 40 people that day, Waasaashkaa.
"The name means 'the lake has whitecaps,'" in Ojibway, he said, and on Lake Superior, late fall and early winter are the best time to catch them.
That is, if you can.
Sport takes strength, patience, 'years of practice'
"I'm not going to lie to you. It's the hardest sport I've ever done," said Dube. "It takes years of practice ... especially on a lake." He added that the season is mainly confined to September, October, November and December, when the waves are best.
That's why a Great Lakes surfer is always ready to jump in, he said. "You basically have to make it your number one priority. Drop everything, when the waves are up, you're out there."
If I was able to fly, that's what I would picture it to be, that feeling- Nicole Strong
Nicole Strong first learned to surf in Terrace Bay about 10 years ago on a "blistery, snowy day." A lover of the lake, she couldn't resist the opportunity to get out in the water in the fall and winter.
"It was just so amazing to be out in the water when it was so cold out," she said. "and wind was blowing in your face, but yet you're playing in the water. You're toasty warm, playing around in the waves of Superior."
The experience left her muscles aching for days, but it was all worth it for the momentary feeling of catching a wave.
"If I was able to fly, that's what I would picture it to be, that feeling," she said.
Strong said she was happy to see that the weekend gathering brought out some first-time surfers, interested in giving the sport a try.
New surfers learn the ropes
That was the case for Curtis Haig, who found out how tricky it can be to watch as new sets of waves build, and to know when to take your chance.
"I'm awful," he said, back on shore after his first foray into the water. "I can't read a wave to save my life."
The sport also takes a lot of patience, he said, with much of a surfer's time and energy spent paddling out to meet the waves, and waiting for a few seconds of riding.
As for pushing up onto the board, Haig said his first day consisted of "belly surfing."
"You basically just hold on for dear life," he said, adding that he plans to perservere and will definitely be trying the sport again.
Freezing rain, snow, not a problem
For those uninitiated to Great Lakes surfing, one of the big questions is always about the cold, said Dube, but thermal wet suits take care of that problem.
The thing that's hardest ... when it is freezing rain or ice pellets ... you get 'em in your eyeballs- Chris Dube
Complete with hoods, boots and mitts, they can keep the cold at bay for hours, even in January, he said. Only the face is left exposed.
"The thing that's the hardest a lot of the times, when it is freezing rain or ice pellets or snow, is you get 'em in your eyeballs. So it's blasting in your eyeballs with that high wind," said Dube, while gleefully miming pieces of ice flying at his face.
"But whatever, these are Great Lakes surfer problems, which I thoroughly enjoy."
Dube said he hopes to make Waasaashkaa an annual event.