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Great Lakes Surfing: Catch a Freshwater Wave on Canada’s “Third Coast”


Photo: Alastair Macpherson

With the Pacific Ocean and Tofino to the west and the Atlantic and Halifax to the east, Canada is no stranger to great surf. But there is a lesser known third coast: the Great Lakes. With more than 10,000 kilometers of coastline that create a mix of beach and point breaks, the Great Lakes have plenty of spots where you can catch a freshwater wave.

Surfers here are a dedicated crew: without ocean tides to produce swells, conditions can be fickle. Hurricane season tends to produce the best bets, though the Great Lakes have produced clean, peeling waves on gorgeous sunny days, no wetsuit required. Keep a hawk-eye on weather forecasts and wave reports and get in the water!

Some tips to get you started:

  • Big boards rule. Fresh water is less buoyant than saltwater, so consider a larger board that will float more easily.
  • Be prepared for an upper-body workout. The difference in lake water’s density and viscosity means you have to paddle a little bit harder for that wave.
  • Be choosy. Mike Sandusky of Surf Ontario notes that lakes waves come in closer sets than ocean waves, leaving less reaction time, so wave selection is important.
  • Mind the ice. The oceans have their living predators, the lakes have their own set of hazards for surf nuts paddling out in the dead of winter: floating chunks of ice (no, really).

Top Great Lakes Surf Spots

Lake Huron: Grand Bend, Kincardine and Bayfield, Ontario
Lake Erie: Port Stanley and Wyldewood Beach (Port Colborne), Ontario
Lake Ontario: Burlington Beach and Ashbridge’s Bay, Ontario
Lake Michigan: Sheboygan, Wisconsin (U.S.)

How to track conditions

WannaSurf: reports on more than a dozen breaks in the Great Lakes
Surf Ontario: e-mail alerts for conditions and events
Magic Seaweed reports on surf forecasts around the world
SurfingLakes app: for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad

Karen Cleveland is a Toronto-based etiquette writer and advisor. follow her on Twitter @schoolfinishing or send questions via Formspring (/KarenCleveland).

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