Surfing Vancouver Island  

  




Lud's trip to Canada's Great Lakes.

Oct/Nov 1997

In October and November of 1997 my wife Jenny, and I, visited the Great Lakes region of Canada and stayed with some of the local surfer's and their families.

They shared their homes, lifestyle's, surf, and culture with us, and made this an unforgettable and memorable trip.

Our thanks go to all the Great Lakes surfers, especially to Don & Erna & family, John & his family, Andrea, Ed & Geneva, Craig & Terry, Deepack & family, all of the "Bridge crew", and all the other lakes surfers we met.

A greater bunch of people you could not meet.

  • Discovery, and finding off shore waves, let alone any waves, in places we assume had not been surfed before, was one of most rewarding and satisfying parts of the trip.
    Our road maps were pretty average, but (Thanks to John) we had good nautical charts which showed the lakes bottom contours (Example nautical chart(60k)), as well as Aerial photos of the shoreline (at a scale of 500 yards per inch) (Example Aerial photo(70k))
    These charts and aerial photos allowed us to narrow down our searches to points and beaches with good prospects for surfable waves.
    On numerous occassions we found excellent reef and point breaks which had clean offshore waves, our excitement on discovering and surfing these breaks was pretty much indescribable - the hooting and shouting, both whilst surfing, and in rush to be first into the waves, must still be echoing around the lakes :-).
    Not all our exploratory forays met with success though, often there was no access due to lack of roads and private property, or the breaks were at the bottom of tall cliffs (54k), but all in all, the wave frequency and quality far exceeded our expectations.


    Wave size and wind strength, the minimum required wind appears to be around 18 knots, which will produce waves around waist high (faces), and the largest waves we came across were in the 8-10 ft range (face size), this required a wind of 35 to 40 knots, which is not at all uncommon.
    We were always faced with the decision of whether to surf the biggest waves, which meant onshore conditions, or to find protected points where the swell wrapped in, and cleaned up, resulting in smaller waves, but clean and offsore.

    The Great Lakes of Canada are truly one of the few last surfing frontiers, in our short stay we only experienced a tiny fraction of what the lakes offer in the way of surf (and scenery), here are a few photos of that short experience.

    Pictures are indexed by lake.

    Of course, the surf was not pumping all of the time, so to start off, here are pics of some of the activities on the surfless days.

    Lake Ontario


      As we were predominately based in Ottawa, Lake Ontario was our nearest surfing destination, a short 3 to 3.5 hr drive :-) to the nearest breaks, the Sanbanks area, and also Stony Point on the USA side.

    • "Sandbanks", a point, both left and right, and beach break setup on the North-eastern shore of Lake Ontario.

    • Sandbanks 1 (68k) Sandbanks, looking from the point back to the beach on a flat day, very scenic.
    • Sandbanks 2 (56k) Sandbanks, looking towards the point on a flat day.
    • Sandbanks 3 (51k) Checking the left hand point break setup at Sandbanks.
    • Sandbanks 4 (42k) The left hand waves, onshore but quite surfable, around wasit high.
    • Sandbanks 5 (59k) Andrea, bodyboarding at the outside left hand point break.
    • Sandbanks 6 (48k) Don trying out the beach break.
    • Sandbanks 7 (45k) Don & Andrea, bodyboarding at the left hand point break.
    • Sandbanks 8 (77k) Right hand reef/point break at Sanbanks.
    • Sandbanks 9 (41k) Water shot, of the right hand point break.
    • Sandbanks 10 (54k) "Cob Puffers" setup, a right hander little further inside the point than the above photo.
    • Sandbanks 11 (36k) "Cob Puffers" wave.
    • Sandbanks 12 (39k) John at "Cob Puffers".
    • Sandbanks 13 (67k) Small Right hander right inside the bay to left of Sandbanks.
    • Sandbanks 14 (59k) Sandbanks in November, snow on the ground, air temp about 0C, wind 35-40 knots, wind chill well below zero, and 5-6ft wave faces on the lefts inside the point.
    • Sandbanks 15 (65k) As above, but 8-10 ft faces right on the point.
    • Sandbanks 16 (62k) As above, Don checking the conditions.

    • "Stony Point", a point break, with multiple bays, on the eastern (U.S.A.) Shoreline.
      Waves here had waist to head high faces, smaller waves peel along a shallow rock shelf, and larger waves breaking out in the bay.

