More Torontonians getting on board with surfing the Great Lakes

For surfers used to ocean waves, the Great Lakes offer a special challenge. 'It still blows my mind every time' lifelong surfer Larry Cavero tells CBC Toronto.

Longtime surfers trying to get more people out on the water

Yeah, this is what surfing on the Great Lakes can look like. (Lucas Murnaghan/Submitted)

For Larry Cavero, surfing is just "too good."

Born in Peru, he's had a board since he was seven-years-old. Fast forward 40 years and Cavero is a dad, living in Brampton, who says the weather forecast is like his bible.

You see, he needs some strong wind before Lake Ontario delivers that six-foot tall wave he's after. And once he's riding one, he's still kind of amazed it's happening.

"It still blows my mind every time I surf the Great Lakes. Like, how is this possible?" he told CBC Toronto.

"What kind of miracle happens over here for a lake to give me a wave like that?"

Prime surf season is coming to a close for now, as the summer months bring a calm over most parts of the lake. High water levels, meanwhile, have left some popular spots — including those at Ashbridges Bay and Bluffer's Park — unsurfable.

Antonio Lennert surveys Lake Ontario near a well-known surf spot at Ashbridge's Bay. Friday's conditions were more suited to stand-up paddle boarding, he joked. (John Rieti/CBC)

But Antonio Lennert, who runs the website Surf the Greats and is opening a shop/café in Leslieville devoted to the sport later this summer, says surfing is growing in popularity in Toronto.

And, he points out, while some breaks are underwater, that just means there are new waves somewhere closer to shore to discover.

Of course, with the lake still bone-chilling cold and the blustery conditions required for good surf (the kind of days most want to stay inside with a hot chocolate and a book, Lennert says, are best) it takes commitment.

"It takes someone who's really keen to surf to find those waves and get out there," he said.

Then again, if people are willing to go to Costa Rica, Mexico or elsewhere to surf once or twice, he says, why not surf here and do it every week?

Tough conditions

The local surfing community is small but tight-knit, Lennert says. (Lucas Murnaghan/Submitted)

Surfing is hard. Surfing the lakes is really hard, both Cavero and Lennert say. As in, if you can surf in Toronto you can surf anywhere.

Lennert says after five years of surfing on the Great Lakes, he feels like "Superman" in a warm ocean swell.

The difficulties are the unpredictable, messy, and close together waves, he explains, the lack of buoyant salt water, and the thick mobility-constricting wetsuits.

Beginners are highly encouraged to seek out some expert advice, Lennert says, especially as conditions in the lake can be dangerous at times. Cavero says many in the community have become close, calling one another to discuss conditions, but also offering guidance in the water.

The Scarborough Bluffs are another well-known Toronto spot. (LucasMurnaghan/Submitted)

City will ramp up water tests on June 1

As for water quality, the city conducts daily water tests for E. coli at all supervised beaches from June to September, and eight beaches have the blue flag designation.

Toronto Water warns the poorest conditions along the some forty kilometres of shoreline are near the mouths of rivers and streams, especially after heavy rain when sewage can make its way into the lake.

"Recreational water users should also look for 'no swimming' signs or posted public notices that might provide more information about a particular area," Toronto Water said in a statement.

Lennert is encouraging surfers to do their part to keep the lake clean. This morning, they'll be doing a clean-up at Bluffer's Park, one of several they'll do throughout the year.

Cavero will be there too. And while the conditions aren't favourable, he's still excited about the chance of getting a wave. Small ones would actually be perfect for a beginner, he says, before turning the full force of his enthusiasm on this reporter.

"Come on ... let's go surfing!" 

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.