Cold and Amazing: Recent Events to Celebrate Surfing in Toronto

Antonio Lennert says his company Surf the Greats partners with some local exclusive brands for their new surf shop in Leslieville that will open on June 29th. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

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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Toronto Dancer Creates Beyoncé and Rihanna Sweaters to Help Charities

Owner and creator of 1Club, Shawn Bracke says his 50/50 percent cotton/polyester sweaters are perfect for an active person, someone in a creative space. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Whether he’s teaching a dance class or sketching in his notebook, Shawn Bracke always uses his art to support charities. Now he creates sweaters with faces of celebrities on them and donates 35% of the proceeds to a different charity each month. Founded in September 2016, his online clothing brand 1Club stands for the idea of “all for one and one for all”.

Sveta: Hi Shawn! It’s exciting to learn a new artistic side of you besides dancing. How did you come up with the idea of creating your brand?

Shawn: The idea was always charity, donations. But not all. I was sketching a lot for the last five years or so, and I started putting it on clothing myself. People really liked that. On top of that, I was donating once a month from classes that I teach to different charities. So I kind of just fused the two ideas together. I thought, instead of donating from the classes I would start a brand.

Sveta: Did you have any background in fashion?

Shawn: Yep, I used to be a stylist. I used to live in London, U.K. I was a stylist there for two years, mostly just like on set for music videos, TV, and films. So it’s not the most creative because you can’t do really much with film and TV — you literally give them like this template —, but I definitely had an understanding of the industry. Honestly, fashion doesn’t really apply to my brand. The whole goal for it is to be comfortable and wearable and easy.

Sveta: How does the design of your brand express its idea?

Shawn: We stand for all for one and one for all. So the goal of the brand is essentially to create all-inclusive type of company, something comfortable and supporting. Originally, they [sweaters] are just faces of people that really inspired me. People who are using their celebrity styles to make a change in the world. There are pretty big names, like Beyoncé and Rihanna, Gigi Hadid, Victoria Beckham. They all are known for what they do either as musicians or designers, but I love all of them because they are affiliated with charities. And obviously, I know that people would love to wear a Beyonce sweater or Rihanna [sweater]. And I like that it’s all strong women. A lot of charities that I focus on are geared towards helping women.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: What are some charitable organization you work or have worked with?

Shawn: Right now we are with Red Door Family Shelter. We’ve worked with Covenant House. They are cool. They are like a shelter for the homeless slash for people who are distressed. So they help a lot of women who are in bad situations with their husbands or who are trying to escape.

Sveta: What is exciting for you about working with charities?

Shawn: I’ve always loved donating to charities, but as a dancer I would just do it with my credit card online. With the company there’s different formatting. You obviously have to build relationships with them [charities]. It’s been very cool to see their responses and meet different people within the charity. And also, knowing where the money goes is comforting. I was kind of nervous going into it, that these different charities wouldn’t be that interested and would just kind of take a donation, but they all have been so lovely and so caring. Just hearing the cool things they do to change people’s lives is awesome.

Sveta: Does anyone help you to run the business?

Shawn: Yeah, so the sketches I do myself, and then I have a company, actually, a friend, who prints all the clothing. He works in film and TV, so it’s cool we have that relationship. And I also have some friends who help me to run the company. Primarily, it’s just me, but we do a lot of events. We go to different markets, so I have a crew who sometimes writes the emails and does the administrating.

Sveta: What is the most difficult part of running a clothing company?

Shawn: I would say, continuously promoting our brand. The more promotion you do, the more you need new people. And it’s not even bad. The most difficult is the most fun in a weird sense. I think it’s just the nature of any creative person: anything that’s difficult, you like doing because you know that it’s a challenge for you. I don’t know if as a journalist and a dancer you can agree with me. I hope that answers the question.

Sveta: I think I agree with that. Would people who wear your sweaters be creative as well?

Shawn: Obviously, I would love everyone to wear the sweaters. The goal is to benefit charities and feel comfortable and cool, yeah? But, generally speaking, the people, who have been gravitating towards it, are people like us, who work during the day and take a dance class or a yoga class or go to the gym at night… Or maybe they just wanna have like a Sunday-cozy sweater to go to a brunch and go for a walk after. My mum and her friends wear it too. They wear it on Saturdays if they go out for a show or something.

Sveta: Do you have your favourite sweater?

Shawn: Right now the Beyonce-embroidered is my favourite just cause I haven’t seen anyone do an embroidered sweater and I just love the texture of it. I’m excited that my drawing can be transmitted into an embroidered sweater.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: How do you build your collections in terms of frequency, colours…?

