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Journey to Surfing

 Growing up in a small mining town located 4 hrs north of Toronto people are usually astonished when they find out that I am a surfer.  I was raised in a city, but spent my summers at my family’s cottage in West Nipissing.  It’s a wonder I never grew gills, as I spent more time in the water than on dry land.  My entire days would consist of hand feeding wild, small mouth bass that lived under our floating dock or converting our 12 foot windsurf board to a stand-up paddle board that I practically slept on.  Born a tom-boy, I grew up playing with three boys who lived next door and some adrenaline-inducing adventure was always on the menu; I took up skateboarding at a young age, followed shortly by snowboarding and wakeboarding.  At the age of 14, I converted our family’s large 12 foot windsurf board (aka my SUP....that’s right…I practically invented the sport without knowing it and now everyone’s doing it) into a wake-surf board that was towed behind my fathers boat.  He eventually figured out that the only way to end this new daily activity was to kill the motor in the middle of a weed patch and pretend he “ran out of gas”.

 In 2004 I travelled to visit a friend on Vancouver Island, B.C.  We planned to spend 2 days surfing in Tofino before my return flight to Sudbury. Having watched Blue Crush too many times to admit and taking into consideration my years of board-sport-expertise, I opted to learn on my own.  I rented a 6’8 fish board thinking “I’ve totally got this”….I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Without knowing how to duck-dive, I was assaulted by waves that felt like freight trains (you would think water is soft and doesn’t hurt much…but movies lie).  Then I was tossed around like a rag doll in a washing machine while attempting to catch waves for the first half of the day which only resulted in swallowing half the ocean and ingesting 3 pounds of sand.  My enthusiasm was finally depleted when my board was rocket-launched into the air and landed on my head after a big wipe-out.  I was forced to take a break, waiting for the world to stop spinning, and sat on the beach, glaring in defeat at the waves.  I definitely underestimated the power of the ocean and overestimated my ability to learn to surf by repeatedly watching a Hollywood movie.  Not willing to give up, I paddled out equipped with my newly found respect for the ocean. With shaky legs and a rush of adrenaline, I caught my first wave.  I stood up for a whole 3 seconds (though it seemed more like 5 minutes) and I was hooked.  I spent from dawn until dusk in the water, only leaving the water to prevent blue toes and fingers from freezing or to refuel.  I met two “aged” surfer-dudes from Hawaii who travel the globe making surf movies. They gave me pointers in the water and we shared cold beers and life stories on the beach by the fire.  Unable but mostly unwilling to leave my paradise, I delayed my flight twice and only returned when my mother threatened to fly out and retrieve me (which entailed much more than just a forced retrieval…believe me!). 

 Within a week of my return I felt lost and out of place.  I tried replacing the void I felt by throwing all my hard-earned student money towards trips that would allow me to surf.  Needing an end to this madness (and empty bank accounts), I tried to find a new solution.  Having spent 2 weeks each summer during my childhood camping and salmon fishing on Manitoulin Island I grew up with a familiarity with the sizeable waves that strong winds often brought on Lake Huron.  After this thought dawned on me, I spent several weeks glued to forecast maps fantasizing about what might be.  Not knowing exactly what to look for, I packed up the car and drove to the Island with my best friend Jenna to investigate what 20 km southwest winds would create.  The hour and a half car ride was plastered with excitement and the occasional urge to throw up, probably from the lack of sleep or anxiety until we arrived and saw beautiful white foamy waves curling in a line from the beach.  Since that day, I have surfed the south shore of Manitoulin Island too many times to recount; exploring the bathymetric maps to find reefs or changes in topography that might lead me to the next amazing surf spot.  I have missed work, scrambled to switch shifts and pulled 48 hours without sleep to squeeze in surf sessions, cancelled plans, missed birthdays, skipped out on graduation ceremonies, all to feed my deep-rooted love of surfing. 

 I eventually stumbled upon an online network of lake surfers “Fresh Coast” and discovered that I was not alone.  Soon after reading myths of a place called Kincardine, I made the 6 hour drive after working a 12 hr shift in emerge and arrived around 2 am. Too excited to sleep (and too wired off of the 3 cans of energy drinks I emptied during my drive), I spent the next few hours (in cold sweats) repeatedly checking the clock and surf forecast.  By 6 am I was out the door and headed to the pier.  The first person I met was Antonio Acuna, a surfer from Peru (who I instantly fell for...I mean who wouldn’t?).  He introduced me to his friends Larry Cavero, Tim Jensen and Brian Lourenco who were also surfing that day.  They immediate adopted me as one of their own and were positively thrilled that a girl was out surfing (I was thrilled to actually be surfing with real people for the first time in years! You see, fish don’t make such good surfing friends…the relationship tends to be one-sided and tragically ends after running one over with your surfboard.  It doesn’t end well for the surfboard either but that story is for another time).

 Since that day at Kpier, I have surfed Lake Huron, Erie, and Ontario.  I have travelled to Rochester, N.Y. to compete in an Eastern Surf Association competition (despite receiving suspicious looks from U.S. officers and being shortly detained as I attempted to cross the border in November with surfboards on the roof, and three south American men in my car…On a side note all went well and everything was legal).  Along my journey I have had the pleasure of meeting four amazing spirited and strong women (Robin, Sonja, Ashley and Nadia) who also surf the lakes.  I have discovered that numerous women are eager to learn how to surf but are unsure of how to start (not to mention the intimidation factor for a girl to enter testosterone filled waters.  Face it; most of us have, at some point, asked a girlfriend to accompany us to the washroom at a club or social event, so this gives perspective on learning to surf alone in a line-up of all guys.  Nightmare!).  So here it is…my personal goal:  To encourage women of all shapes, sizes and age to grab a board and join me in the Great lakes to share the love of surfing. 

 I’ve recently been blessed with a sponsorship by a company in California called Chick Sticks.  The owner, Lola Blake, shapes performance surfboards for women and I quickly discovered that she and I share the same passion and dedication to develop women’s surfing.  Through this blog, I hope to reach out to all surfer-girls, giving us the opportunity to connect, develop new friendships, share some waves and take over the world!! Ok maybe not that last one, but stay tuned and see you all very soon!

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