Metro Morning

Surfing the Great Lakes, no matter the temperature

It's been a warm December, but not warm enough that people flock to the beach. But that's exactly what some are doing right now, complete with their surf boards.

Toronto's waves are still ridable in the winter, says surfer

"These were taken late January of this year. Air temp was around -15°C with a windchill in the -20°. The waves weren't the biggest but it was a fun day," said Robin Pacquing. (Robin Pacquing)

It's been a warm December, but not warm enough that people flock to the beach. 

But that's exactly what some are doing right now, complete with their surf boards.

Robin Pacquing, an instructor with SupGirlz, a stand up paddle board school in Toronto, is one of those people.

"Yes you can surf here on the Great Lakes. It's a little bit different than the ocean," she told Metro Morning.

When she looks at a map of southern Ontario, she sees the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe as opportunities to surf, especially when the "winds are howling."

How does one start surfing in the Great Lakes?

"You start off...not necessarily in the winter," she said. "Bluffer's Park in Toronto is a great place to start. Same thing with Ashbridges Bay Park, which we call A-Bay."

Though Pacquing doesn't recommend novice surfers going out in winter, all the Great Lakes produce rideable waves throughout the winter. She just wears a thicker wet suit.

"It's actually not as cold as you think," she said, as the water is often warmer than the air. "You're better off being in there!" she said.

She said surfing is about being connected to nature and having a mindfulness about what you're doing. She also described what it's like surfing mid-winter.

"It's such a magical feeling when the snow falls and you've caught a wave," she said.

But then surfing is not without its risks. Pacquing urged new surfers to make sure they are strong swimmers, then try surfing with a friend and have all the right equipment, because it's "an extreme environment."

It can be so extreme, she said, that people passing by sometimes call the police out of concern when they see people in the water in the dead of winter. 

But that doesn't bother Pacquing, who said she feels at home in the water. 

"I grew up here in Toronto and I didn't grow up learning how to surf," she said. "But being somebody with immigrant parents from the Philippines — they grew up in the ocean, and instilled in us that the water was a good place to be — I wasn't afraid to be in the water. And when I found you could surf here, I just kind of threw myself into it."


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