    • Stony Point 1 (67k) Setup at Stony Point.
    • Stony Point 2 (42k) John checking the break.
    • Stony Point 3 (31k) Lud ready to get wet.
    • Stony Point 4 (42k) Water shot of the wave right at the point, peeling along the shallow rock shelf.
    • Stony Point 5 (51k) Water shot of the wave in the middle of the bay.
    • Stony Point 6 (16k) John taking off. Water shot.
    • Stony Point 7 (34k) John up & riding in the bay. Water shot.
    • Stony Point 8 (36k) Lud on bay wave. Water shot.
    • Stony Point 9 (48k) Lud on bay wave. Water shot.
    • Stony Point 10 (69k) Setup shot after the surf, swell dying rapidly.

    • "The Bridge", a series of beach and pier breaks at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, near Hamilton. Home break of "The Bridge Crew"

    • Bridge 1 (53k) Beach Break setup at "The Bridge"
    • Bridge 2 (71k) A relatively poor day at "The Bridge"
    • Bridge 3 (34k) Craigs surfwagon & crew.
    • Bridge 4 (29k) Some more of the Bridge Crew
    • Bridge 5 (47k) The shoreline at The Bridge, completely frozen up in mid winter, Picture by Craig.
    • Bridge 6 (61k) The pier at the bridge, mid winter. Picture by Craig.
    • Bridge 7 (42k) Craig checking the drop on a rocky outcrop near Hamilton, which bears a striking resemblance to the "nose" at Winkipop near Bells Beach!

    • Presquile Point, on the northern shoreline. Only holds small waves, as the shallow bottom slope results in waves breaking too far outside once waves get over waist to chest high.

    • Presquile 1 (86k) The road into Prequile Point, during fall.
    • Presquile 2 (49k) Presquile Point Lighthouse
    • Presquile 3 (70k) Another view of the lighthouse.
    • Presquile 4 (46k) Small waves inside the point.

    • Popham Bay to Huycks Point, on the northern shoreline.

    • Wellington (53k) Terry, John, Lud and Don, searching for a wave out of the snow and cold onshore wind in late November. Checking Wellington.
    • Popham Bay (61k) As above but at Popham bay, 5 ft faces, cross-shore winds.
    • Huycks Point (40k) As above, but at Hucks point, wave to 5 ft faces.

    • Loughbreeze, is a point break and bay , with a couple of smaller points inside the bay. Only holds small waves inside the bay, as the shallow bottom slope results in waves breaking too far outside once waves get over waist to chest high. The point seems to hold waves to head high at least. We surfed here as it was totally out of the wind, and the little that came through was offshore

    • Loughbreeze 1 (54k) A view from inside the bay towards the point. Waist high waves inside, shoulder high at the point.
    • Loughbreeze 2 (41k) Waxing up in the snow, pic by John or Don ?
    • Loughbreeze 3 (45k) John and Lud, read to get wet, snow on the ground, air about 3-4C, water about 6-7 C at a guess.
    • Loughbreeze 4 (35k) Small Lefthander in the bay.
    • Loughbreeze 5 (28k) Closeup of above shot.

    • "Salmon Point", Another long point break, on the Northeast shore. Holds waves to well overhead. A 35-40 knot wind results in waves with 8 to 10 ft faces!, and even though the wind is onshore, the faces are quite clean, and the shape is almost top to bottom.

    • Salmon 1 (58k) Setup at Salmon Point, 5-6 ft, with 8-10 ft faces on the sets (Yes, the waves do come in sets on the lakes!).
    • Salmon 2 (58k) wave closeup shot, 8-10 ft faces.
    • Salmon 3 (58k) Wave closeup, 8-10 ft faces, check the shape! Not bad for onshore conditions.

    Lake Erie


      We didnt make it to Lake Erie, the nearest we came was Niagra Falls, the "ultimate drop" :-).
      One of Craigs relatives builds barrels, and has gone over Niagra falls quite a nuber of times! Cops a fine and has his barrels confiscated each time though :-(.

    • Niagra1 (48k) Niagra Falls

    Lake Huron


      On the first day our surfari to the "Junction" of 3 lakes, Huron, Michigan, and Superior, we arrived at Sault Ste Marie late afternoon, after an 8 hour drive from Ottawa.
      We were pretty keen to get wet after the long drive, in any conditions!

