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Surfing on the Great Lakes in the Winter in Toronto, Canada


How can one surf on the Great Lakes?

Given that waves, produced by strong winds and dense air, occur on the lakes throughout the year, the only requirements/limits to surfing here are a) having the appropriate equipment (see part 4), and b) knowing when waves happen/where to go. Equipment hereto means a wetsuit, needed for warmth, and a device to surf with. Equipped with a flexible schedule, and access to driving, a diligent surfer could be out 3 times a week between September and April (peak months (see part 3)).   

You mean windsurfing? Or wakesurfing behind a boat?

Standard, or “prone,” surfing typically means standing-riding swell that breaks on an underwater surface shallow enough cause its collapse (where it becomes a wave). There are various boards and means of riding, but surfing generally suggests paddling in (accelerating the board so that the wave grabs it) and then standing up, riding laterally along the breaking pulse of water. Whereas other watersports can include or encompass surfing (e.g. windsurfers can ride waves), surfing refers essentially to what happens on the wave.

Is there a best time of the year to surf here?

Our surf season starts late Summer/early Fall and goes all the way to mid/late Spring. Given that cold air is tantamount to surf here, Summer surfing is viable but inconsistent; Fall/Winter is prime. As a base algorithm, 30km/h+ winds maintained for at least 3-4 hours will generate swell. Air and water temperature play a key role: colder air (denser molecularly) imposes itself on warmer water (more malleable). The wider the dissonance between water temp and air temp, the more favourable the conditions are for swell to occur. Fall ends up housing the best conditions for swell, and winter too for the lakes that don’t freeze over.

Surfing on the Great Lakes in Ontario during a winter snow storm

What kind of boards can I ride on the Great Lakes?

You can ride any and every board on the lake, but skill, modus, and conditions will dictate what it is you do ride. Chief among factors is ensuring you have a board that will allow you to enjoy yourself and improve. It’s often noted that fresh water lacks the buoyancy of salinity, so foam-friendly, floatier surfboards are favoured. That being said, the gamut of wave riding devices seen used on the lakes varies. Talk with a Surf the Greats team member to make sure you’re on the right equipment for your surfing.   

What thickness of wetsuit do I need to surf here?

Your wetsuit is the most important piece of equipment you own as a lake surfer. Generally speaking, November-April demand a thick suit (5/4 mm or 6/5 mm) paired with gloves and mitts (5-7mm ea.). Summer months allow for thinner suits to be used (3/2-4/3mm). Your most economical option as a year round surfer is to purchase the thickest suit, and layer down when it’s called for (remove boots, gloves, hood). Click here the to see our neoprene stock.

Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada

How do I know when and where to surf here?

Base algorithm for wind direction (indicating the direction the wind blows from):

Ontario West Side (Toronto, Hamilton): NE, E, SW

Erie East Side: SW, W

Huron East Side: N, NW, W

Georgian Bay South Side: NW, N, W

Using any local wind website will allow you to monitor the potential for swell: Sailflow, Windy, Ikitesurf, Weather Network,, Lake Swell

To obtain a thorough understanding of forecasting, to know exactly where to go and when — sign up for our Forecasting Workshop which happens periodically once a month! 

Our workshop covers:
The science behind wave formation on the Lakes.
Understanding weather maps and charts.
Using online tools and apps available for wave forecasting.
Introduction to the most established surf spots and the ideal conditions for each spot.
Understanding the differences in conditions for each season.
Overview of surfing and SUP equipments.
Basic surfing etiquette.
Basic safety and self rescue tools.

Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada

Can I use Surfline or Magic Seaweed for forecasting waves on the lakes?

Yes, but most forecasting websites fail to account for the nuance and volatility of swell generation on the lakes, so these websites can be unreliable. Cultivating a knowledge of the unique way surf works here is your best bet for forecasting here on the lakes.

What is the water quality like in Lake Ontario?

Generally speaking, Lake Ontario’s water is clean and safe for swimming. It’s important to know that bacteria levels are highest after storms/rain. Some surfers elect to use special earplugs to protect themselves. With that being said, health issues can be an issue. We work with local not-for-profit organizations such as the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Swim Drink Fish on beach cleanups and other environmental initiatives to protect and preserve the Great Lakes. We advise our community to swim and surf at their own risk and welcome any questions they may have about water quality here.

Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada

Is there an actual surf community here?

Indeed. The surf community on the lakes is accelerating in growth and bubbling with energy. This manifests in surf shops around the region, community events/gatherings, surf contests and events, and an influx and mingling of surf culture with the local arts scene.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start surfing here?

If you come from ocean surfing, prepare to recalibrate your expectations. While the oceans undeniably provide cleaner, stronger, and more consistent conditions for surfing, lake-surf possesses a uniqueness and intensity shaped by the entire experience. It would be reductive to merely call this “novelty,” — uncrowded lineups, snowfall cleanup sessions, and hardy bonds between surfers are just some of the tangible wonders of surfing here.

Additionally, the waves here have the ability to polish your surfing by adapting you to variant and challenging conditions. In short, it endows you with a different eye for waves and an appreciation for micro intricacies of navigating tumultuous conditions.

Lastly, be sure to inform yourself about the risks and consider taking a lesson to get started. Surfing here is a bit tricky and having someone guide you through the experience, teach you the basics in a safe environment, can be very beneficial.

Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada

How do people keep safe?

  • Have the proper equipment
  • If you are a beginner, we recommend starting with a soft top board
  • Ensure you have the right wetsuit to keep you warm in the water (talk to us to verify that you’re using the right gear)
  • Don’t be afraid to bring extra insulation, food, or a tea thermos to your surf spot with you. Practice the sport in a safe manner, we advice surfers to pick their spots according to their skill and comfort level
  • Never surf alone



Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada Surf School

SECTION 2: Surf School

(The only surf school with ISA-certified instructors on the Greats)

How often do you run surf lessons?

Regularly, whenever there’s waves and the conditions are appropriate for teaching. Next season (2018) we will be implementing a new structure that allows us to run lessons on a weekly basis, getting more beginners and intermediates out in the water learning!

Can I book a lesson this Saturday at 10AM? 

With the variant and highly unpredictable nature of lake surfing, we are unable to cast specific times for lessons to take place. When we enter into a lessons window (2–3 days advance), we send out an email to everyone who has signed up. Spots are booked on a first-come-first-served basis; the first people to pay online following the email will be signed up for that session.

Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada Surf School

How can I book a lesson?

Booking a lesson starts with signing up on our mailing list. We don’t recommend booking (purchasing) the lesson until you receive an email about when they will happen. To be clear, the first step is to sign your name up with an email address. From there the steps proceed as follows:

      1. Fill out waiver with all information so we can sort out gear for you.
      2. E-mail confirmation the night before with packing list, meeting plan, and all the information students need.
      3. Meet at shop if need a ride, or meet up at the surf spot.
      4. Let us take care of everything and have a great time!
Do I need my own gear?
Gear is part of our lesson package. If you have your own wetsuit you are welcome to bring it, but we prefer that you use our surf school soft top boards for the lesson, as they’re safer and less consequential.

 Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada Surf School

Do you run lessons in the winter?

All of our beginner lessons are run between March and December, as we don’t conduct lessons when the temperature drops to freezing or below. The exception to this is guided intermediate/advanced surfing lessons which are sometimes run during the winter months. 

How cold am I going to be during the lesson?

Part of the experience we offer, regarding surf lessons, is the guarantee that our students are well taken care of. That’s why we follow a strict 1-3 ratio (teachers-students) in order to conduct the lessons properly. Part of this includes our equipment: we carry gear (neoprene) that will ensure the comfort and warmth of students at the time of year the lessons are run.

 Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada Surf School

Are your instructors qualified to teach?

Each of our instructors are certified by the International Surfing Association. That means the ISA methods and standards of teaching, communication and safety are part of the experience with Surf the Greats lessons. We are the only shop in Ontario that offers training of this caliber.

What’s the difference between a local surf lesson and a surf safari?

Local lessons happen at Ashbridges Bay, Bluffers Park, Scarborough, or Marie Curtis Park. These are 3 hour lessons in which we provide all the equipment, a dry land lesson and an in water surf lesson. Surf safaris travel to various spots around the lakes including Lake Erie, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron depending on conditions and student skill level. This is a half to full day experience and includes everything listed in the local lessons, as well as a ride and a lunch. We go where the winds flow, so we drive to a few spots until we find the best wave to teach. 

Winter Surfing in Toronto Surf City on the Great Lakes in Canada Surf School