Catchin a cold at Toronto new surf shop

Aliya N Barnes in front of Elie Landesberg’s photo.
Photos by Sveta Soloveva 

Try on a juicy rash guard, flip through a surf magazine, grab a board of your dream and … go surfing!

Are the Great Lakes too cold for you? Don’t worry, Surf the Greats company got you covered. Their new surf shop and café at 276 Carlaw Avenue offers thick cold water wetsuits, surf booties, and mittens from Rip Curl. While the warmest gear keeps your body comfortable, the beach-inspired events and parties will take care of your mood. For example, until July 29th, Catchin A Cold photo exhibit showcases works from 16 artists who represent all five of the Great Lakes.

Hidden in the labyrinth of the building, the shop became one of many surfers’ favourite spots in Toronto even before it opened. Even while under construction, it hosted Toronto’s premiere of environmental movie Island Earth and welcomed adventure photographer Chris Burkard who was in to Toronto to present his surf documentary Under An Arctic Sky.

Now the shop is officially open and it offers everything surfers need for their soul and body, from surfboards, apparel, sun care, and printed matters to surf and yoga lessons, energizing drinks, and many exciting events like film screenings and live music concerts!

“The atmosphere is totally amazing,” said 20-year-old Aliya N. Barnes, who attended the grand opening party on June 29th. “It’s colourful and bright, but it still has a nice surf chill feeling. I feel like I wanna live here.”

Surf the Greats’ owner Antonio Lennert said that the physical shop is an extension of their online platform that brought many surf enthusiasts together through organizing beach cleanups and free yoga classes and offering surf equipment and lessons for the last three years.

“We started online as a media outlet to connect all different communities of surfers over the Great Lakes using hashtag ‘surf the greats’,” he said. “I feel like we’ve earned the community’s trust by giving, and now the community is giving back to us. That’s why now we have a home, and there’s so many people here and so much positivity. It just feels very special.”

Surf the Greats’ sign over the bar table is shimmers in its juicy colours, shifts from pink to blue and from blue to green. Dj Great Lake Shark (Ellie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe with folktronica tracks until the band Gold Complex takes over with their live acoustic.

Gold Complex performs at the surf shop on June 29

Guests sample RISE Kombucha, order beer from Sweetgrass Brewing Co., and explore newly arrived surfboards and apparel. There are a couple of major brands like Vans Canada and Rip Curl, but Surf the Greats tries to stay local as much as possible and carries products from Montreal, Tofino, BC, and Toronto, along with their own brand.

Walking through the rows of beach bags and rash guards, the visitors occasionally stop and stare at the photos of Catchin A Cold exhibit. The sixteen photographs vary from black and white to colourful, and show surfers riding or waiting for waves, walking to and staring at the water. “What you see on the walls is a mix of professional photographers and people who go to beach with their phones,” said Lennert. “We tried to make sure that we represented all the Great Lakes, amateur and professional photographers, male and female photographers.” Surf the Greats announced the photo competition in the winter and, working with Vans Canada, selected the winning works out of 700 submissions.

Dj Great Lake Shark (Elie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe at Surf the Greats’ grand opening party
“I took this photo in Scarborough, Ontario, in a very-very stormy day, and there was one surfer out in very turbulent water,” Elie Landesberg told Novella about his black and white photo. “Because the sky was so grey and the birds were blowing around the sky, I thought it was a metaphor for my life and for surfing to see somebody sitting insulated, so calm among so much turbulence and chaos.”
Lennert said Surf the Greats will host a new event every week. Many of them are free or by donation. Check out a screening of a the surf movie GIVEN on July 20, a wave forecasting workshop on July 29th, and beach yoga every Sunday morning.
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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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