      The moderate Southeast wind favoured lake Huron, and after consulting our maps we picked on a likely looking area of Lake Huron.
      We had to cross the border into Michigan, in the USA to get there.

      Now these border crossings were always very interseting. (for an Aussie anyhow, as we having nothing like this down under)
      The border guards always "interrogate" the driver as to the destination and purpose of the trip.
      You can imagine the guards response when told we are going to lake such and such, and the purpose is to go SURFING!
      Now most of these guards have never seen a surfboard, and everybody knows you dont get surf on lakes! It often took a lot of "friendly discussion" to convince the guards we were "Fair Dinkum".
      In this case, the guard was pretty helpful, but he shattered our enthusiasm for a surf when he told us the area we had picked would not get any surf as the shoreline there was littered with offshore islands which would block any waves :-(. (Our roadmaps didnt show these islands)
      It was too late in the day to try elswhere, so we decided to make the drive anyhow, about an hour from the border, which would give us an hour to surf, hopefully.

      When we got close to Lake Huron we picked up a detailed map from a tourist info centre, and sure enough there were a lot of Islands, but, they were very narrow, interspersed with long narrow points, and all pointed South East, which meant the S/East wind may push waves between the islands and points.

      We picked a point that jutted out a fair way, hoping we may get some onshore waves right on the point, or if lucky, some waves may wrap into the protected, and offshore, lee side of the point.
      Driving along, one could get glimpses of whitecaps in the distance, and small waves in the bays, our hopes rose!
      We took the turnoff out to the point, and would get ocassional glimpes of flat water through the trees to the right of the road.
      About 2/3 of the way to the point we got a glimpses of a small, clean, peeling left hander!
      Did we get excited! John brought the car to a sliding halt on the gravel road, and we bolted the 50 yards or so through the trees to the shoreline.
      We were greeted with a gently sloping, large pebbly shoreline, and small sets of nicely peeling lefthanders, and could'nt contain our excitement.

      I know the waves were only small, but you have to keep things in perspective, we're miles from the ocean, and anything even resembling a wave would have been welcome after our 9 hr drive.
      To find clean offshore waves, having picked a totally unknown spot from the maps, was just beyond expectation.
      All our research into maps, photos, weather etc, now proved well worth the effort.
      We decided to do a quick check right at the point, but as expected, this was onshore, and the waves not much bigger, so we rushed back to the left and surfed the last hour till darkness fell, hooting and shouting with each wave. The name of I wont divulge (have to keep some secret spots :-)

    • Huron 1 (59k) Setup at Secret spot on lake Huron, at the point and not protected from the wind.
    • Huron 2 (59k) Setup at Secret spot on lake Huron, inside the point and protected from the wind.
    • Huron 3 (44k) Lud & John, going right and left respectively.
    • Huron 4 (35k) John.
    • Huron 5 (32k) Lud.

    Lake Michigan


      We made one trip to the northern end of Lake Michigan, and found an excellent reef/point setup, the reef is about 250 metres long and the small 1-2 ft high waves gave promise of a nice break on bigger days.
      Unfortunately the forecast was wrong, and the anticipated waves did not arrive.

      We did not make it to the well known breaks on lake Michigan, we tended to stay away from the crowded urbanised areas, and do our own searching for "new" breaks in the less crowded areas of the lakes.

    • Lake Michigan, north shore 1 (45k) Small waves on the reef at a Point on the north shore. Pictures by Rob Rossell and John Newgard.
    • Lake Michigan, north shore 3 (54k) Sunrise on Lake Michigan

    Lake Superior


      We explored most of the southern shore, some of the western and eastern shores as well.

      Here we met up with Rob Rossell, a Lakes surfer who drove 8 hrs from the opposite direction to meet up with us.

    • Rob Rossell (48k) Rob, John & Lud at the Motel in Grand Marais

      We stayed at Grand Marais, which had a pier and beach break setup, where we had one late afternoon session of offsore, clean, but peaky waves to shoulder high, no wall to speak of, but just a hollow takeoff
      Im waiting for some photos of this spot. OK the're here!

    • Grand Marais 1 (54k) The beach and pier at Grand Marais on a flat day.
    • Grand Marais 2 (53k) The pier at Grand Marais, offshore, small dying swell.
    • Grand Marais 3 (54k) The pier 2.
    • Grand Marais 4 (51k) The pier 3.
    • Grand Marais 5 (49k) The pier, and looking from pier to the beach break
    • Grand Marais 6 (38k) Looking from the pier across to the beach break.
    • Grand Marais 7 (39k) The beach break again, in the water are John Newgard and Rob Rossell.

