Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hanging Ten on the River (the new Surf City)

Forget Hawaii, Hossegor or Bali, the newest mecca attracting surfers from all over is in the shadows of Montreal's skyscrapers, on the St. Lawrence River.

The trunk of her car ajar, a young brunette is found slipping into a wetsuit, while her boyfriend waxes their boards on the banks of the river, about 1,000 kilometres inland from the Atlantic Ocean.

A few years ago, they might have been described as mad.

But today, surfing at this spot has become commonplace, attracting hordes of wave junkies over the past five years from Munich, Geneva, Turin and Lyon.

Neighbours no longer mind them squatting in their parking spots, taking joy instead in watching their acrobatics on waves as high as two metres.

"It's becoming more and more popular," said local surfer Simon Rouleau, 24. "There's always people here. On weekends, you sometimes have to wait up to 45 minutes for your turn on a wave."

Unlike ocean waves or swells on such rivers as the Amazon in Brazil, caused by sudden drops in elevation, the waves on the St. Lawrence are steady, caused by a jagged riverbed. Favourite spots include the rapids behind Habitat 67 and west of the Lachine Rapids.

"It's incredible in Montreal; the waves are always there," said Corran Addison, a local surfing pioneer, surfboard maker and retailer.

The South African three-time kayak freestyle world champion said he was the first to have tamed the mighty river seven years ago.

He said he moved to Montreal to surf at this spot 365 days a year, even in frigid winter months when floating sheets of ice drift past and temperatures drop below minus 20C.

"I wake up in the morning and I don't have to think about ocean tides, storms, the weather. If I feel like surfing, I go surfing; the wave is always there," the 40-year-old said.

After making converts of his friends, Addison went all out and started a Montreal surfing school in 2004. A second, rival school opened shortly afterward. Together they attract about 2,000 students each year.

About 500 surfers now regularly descend on Montreal, many novices, but also some accomplished surfers hardened by big ocean waves.

This is the case with Robert Smyth, a 59-year-old Australian whose surfboard was gathering dust ever since he landed in Canada in 1972, until now.

"When I was young, I surfed using longboards in Australia," he said. "It's very different here, but it's still a lot of fun."

The Sydney native appreciates that he does not have to swim out to catch a wave. It is enough to just point your board in the right direction, drift from shore into a wave and leisurely stand up.

"I don't even have to paddle. I'm too old for that anyway," he quipped, sporting a safety helmet in case he bumps into some rocks.

Such surf requires specialized equipment: a solid board, for example. The nascent market is, however, mostly ignored by the large surfboard makers, which has given Addison's own brand, 2imagine, a leg up.

This year, 1,000 of his Made in Montreal surf boards were sold worldwide.

1 comment:

Les F said...

Well it seems the last video was the last video as he tried it once ,but he's smart enough to pass on a second time,.....I imagine a chunk of river ice whacking you in the noggan is enough to end this winter sport......................................HF&RV