Surfing the Great Lakes

frigid temperatures do not keep surfers away


By: Adam D’Addario

For many Canadians living near the Great Lakes, the thought of going in the water during the winter is very daunting. The average temperature of Lake Ontario alone is just above 3 degrees Celsius during the winter months. Despite frigid temperatures, some Canadians brave the cold weather and surf the Great Lakes anyway.

Hollie Warkentin began surfing in 2018. She says she “started surfing from movies and then tried it out east. Then I found out there was surfing here, so I got really into it.”

Warkentin, who lives in Ontario, says surfing the Great Lakes is “pretty crazy” and “not like the ocean.”Β  because she says, “it’s all wind swell, and it’s a lot more intense because of the weather.”

Bigger storms, better surf

While it may look like fun to do, there is a lot of consideration that goes into it. Warkentin says they have to monitor storms that come in and that they usually surf in the winter. She says that is because winter is when the biggest storms come. “We go out, and it’s snowing like crazy. It doesn’t come in sets. It’s just wave after wave. It’s non-stop.”


She adds, “you can surf in the summer. It’s just not as big of waves, but it is a lot nicer because it’s warm.”

On that note of warmth, it is hard to imagine how someone would stay warm in frigid water temperatures during an Ontario winter.

“We have special wet suits that are meant for winter. They’re super thick. Then we have booties, gloves, a hood, and vaseline on our faces to stay warm.”

When comparing the waves in the Great Lakes to the ones in the ocean, Warkentin says they are “on the lower end of nicer waves to surf.” However, the Great Lakes can and do produce swells that are several meters tall.

The love of surfing

When it comes to which of the Great Lakes is Warkentin’s favourite to surf, she says it’s Lake Superior because “it’s the biggest body of water, so they get the biggest ocean-sized waves. I’ve surfed there when the waves have been over my head while standing on the board.”

Warkentin loves surfing so much that she has dedicated her life to it by starting a company with her friends called Lake Erie Surf Co.

For people like Warkentin surfing is more than just a hobby. It is something she is very passionate about, “I love the adrenaline you get from catching waves, and you’re just out there having fun with all your friends. I just love the idea of being a surfer too.”

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