CITY FALLS FOR SURFING

Surfers, surf shops, surf mu­sic and Lake On­tario waves

Richmond Hill Post - - Front Page - By Nikki Gill

Grab­bing a board and charg­ing some waves is now a T.O. thing. Right­eous.

When one thinks of the top surfing des­ti­na­tions in the world, Hawaii, Cal­i­for­nia and Aus­tralia come to mind. But it turns out Toronto’s got a surfing groove all its own, and it’s been a long time in the mak­ing.

From pro ath­letes and be­gin­ners just out to have some fun to surf shops with lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional gear and a surf mu­sic scene filled with lo­cal bands, Toronto’s surf scene could fool any­one into think­ing this town is ocean­side.

But ocean, there is not. Just a set of five big and beau­ti­ful lakes that break from time to time, pro­vid­ing surfers with the waves they need and surf fans with the right back­drop for their beach­front bon­fires and board­short fashion state­ments.

Those lakes are what al­lowed T. J. At­wood, Cana­dian Olympic surfing hope­ful, to con­tinue his pas­sion when he set­tled down in Toronto five years ago af­ter trav­el­ling the world and surfing com­pet­i­tively since his high school days.

At­wood’s wife in­tro­duced him to Surf On­tario shop owner Mike San­dusky, a man who has a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion for push­ing the sport of lake surfing to the fore­front in T.O.

“We went to Lake Erie, and it was just Mike and my­self. From that day forward, I just surfed all the time when­ever there were waves on the lake,” says At­wood. Now that surfing will be in­tro­duced to the Olympics in 2020, At­wood hopes to show the world that a lake surfer can win it all on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

He started a GoFundMe cam­paign to drum up sup­port as he heads off to his first com­pe­ti­tion in Vancouver Is­land from May 3 to 7 on his road to the Olympics.

“It’s the start of the next two years for me, for train­ing and surfing in dif­fer­ent com­pe­ti­tions around the world,” he says.

At­wood isn’t the only one that San­dusky has in­tro­duced to lake surfing. Since fall­ing in love with the sport in Hawaii in 2001, San­dusky has been telling any­one that will lis­ten that lake surfing is vi­able here.

“It’s cool be­cause we can surf in the summer with board shorts and in the win­ter in su­per-thick wet­suits and boots and be cov­ered in ice, and there’s ev­ery­thing in be­tween. It can feel like Hawaii, it can feel like Cal­i­for­nia, or it can feel like hard-core Canada,” says San­dusky.

Through his North York shop and his web­site, Sur­fOn­tario.ca, San­dusky has helped cre­ate a com­mu­nity of lake surfers in Toronto.

“When we have waves, ev­ery­one is ex­cited and it’s a good vibe. We’re happy to be in the wa­ter to­gether and sharing waves,” he says.

That com­mu­nity is grow­ing. San­dusky says the guys he started surfing with 16 years ago are still in the wa­ter with him now, but the surfer pop­u­la­tion has dou­bled. That’s partly due to the rise of stand up pad­dle board­ing as well.

“It’s opened up so many peo­ple’s eyes to lake surfing. They’ll get a pad­dle board and get on the lake, and some­times there will be waves, and they’ll try it on their pad­dle board,” he says.

It’s not all about the sport though. Surf mu­sic is an­other as­pect of surf cul­ture that is also thriv­ing in Toronto, thanks in part to Dano Vil­lano and Pete Jones and their idea to start the Great Lakes Surf Bat­tle. This year’s event is set for June 1 to 3 at the Cadil­lac Lounge. Af­ter 13 years, the shows con­tinue to be packed with mu­sic lovers who grav­i­tate to­ward surf mu­sic’s unique sound.

“Toronto re­ally likes garage rock and roots rock, and surf mu­sic is kind of like that. It’s mostly in­stru­men­tal, and it re­ally gives peo­ple a lot of free­dom to ex­press them­selves,” says Vil­lano. “Just when I think it’s only these peo­ple, a new batch of peo­ple come out every year.”

So T.O. may not be at­tract­ing surfing tourists from across the globe yet, but for those in the know, the surf scene is alive, well and grow­ing year by year. Whether you like to catch a wave, or just jam out to the tunes, there’s a lit­tle some­thing for every surf lover in town.

Olympic hope­ful T. J. At­wood shows us how it’s done as he rides a wave on one of the Great Lakes

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