Canada’s chilly rivers, lakes and oceans may not be the first places that rush to mind when someone mentions surfing. But a burgeoning river surfing community is boosting the visibility of Canada's world-class water destinations and helping to make the country a top year-round surfing destination (yes, even in winter). Here are a few of the best, and underrated, places to ride the waves.
Caution: Remember, in many of these spots, the water is cold and the currents are strong. Before diving in, be sure to talk with local surfers about the area, wear appropriate gear and check the tides and currents.
Tofino, British Columbia
Tofino is Canada’s surf capital, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area boasts 35 kilometres of surfable beach break that can be tackled by beginner and experienced surfers alike. The waves are highest in the winter, though surfing can be had year-round, and water temperatures hover around 10 C throughout the year. A wetsuit is essential and available to rent, along with a board and other equipment, at numerous surf schools and shops in the area. The 16-kilometre aptly named Long Beach, located in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve adjacent to Tofino, is the most popular surf spot suited to all experience levels and teems with tourists in the summer months. Cox Bay beach in Tofino is much smaller, only 1.5 kilometres, but has more consistent waves in the summer and offers a more challenging surf break. tourismtofino.com
Read a Q&A with the owner of Surf Sisters, a surfing school and shop in Tofino, B.C.
Kananaskis River, Alberta
The Kananaskis River winds through Kananaskis Country, a 4,000-square kilometre region of provincial parks, ecological reserves and recreation areas in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and has many picturesque year-round river surfing spots. A half-metre to one-metre wave dubbed the Green Tongue near the Canoe Meadows Campground in Bow Valley Provincial Park, an hour's drive west of Calgary, is a reliable and safe surf spot for beginners. The Santa Clause wave located a ten-minute walk upstream from the tongue is larger and more powerful with a stronger current. In between the two, a one-metre-tall man-made wave built by the Canadian group, Surf Anywhere, is fast, steep and glassy. riversurfing.ca; surfanywhere.ca
Sturgeon Falls, Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba
Located at the convergence of Whiteshell River and Nutimik Lake in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, the rapids to the left of the base of Sturgeon Falls offer many surfable features from approximately a half-metre to 2.5-metres tall when water levels are high. Accessing the spot may be tricky, and take caution during the paddle out in the strong current. Water temperatures in early spring, when surfers can find the biggest waves, are near freezing so be sure to wear appropriate gear (wetsuit, boots, gloves, etc.), while summer water temperatures are pleasant. gov.mb.ca
Lake Superior, Ontario
Surfers have long been carving up Lake Superior’s American waters, but the Great Lake’s northern shore, between Terrace Bay and Marathon, Ontario offers big waves and less people.
Read Jan Dutkiewicz’s story about catching a wave on Lake Superior.
Habitat 67, Montreal
The St. Lawrence River has many surf spots, but the standing wave known as Habitat 67, named for its proximity to the distinctive building-block style apartment on Montreal’s man-made Cité du Havre peninsula, is the most popular. The wave, which can reach several metres in height depending on the season, is green and smooth with a string of rapids behind it and is easily accessible via a walking path behind the modular apartment building. The spot can see long line-ups in the summer, but brave surfers, wearing the right gear, of course, can usually have the wave to themselves in early spring when it’s the largest. surfmtl.com
Lawrencetown Beach, Lawrencetown Provincial Park, Halifax
Lawrencetown Beach is Atlantic Canada’s most popular surf spot. While not as grand as Long Beach in Tofino, B.C., the 1.5-kilometre beach located about 25 kilometres east of Halifax is frequented by both local and international surfers. While surfing can be had year round at Lawrenctown Beach, during the fall hurricane season and in the winter waves can reach epic proportions (five metres and higher). As with all the surf spots listed above, exercise caution as currents, and in this case rip tides, can be strong. Nearby surf schools can help newbies gain skill and experience.
Read about Lesley Choyce’s love for Lawrencetown Beach.