Finding out you can surf in Toronto is an epic discovery. At least it was back when I was new to the sport and eager to start wave riding at my home break. However, learning to surf on Lake Ontario is pretty intimidating, with freezing temperatures, thick wetsuits, and limited information on where and when to go. Fortunately, there were small pockets of people who were experienced, generous with their knowledge, and wanted to share the stoke with others. That’s how I found Lake Surfistas, a rad group of women who surf and paddleboard the Great Lakes year-round.
Founded in 2014, Lake Surfistas (originally Ladies of the Lakes or LOTL) is a grassroots collective that was co-founded by Lisa Parkes and Robin Pacquing. Lake Surfistas was born out of a recognition that there were women surfing and paddling the lakes, and a desire to bring these women together in a safe, inclusive, and welcoming space.
Lake Surfistas’ inaugural event was the LOTL Beach Day in September 2014. Around 30 women gathered at Pleasant Beach on the northeastern shore of Lake Erie to surf and hang out. The lodge behind the dunes overlooking the waves served as the event base thanks to the support of the Wyldewood Surf Club and the Pleasant Beach Homeowners Association. Women came from all over, bringing boards and good vibes, sharing sunny autumn waves. The day was a success and became an annual tradition. The Lake Surfistas community now comes together every year for Beach Day to play in the water and kick off the unofficial start of the Great Lakes surf season. Over the years, the number of attendees has grown and businesses and companies readily lend their support to the Beach Day raffle, a fundraiser to support the volunteer efforts of the Lake Surfistas crew.
I attended my first Beach Day in 2016. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many friendly faces and fellow surfers who cheered each other on. As a newbie wave rider, what Lake Surfistas offered was a community that supported my efforts to get out and surf. It made it easier to find friends, ranging from fellow newbies to chase waves with, and experienced surfers who readily shared tips and advice. The warm bubble of sisterhood and support made the intimidating sport a bit friendlier and a lot more accessible. Two years later, I became a Lake Surfistas crew member.
There are currently six of us who make up the Lake Surfistas crew, led by co-founder Robin. We volunteer our time and energy into supporting and elevating our community through events, workshops, partnerships, and social media. Our latest undertaking is a project with surf brand ROXY to offer a gear library of wetsuits and booties for community members to borrow at our events. It is our way of trying to eliminate some of the barriers women might face when getting into cold water surfing and paddleboarding. The gear library will make its debut at this year’s Beach Day.
As the community of Great Lakes surfers and paddleboarders continues to grow, Lake Surfistas will be there, supporting and elevating the next wave of women in the water.
Lake Surfistas 2022 Beach Day will take place Saturday, September 24th at Sandbanks Provincial Park. To support the volunteer efforts of Lake Surfistas, you can buy a ticket to their online raffle. Tickets can be purchased here and are available until Wednesday, September 21st.
Words by Jordan-na Belle-Isle. Photographs courtesy of Lake Surfistas.
Jordan-na Belle-Isle is a Montreal-born, Toronto-based expert in all things related to stand up paddleboarding (SUP). She is an instructor, writer, and community builder who SUPs and surfs the Great Lakes year-round. A recognizable face in the local scene since 2012, she obtained her first instructor certification in 2017, and has collaborated with organizations and brands such as ROXY, Surf the Greats, Patagonia, Toronto Island SUP, A Greener Future, and Explore Magazine. Her image has been used in a national campaign for Tourism Canada and she has been interviewed by several media outlets such as PBS, Breakfast Television, and the Toronto Star. Jordan-na is a proud team member of Taiga Board and a co-organizer for Lake Surfistas. Learn more at jordannabelleisle.com and find her on Instagram.