Women are encouraging each other to join Toronto’s surfing scene,
Toronto surfer Jenifer Rudski has a special connection with water.
Inthe heritage of her Tetlit Gwich’in (North West Territories) First Nation, women hold the important role of “water carriers”— protectors of the life source.
It’s when she’s surfing that Rudski feels the connection most deeply.
“When you’re in the water, you realize that water is part of all of us,” she says. “We’re all responsible for the land and water, but it’s especially women who have this special role.”
The sport of surfing, the 33-year-old Rudski has found, remains dominated by men. However, in Toronto — a burgeoning surf town — women are carving out not only the waves, but a place for themselves in the boys’ club.
“Where most surfing culture can be secretive with localism and ego, the women in this community are all about sharing and encouragement,” says Rudski, who grew up in Scarborough and started Toronto standup paddle board company OSHA OSHA.
“The female surf community is growing because of that inclusiveness and the desire to share the connection we have as women to the water,” Rudski says.
Aside from the rush of catching a wave and riding it to shore, it’s her ancestral connection to water that inspired Rudski to dedicate her life to surf and share it with others. “Surfing is my meditation,” she says.
Rudski found surfing a decade ago in Tofino, B.C., when she lost her snowboard off the roof of the car.
“I didn’t want to ruin this road trip.” But rather than buy a new snowboard, they drove to Vancouver Island and rented surfing gear.
“It opened up an opportunity to try something new.”
Over the next several years, she became a “vacation surfer,” looking for waves wherever she went, always searching for a surf town to call home.
“I yearned to be able to live where I surfed.” She never thought it could be Toronto, where she has run OSHA OSHA for six summers and is part of a growing group of women surfers.
For many like Rudski, Toronto feels like a safer haven than they’ve experienced in more popular ocean surf towns in Hawaii and California where simply flipping through magazines reveals women’s place in the sport: men surf proper waves, while women pose with the boards.
“There’s a lot of encouragement, a lot of stoke,” she says using the popular surfing buzzword for enthusiasm. It’s a word that was tossed around a lot at a recent women-only surf workshop called “She Shreads” where Rudski and Antonio Lennert of the local Surf the Greats shop instructed 50 women on how to surf.
Lennert urges surf students to “spread the stoke.”
“The stoke is the feeling you get when you get out on the water and you surf. It’s like the state of euphoria, the exhilaration of riding a wave and harnessing the power,” Lennert says.
“Surfing and board sports in general have been so heavily dominated by male athletes. Even though it’s pretty open here, the majority of athletes are men.” That’s why Surf the Greats launched the series of women-only board events, the next of which will branch out to skateboarding, another male-dominated board sport.
Lennert and his crew of15 aren’t the only local surfers getting women stoked about waves. The Lake Surfistas get credit for fostering the community of local female surfers. When co-founder Robin Pacquing began surfing the lakes a little more than 10 years ago, the gender divide in the water was stark.
“I would paddle out and I’d be the only woman in the entire lineup,” she says. “When I’m out in the water I see a lot more women now.”
The Lake Surfistas began with a handful of women known as the “Ladies of the Lake,” and now boast more than 300 followers on their Facebook page. The group has fostered a kind of “sisterhood” among Toronto women, says Pacquing, many career women with children.
“Having a place to bring everyone together, including the kids, it builds confidence, builds community. Everywhere I’ve surfed around, you see a woman in the lineup in a sea of men, you smile at each other.”
It’s a feeling Grimsby’s Nadia Austin knows well.
She’s been surfing since taking a lesson on Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach in 2010 and has seen the difference in surf culture in Toronto, where she surfs a few times a month. At all-women events “the vibe in the water is different,” she says. “With the women it’s a bit more supportive, we’re always watching out for each other.”
Many surfers credit the positivity to the challenges of surfing on lakes, which are a different beast than oceans. Waves on lakes break because of the wind and are less consistent. Ocean waves often break more evenly and smoothly. The lakes too are more unknown as a surfing spot and gender divides seem to be less evident surfing on the Great Lakes, many women note.
“When you’re surfing (at popular ocean beaches) it’s a bit more intimidating. But here, even if it is a boys’ club, it’s not as serious,” Austin says. “Everyone is just so stoked to be able to get a wave. In the ocean, it’s expected.”
Even though Rudski began surfing ocean waves off Tofino, she’s grown to love the challenges of surfing the Great Lakes. Discovering surfing on the Great Lakes was “life affirming,” she says.
Jenifer Rudski teaches surfing skills, such as how to transition to standing on one’s board, during a clinic at Bluffer’s Park Beach. Rudski calls surfing her “meditation.”
She Shreads participants paddle out and attempt to catch a wave in an effort to experience the thrill and exhilaration of surfing.
Students practise on the beach before hitting the water.