NEW WAVE

Women are en­cour­ag­ing each other to join Toronto’s surf­ing scene,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - JONATHAN FORANI SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

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.

AN­DREW FRAN­CIS WAL­LACE PHO­TOS/TORONTO STAR

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.

AN­DREW FRAN­CIS WAL­LACE/TORONTO STAR

Stu­dents prac­tise on the beach be­fore hit­ting the wa­ter.

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