Even though many Torontonians think they have to travel far to surf, the local community of wave riders is growing in popularity. More and more people are popping up on the boards in the midst of lakes Ontario, Huron, and Erie.
The adventure and lifestyle company Surf the Greats is going to increase the excitement for the new obsession even more with a couple of big surf events. The screening of Under An Arctic Sky at The Royal (608 College Street) welcomes its renowned adventure photographer Chris Burkard this Thursday. The other — opening of a surf shop/cafe in Leslieville next month — will get surfers everything they need for their soul and body.
Over the past three years, Surf the Greats has been fostering the local surfing community through film screenings, art exhibitions, beach cleanups, surf lessons on the Great Lakes, and surf camps in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Costa Rica. This year the company partnered with Chris Burkard Studio to present the documentary Under An Arctic Sky by Burkard and filmmaker Ben Weiland. The film follows six surfers in the most remote corner of Iceland.
Surf the Greats’s CEO Antonio Lennert said he’s excited to meet Burkard in person for the first time. “[Burkard]’s been a big inspiration for us to get outside, explore the nature and take beautiful photographs,” he said.
In order to spread the world about surfing in Toronto, the event will also screen two local short films: On Days Like These You Must Surf by Jake Kovnat and Sweet Water by Andrew Wyton. “They were the best short films on Great Lakes surfing we’ve seen so far,” said Lennert. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for local filmmakers to show their work to the big name surf-photographer and filmmaker.”
Kovnat and Wyton were each going to their surf spots over the course of Novella’s interview with them: to Hawaii and to Lake Erie, respectively.
“I feel so amazing! I feel high every time I come in from the surfing on the lake,” said Kovnat. “No matter what else is going on in my life, it feels incredible.”
His black and white documentary tells the story of Larry Cavero, who, together with Lennert, introduced Kovnat to surfing on the Great Lakes. Every time Kovnat shares his surfing experience, the excitement grows in his voice: “I heard about surfing in Toronto around 2013, 2014…And in 2015 I met Antonio and Larry. That was the first time that I went to surf by myself. In the process, Larry actually sold me my first wetsuit and he let me borrow a surfboard just for free. So, I went out on lake Erie and I did horribly, but it was so cool to be out there in the water. And water is really cold. You were always told to be careful and safe in the water, and then you are out there, you feel amazing.”
Kovnat said, as his film was self-funded and all the participants donated their time, the most difficult part for him was the production and getting everyone together:
“When you do a ‘passion project’ like this with basically no money but a really great story, you have to work around the schedule of your crew and schedule of the waves, which is completely unpredictable.” The best part for him was getting shots of Larry and his daughters in Larry’s house and seeing Larry “living his life outside of the water.”
For Wyton, who has shot videos about surfing before, the weather was always one of the most challenging things. “You can never shoot in the wind because your lens will be drowned in the water,” he said. “It’s frustrating just keeping your lens clear all the time.”
Wyton said he enjoyed observing nature and capturing its mystery, which inspired him to do even bigger projects in the future. “I’m happy, but I’m never satisfied,” he said. “I’d like to make another one [film], but I’d like to get more professional surfers.”
The screenings of the three films will be followed by a Q&A with Burkard and a 20-minute presentation about the documentary. The guests will be able to talk to Burkard and purchase his new book.
Lennert added that they wanted to organize a similar event in 2014 when Weiland and Burkard released their film The Cradle Of Storms. However, it took them a long time to build the network with the Californian producers. “We just opened our company, so we didn’t have enough connections to make it happen,” Lennert said. “We’ve been in touch with him [Burkard] since then. And when we saw he’s releasing his new film, we reached out to him and his producers in California… It took us a while to find the right venue in Toronto that could accommodate 350+ people at an affordable rate. It was a big risk.”
During the event, Surf the Greats will also announce the grand opening of their new shop in Leslieville on June 29th. Lennert said his shop will have everything surfers need: boards, wetsuits, and exclusive clothing brands from Tofino, Montreal, California, and New Jersey. It will be a kind of surfers’ hub with a small cafeteria and space for workshops, yoga classes, and live screenings of surf competitions like the World Surf League (WSL).
“Now we have only one surf shop in Toronto,” Lennert said. “And we don’t actually have the space where the community can hang out outside of waves. So this is going to be a kind of a community’s home.”
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