Shawn: As we partner with a different charity every month, the goal is to do a new sweater every one to two months. The first collection is all white, and the second collection had like that salt-pepper and safari [shades]. And then for the next one we are gonna go back to straight one colour. I definitely want to keep them neutral. For me, as a dancer, rehearsing, I like to wear very basic colours or shades rather. And my clients love that kind of neutral shades, so… We might play with colours later, but for now we are gonna keep it.

Sveta: Are you planning to add more items to your collections in the future?

Shawn: In September we have few other things coming. T-shirts and some other stuff, which I’m gonna keep secret.

Sveta: Were you thinking about creating 1Club physical store?

Shawn: Right now it’s an online-brand. I think we are gonna keep it there for a while. I don’t really have any goals to make it a physical shop… like in the near future.

Sveta: What does 1Club mean to you personally?

Shawn: 1Club for me is a nice escape from the dance world [we both laugh]. That sounds terrible! I couldn’t live without it [dance]. It’s like who I am, but there’s so many sides of me. Just like there’s so many sides of you. So it’s like a break from always focusing on like, Oh, I need to do this with dance. I need to focus on this with dance. For me it’s to meet different types of people with 1 Club that I would never be able to meet in the dance world.

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Toronto Photographers Raise $13K for Children in Haiti

The couple explores the works of Zark Fatah (left) and Misha Masek (right). Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Zark Fatah’s fifth annual photo exhibit CAPTURE[D] raised around $13,000 to fund Artbound, the foundation that supports charities through the arts. More than 300 people who came to the Waterworks building (505 Richmond St West) on April 28th were able to meet Fatah and three other photographers —Misha Masek, Mark Brodkin, and Peter Cordy — and to purchase the 50 featured pieces. Fatah said that 19 photographs were sold and that all proceeds will be donated to building a school in Haiti.

Fatah is better known as a Toronto-based entrepreneur behind hot downtown spots including Blowfish RestaurantEverleigh, and Hammam Spa. But during his exhibit, we talked only about photography and the idea behind CAPTURE[D].

Zark Fatah showcases photographs from his travels during the firth photo exhibit CAPTURE[D] at the Waterworks building. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: Congratulations with another photo exhibit, Zark. Could you tell me what is new this year?

Zark: Thank you. This is the first time that I invited other photographers.

S: Did you do it all by yourself before?

Z: Yes, I did about 20 photos. I did three [exhibits] in Toronto and one in Vancouver. Then my friends said, Oh, it looks great! We would like to collaborate together sometime. So I invited friends specializing in something different. Mark Brodkin does beautiful landscapes. Misha captures amazing faces and characters. Peter Cordy has never showed his photos before — this is his first exhibit ever. He does wildlife. And I just picked something from the last seven years of my travels that reflect what I like. I like shooting people and catching a moment of someone else’s life.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: Could you share a story behind one of your photos?

Z: I like shooting candid moments because it’s a fraction of someone’s life. Like a photo of this man smoking cigarette there [points at the black and white picture of a contemplative old man blowing smoke into the air]. I captured that moment wherein you don’t know what he’s thinking about; you don’t know what’s going on in his life. He just looks like he’s living an interesting life. You look at him and you can imagine that if you sit down next to him, he could probably fill your afternoon with amazing stories. I took the photo in Sydney, Australia, in the area called Kings Cross. It would be like Parkdale here, an area that’s a little bit sketchy. You don’t want to go there at night.

Wildlife photographs by Peter Cordy appear on the exhibit for the first time. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: You mentioned that a lot of people also like Green Eyes, the photo of a child you took in an Indian village. It looks like National Geographic-style photo. Have you ever done anything with NG?

Z: Not yet. I’d love to one day… The amazing thing about photography is that I don’t have the greatest memory, but I could tell you where I was and who I’ve been with in every one of the photos I’ve taken. The image is captured in my memory.

S: What does the name of this exhibit mean to you personally?

Z: I play on two things. Captured has to do with the moment. Also, I own restaurants, a night club, and a spa in this area, and my company is called Capture Group.

Photographer Misha Masek. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: How did you choose the other photographers for the exhibit?

Z: Well, I’ve known Misha for years. She’s great photographer. She travels quite a bit and goes to some really remote places. And Mark Brodkin…his landscape photography is just… He will travel so far and just sit and wait and wait for that moment. And Peter — I actually inspired Peter to start taking photographs. We were on a trip together and he saw how much I enjoyed it. That’s why now he keeps saying to me, You started this for me. It’s your fault [laughs]. He’s really excited to be showing his photos here for the first time.

S: What was the most difficult thing in organizing the event?

Z: It was challenging. I mean, obviously, we were doing something that was done before. But it’s just a lot of moving parts — we got four photographers, 50 photographs, the framing company, the lighting, and the operations of the bar. I had some help from my team, but for the most part it was a lot of organization.

