Great music, good vibes, and a magical atmosphere are what the Lake Superior surfing community provided for us this fall. I had the pleasure of attending the Waasaashkaa Gathering—an annual gathering of the Great Lakes Surfers. This event was hosted by Chris and Cassidy Dube in partnership with the Lakehead University Surf Club. To any Great Lake surfer that is interested in going, I highly recommend putting this event on your calendar for next year because you will certainly be signing yourself up for a wonderful time.
The event is designed to bring surfers from all over the Great Lakes to not only surf, but to also share stories, connect, and bring together a community that is often hard to connect to due to the distance between the Great Lakes. A week prior to the event, the organizers decided to put in place the “no wave plan” due to the winds in the forecast changing. However on Thursday night as I packed for my long trip ahead, I decided to pack my car full of surf gear and prayed for something to come our way anyways.
I arrived in Terrace Bay late Friday afternoon after spending most of my day hiking around the beautiful Pukaskwa National Park. When I arrived, Terrace Bay had no waves, so I reached out to Adam Breedon (president of the Lakehead U Surf Club) to figure out if there was surf anywhere close by. He sent me the location for a spot that was truly magical and I am honoured that I got the chance to surf there. It was quite a hike to get to and thanks to Becca Sloot, I was able to walk through pristine forest with a mossy green carpet covering the forest floor. I couldn’t stop looking at the remarkable landscape all around me. As I got closer to the water I ran into Simon Davies (vice-president of the Lakehead U Surf Club). I was so stoked to meet Simon since we had connected via Zoom before I arrived. He told me where the best spot in the water was to go surfing and where I would see other surfers in the water. Once I popped out of the forest I could see a group of surfers just down the shoreline off to the left. As I walked closer to them, I realized that I recognized these amazing people! It was Wayley, Erika, Nikki, Jimmy and Tal. They had just gotten out of the water and told me all about their wonderful session. It made me so excited to surf that I hopped into the water as fast as I could. I was truly in so much awe as I stepped over large rocks carrying my surfboard carefully into the water. As my body entered the water I was surprised at how warm the lake was, as I was prepared for a cold lake in my 5/4 hooded wetsuit. I paddled out past the break and sat on my board, appreciating the scenery of the mighty Lake Superior. As I sat on my board, I felt like I was back in Tofino all over again… relaxed, immersed in nature, and encompassed by fresh water. I definitely caught a few memorable waves that evening. I surfed until dark, walked back through the forest, and made my way to Chris Dube’s house for a fun evening of connection and community.
Saturday at noon is when the festival began, kicking off with yoga led by Jill Veneziano. It was quite relaxing laying there in savasana while listening to the sound of Lake Superior's swell hitting the shoreline of Terrace Bay. After the yoga was complete approximately 14 of us hopped into a voyageur canoe to paddle around the edge of the bay. We paddled approximately 8km’s out of the Aguasabon River into the lake, and back into the river close to the Aguasabon Falls. I felt like I was transported back in time as I paddled and laughed with everyone around me in the canoe as we were told stories about the use of the canoe and how far it traveled across the Great Lakes. Our guide Darrell explained to us how the indigenous peoples would measure the distance in a canoe by using smoke pipes, and he even taught us a few chants to shout as we returned to shore.
After the paddle it was time to explore the area a bit more. I quickly drove down the road to hike Rainbow Falls, and once I came back I walked around Terrace Bay. Just off to the left hand side of the bay was a long boardwalk that led me to a point overlooking Terrace Bay and the Slate Islands Provincial Park. On top of the lookout I met a very friendly couple from Sault Ste. Marie who had told me about their road trip home from British Columbia. I explained to them that I was there for a surf festival and that I worked at Surf the Greats, and in return they gave me a few hints on local spots to surf close to Sault Ste. Marie. I thanked them as we watched the sun go down. We walked back to the pavilion where Chris had begun his thank you speech. After the speech it was time for music and campfires. I sat with the Lakehead U Surf crew and loved connecting with so many of their members.
“You can drive whenever you want but you can’t surf whenever you want.”
On Sunday it was time to head back to Southern Ontario. On the way home, Simon had asked me to check out another surf spot just outside of Terrace Bay. I pulled over to check out the surf and I could not believe what my eyes were seeing. Crystal clear blue water and the cleanest lines I have ever seen on the Great Lakes in my entire life. I asked Simon after I sent him a video of the water “what do you think!?” and he said “oh sh*t that’s not bad!” I replied to him saying "I know right! I’m currently debating if I just want to stay here and surf or keep driving” in which he then said to me “looks super fun—you can drive whenever you want but you can’t surf whenever you want”. For me that was the perfect go-ahead to throw on my wetsuit and head into the water. As I pulled my 8ft Whit Surf surfboard from my car and walked down the path to the water, I received so many stares from locals walking by. They said to me “you’re going into the water to surf!?” and I replied “heck yeah!” I surfed for an hour and a half catching as many clean lines as I could. I hopped out to switch out my boards, but when I got out Erika, Wayley, Nikki, Jimmy, and Tal had arrived. We all went together to Pukaskwa National Park to see if there was any surf happening there. Unfortunately, the waves were super messy there, so I got out of my wetsuit and started my long drive back to Sault Ste. Marie.
Chasing waves, paddling in the voyageur canoe, and feeling the warmth of the Lake Superior surf community are what kept me ecstatic all weekend. I was genuinely sad driving home because I did not want to leave the beauty of Northern Ontario. If you ever get the chance to visit Terrace Bay, it is definitely a trek worth making, because the Great Lakes surf community will always be welcoming and invite you to share all of the beauty that Lake Superior has to offer.
Words by Maddi Leblanc. Photographs by Jessa Kostecki.
Maddi Leblanc is a Niagara born, Toronto-based stand up paddling athlete for Team Canada, SUP instructor, and lake surfer. Maddi is also the new General Manager at Surf the Greats. She has been paddle boarding for nine years, competing in SUP for six years, and surfing the Great Lakes for six years. She recently just completed her Masters at Brock University in Recreation & Leisure Studies. Find her on Instagram.