    • Checking the weather radio was always an important part of the days rituals, but the poor reception at Grand Marais meant sombody had to climb up a local tower with the weather radio, even at midnight!, when we had our last weather checks for the day.

    • Tower (24k)John checking the weather during the day, and at midnight.

      On the second day of our stay at Grand Marais, the wind had built up, and there were chest high waves, but onshore conditions.
      No body was inspired with the onshore conditions, so it was out with the maps and charts, and the hunt was on for some offshore waves,

      The result, We found a series of point breaks at the bottom of a series of 300 feet vertical height sand dunes (500 feet down the slope) with a 1 km walk to the innermost of 3 points.
      This inside point had excellent small waves peeling along a gently sloping rock shelf, wich sloped right into a deep water bay, and as a result we're certain that this spot would hold waves to well overhead, with excellent shape, and offshore conditions under the same wind that generates the waves/swell.
      Unfortunately, we caught it on a dying swell, when we first checked it with the binoculars (The nearest vantage point is about 1 km away, on top of these huge sandunes), the waves appeared to be around the chest high mark, but by the time we suited up and made the treck down the dunes, and the 1km to the break, the swell had dropped to around waist high.
      This "Dunes" break is again one I dont want to name.

    • "Dunes"

    • Superior 1 (52k) A view from the top of the Dunes. The "beachies" looked about waist/chest high when we first arrived.
    • Superior 2 (42k) The "Dunes" Point breaks
    • Superior 3 (37k) Blowup of the inside "Dunes" point.
    • Superior 4 (31k) John at "Dunes"
    • Superior 5 (34k) Lud at "Dunes"

      Here are some more shots of "Dunes", Taken at the break.

    • Superior 6 (51k) John, clean offshore conditions.
    • Superior 7 (50k) John
    • Superior 8 (52k) Lud
    • Superior 9 (48k) Looking at the wave from the point
    • Superior 10 (46k) Lineup shot, a bit fuzzy, wax got on the lens.
    • Superior 11 (38k) Beach break at the bottom of the Dunes, swell just about finished.
    • Superior 12 (37k) But around the corner of the point, the swell at the beach is still OK

    • "Au Train Bay", on the southern shore of Superior.

    • Superior 13 (34k) Au Train Bay.
    • Superior 14 (48k) Lud & John at Au Train Bay. Air temp is 0C, windchill about -8C, and it snowed while we surfed here.
    • Superior 15 (42k) John at Au Train Bay, a little cover up.
    • Superior 16 (33k) John at Au Train Bay.
    • Superior 17 (48k) Another small bay/wave near Au train Bay
    • Superior 18 (69k) Small lefts at right end of Au Train Bay

    • "Garlic Point" (92)

    • Superior 12 (64k) "Garlic Point", on the South westerly shore. Waves to around head high, but no access down the eroded cliffs.
    • Superior 13 (65k) "garlic Point 2"

    • Other locations

    • There were also numerous points and beaches on Lake superior which were flat during our surfari, but had good prospects for waves.
      How did we assess that ?
      One good guide was the shape of the beach, the height of the berm (or highest point of the beach) giving a good indication of the size of waves which have broken there in the past.
      Check out the height of this rocky beach berm, its a good 8 ft above the water level!

      Montreal River (99) A bay near the Montreal river, on the east shore.

    • Here are a few shots of some of the impressive beaches.

    • Pancake bay (49k) A long sandy beach, with good prospects for waves along the headlands at each end.
    • Old Woman Bay (63k) Another beautiful beach/bay setup.
      If there's no surf, check out the fishing here!
    • Corbeil Point (75k) A very long rocky "beach" that curves gently, and appears to have a very good bottom slope. The Indians on the reservation here said they get big waves.

    • Driving between breaks was certainly not boring, some of the magnificent scenery and a few weird things, like a low flying witch (10k) :-).


    
    
    

    Page Design, Icons & Graphics by Ludwig Omachen.
    Copyright (C) 1996, Ludwig Omachen, All rights reserved.
    Comments to author, Ludwig Omachen:
    lomachen@hotmail.com

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