The bar team adds more art into the photo exhibit with some creative drinks. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: You’ve been donating 100% of all the proceeds from CAPTURE[D] to charities. What are some results you’ve already seen?

Z: In November we raised $30,000 and built two classrooms in Nicaragua.

S: That’s amazing! Are there any other goals you are trying to achieve with CAPTURE[D]?

Z: It’s about awareness, so people know what we do and what Artbound is about.

Guests explore landscapes by Mark Brodkin. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: Who are your guests today?

Z: It’s a mixture of art lovers and friends who appreciate our work. There are people who come to our businesses and know what we do; and people who are supporting Artbound.

S: What do you enjoy most from organizing events like that?

Z: I’m in the events business, so I manage this building. So I’m always used to seeing how craziness comes together in the last minute. But most importantly, I’m super happy with these looks [looks at people hanging one of Brodkin’s landscapes]. You know, this is just unique.

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Toronto Gets New Dance Studio

From left to right: Aaron Aquino, Aaron Libfeld and Roy Urbanozo. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Voted the best in Toronto, The Underground’s dance classes are getting a new three-storey studio with a rooftop skylight this summer.

In just about two months, the new Underground Dance Centre will take the space above Yuk Yuk’s comedy club at 224 Richmond St. West, which is only two doors down from the original. Compared to the 3,700 square feet old studio with two rooms, the new space will be around 8,500 square feet with four rooms, including a rooftop with glass windows, which all the teachers are excited about.

“This is the floor I’m going to fight for,” said hip hop teacher Aaron Aquino. “I just want a sunny roof and fresh air coming through.”

Right now, the demolitions are complete and the team is collecting quotes from different contractors and deciding on who will build the new studio, said studio manager Roy Urbanozo.

The Underground Dance Centre gets a rooftop skylight studio this summer. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

The price for a single class increases from $15 to $17 starting May 1st, according to twenty-eight-year owner Aaron Libfeld. He added that still “a competitive price” around the city comes with new values. They are doubling the number of classes from 120 to 240, adding more hours for the teachers, and hiring more dancers to teach new styles. The old studio will continue to operate and customers will be able to use their passes at both locations. 

“Everyone is excited to see the new schedule,” said Libfeld. “There’s going to be a lot more of the popular styles, such as hip hop, dancehall, heels, Beyonce… We gonna have more k-pop and disco theme.”

Libfeld grew up as a competitive dancer, who took ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, and acro at Vlad’s Dance Centre in Richmond Hill. The first thing he is looking for when hiring teachers is their personality. Even though someone is the best dancer in the world and they come with a bad attitude, they are automatically disqualified,” he said.

Excellent dance experience, understanding of the style, and ability to teach are the other requirements.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Teachers are not the only ones who create the mood in the studio. There are 20 young volunteers, who help at the front desk and receive free classes in return. Urbanozo will hire about 20 more volunteers to create positive vibes and a loving atmosphere in the new studio. 

Another innovation, prerecorded classes by choreographers from New York and L.A. is coming to the old Underground in just about a week. It’s going to be a unique experience, different from a simple online class, said Libfeld. “Even though they are [following] prerecorded videos, they are in a dance studio, in a dance environment, with other people,” he said. “Online classes are kind of the Netflix, but we wanna be like the Cineplex.”

Technology and social media have been a huge part of The Underground since it opened in 2014. Libfeld, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and used to run a technology company at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ), said he applied all those skills to run his dance studio.

It’s very focused on working on the idea, getting feedback on that and continually innovating it,” he said.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Videos of every class on its Instagram, which now has almost 80,000 followers, helped the studio attract most of the clients and won the title of the best dance classes in Toronto by blogTO and Yelp within the first six months of opening. The Underground hosted the space for celebrities like Nelly Furtado, who rehearsed at the studio twice during her visit to Toronto.

“It’s exciting to know that we are providing the great content and sharing our love of dance in the world,” said Libfeld.

Both, Libfeld and Urbanozo said they are happy to expand their business, but the new studio is not the end of their vision. They will keep working on the main concept: providing their customers with the best experience. “We do our best because we want them [the customers] to come back. We want them to feel exclusive,” said Urbanozo. “There’s still a lot to learn about the industry and how to treat our customers.”

“We’ll only stop when we have to stop,” said Libfeld. “We are obsessed with the customer experience. For us it’s the worst thing if anyone walks out unhappy. So we make sure that we only hire the best teachers, keep the beautiful facility with professional cleaners every single night. That creates the whole experience which I think is different than anyone else does.”

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Breaking Barriers: Women in Photography

Mellow guitar chops, sounds of change clanging, and laughter: a Calgary’s Starbucks hasn’t changed its daily playlist, which satisfies those who escape their offices to find inspiration over a hot cup of coffee.

A photography intern Della Rollins was sipping her Americano and watching a woman flipping through the pages of a Calgary Herald. Rollins quit her public relations job before she went on a year-trip and she didn’t have to escape her office anymore. No more high heels and crazy hours, she thought, continuing to watch the woman.

Suddenly, the woman stopped flipping through and looked at a page with a man with a bike. Rollins heard her heartbeat: the photo was her first publication. This is amazing, she thought gazing around the shop. All these people looking at my picture!

Since then Rollins has been freelancing for the Globe and Male, National Post, and Maclean’s. Work, life, and travel were finally balanced. However, the dream job had its own challenges. Rollins realized it was not only precarious but also not women-friendly.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

At Ryerson’s journalism conference on April 6th, Rollins and three other female photographers (Meredith Holbrook, Sarah Palmer, and Laurence Butet-Roch) discussed the key problems women face in photojournalism and gave some advices on surviving as a freelancer in Canada.

Last year World Press Photo conducted an online-survey of 1,991 photographers that showed that the field remains persistently male-dominated — 85% — despite recent photo-grads being more than 50% female. According to the News Photographers Associations of Canada (NPAC), only 12% of Canadian photojournalists are women.

“There is a lot of talented men,” said Rollins. “But women are winning awards like Photojournalist of the Year… They do brilliant work. So when you hiring, they should be on top of mind.”

There are not many networking opportunities for women in photojournalism, and, once they are are included, they tend to be assigned to cover exclusively women-oriented issues and events like the Women’s March.

Meanwhile, women’s voices are an integral part of diversity, said Butet-Roch, who has been photographing the indigenous Attawapiskat communities for seven years.

“Our journalism is just going to be better if we have more diverse voices,” she said. “Giving people the opportunity to report on what they want and not just assign the woman issue to a woman photographer or Indigenous issue to an Indigenous photographer. A woman Indigenous photographer being assigned a story on football would be wonderful.”

Freelancing is a job with no guarantees. But today, when the institutions primarily hire men, it seems to be the best career option for a female photojournalist.

“You have to really hustle,” said Holbrook, who has been photographing Palestinian Territories and Israel for The Jerusalem Post and working on different projects with National Geographic. “There are so many things you wanna do and other people won’t do. And you have to keep going and show people that you are still around, even if they are not answering. There are so many freelancers out there. You have to really show why you are different than anyone else.”

All the participants of the panel agreed on the positive sides of freelance jobs, such as choosing their schedule and subjects they are passionate about.

Butet-Roch, who used to be a stuff-photographer for four years in France, said she quit the job because she couldn’t get in-depth photography experience sitting “behind the desk.”

“There were […] stories that I felt I was missing out [on],” she said. “I wanted to be a freelancer and take time to actually get to know the story.”

Currently working on Virtual Aamjiwnaang, an interactive storytelling platform befitting Indigenous practices at Ryerson, Butet-Roch said that she is happy with her decision.

Rolliins, the contributing photo-editor at Maclean’s, said freelancing allows her to travel and work at her own pace. “Freelancing is a blessing that I didn’t expect,” she said.

The photographers shared some techniques that helped them to succeed in freelancing. One of the advices was building multiple skills in photography, videography, and writing “to have the door open” and be able to tell the story in different ways. However, it’s important to focus on one area.

“Have all kind of skills but specialize in one,” said Rollins who also writes. “They want you to do a little bit of everything. But if you are too spread out and not great in one thing, it’s hard to be hired for that one thing.”

A graduate from the Ryerson’s photography program, Palmer, who just got a grant for her project Drunk on Trump, suggested that freelancers keep their websites “light and clean,” featuring photos that represent only topics of their specialization.

Holbrook added that each photo should “speak to the audience” through its description. She also highlighted the importance of social media, saying that many photographers and organizations get connected to each other through Instagram. “It’s [Instagram] is a realistic way of branding yourself,” she said.

Having real photojournalism friends is effective for exchanging skills and, sometimes, equipment. “Find your small group of photo or journalism people who are constantly pushing you and teaching you,” said Rollins. One way to build that network is to attend photo conferences. One of them will be organized by News Photographers Association in the first week of May. All photographers will have a chance to review their work with photo editors from the Globe and Mail, National Post, and Maclean’s.

The discussion ended on a positive note inspiring freelance women photographers to keep following their passion. “As a photographer or journalist, you already have that type of skills that people are attracted to,” said Holbrook. “There’s something important, something that drives you into this area, so hopefully someone will pick up on that.”

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