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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Surfset: Get ready for surfing in a cold city

Photo by Andrzej Misiak

Gusts of salty wind, sand on your tiptoes, and goosebumps from chilly splashes. After a fight with furious waves, with water plugging your nose, you are in the middle of a still blue surface. Your heart freezes as it feels an approaching wave. Few big paddles, and you are up on the board, riding the wave and living in the speed of the ocean.

Does dreaming about surfing make you happy? Then don’t let the rain and snow discourage you! Get ready for the breathtaking sport with surfing-inspired classes at Surfset Toronto (2481A Yonge St.). They might not make you a real surfer, but they could get you a surfer’s body.

What we can’t prepare you for is to tell when you are going to pop up and how to read the waves,” said Certified Personal Trainer and Surfset fitness instructor Andrzej Misiak. “But physically we can definitely get you prepared for surfing.”

Andrzej Misiak. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Take your shoes off and confidently enter the room with large mirrors, surfboards, and blue, grey, and white patterns on the walls — there’s no big waves or scorching sand on the ground. However, don’t relax. The surfboard machines seem steady, but try to spend some time on them, and they start wobbling. Air-blown balls under a board challenge your balance, so you feel just as if you were swinging on real waves!

The boards make simple squats, planks ,and push-ups much more difficult and raise your workout to a new level. 

A two-week trial will cost you $45, and a unlimited monthly pass is $150. You can still catch a New Year resolution sale that lasts until February 14th. The deal gets you unlimited membership for $99 per month if you commit to the studio for three or six months.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

At first I was hesitant. With regular exercises at the gym and dancing, I was worried I wouldn’t have enough energy for another workout. And the videos on the SurfSet website looked quite intense. However, after three weeks of doing indoor-surfing, I could say that, except for actual surfing itself, it’s been the most adventurous workout I’ve ever done! Each class gives me an extra boost. My body is getting used to the challenges and wants more and more movement. 

Balance, Burn, Blend, Build and Surf Circuit classes focus on different things, but you always get a full-body workout that increases your endurance, flexibility, and strength. Those are the most important things in a sport where you don’t have the luxury of controlling your environment.

“People don’t understand that the most challenging part of surfing is actually not getting up on the board,” Misiak said. “That is five or ten percent of surfing. What a lot of surfing is about is getting out and fighting those waves, knowing how to get out so you don’t get so tired.”

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Balance is my favourite class so far. This yoga-inspired session is perfect for newcomers or those who have injuries. Wobbling on the board, I try to make my side plank, warrior and tree poses look as pretty as I can. I learn many “sea-like” poses such as surf-stand and sea star. Sometimes the instructor gives us variations of the most challenging moves. For example, performing the side plank, we have to transfer our weights t our right hand and right foot and lift our left hand and left foot off the board. Those who find the pose too difficult can press their left foot into the right foot and drop the elbow on the board if they need.

Build class is great for building lean muscles. We perform squats, overhead triceps extensions, and arm raises with different sets of weights. We also do many kicks and leg extensions wearing resistance bands on our feet.

Blend class combines cardio, balancing, and weights. It’s always a fun and energetic workout.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

The instructors, who are professional surfers, certified yogas or fitness trainers, pay the most attention to the core and upper body, so you get prepared to paddle a lot! I love how we usually start our warm up with multiple paddles forward and back and finish the workout with calm stretching.

The results, which I can already see, are a happy mood, leaner muscles, and better balance and flexibility.

Misiak, who has been teaching this program for over a year, said the results vary depending on how long the students exercise for. Most of those who come at least twice per week are confidently doing push-ups and lunges after one or two months. And almost all students see leaner muscles and weight loss.

“We just had a lady who came for one month and ended up losing seven pounds,” said Misiak. “It’s really amazing.”

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

I have a very little surfing experience that includes two hours of surfing in Panama and indoor classes at Surfset. But imagining me popping up on the board somewhere in Honolulu brings so much excitement in my city life that everything that can (even mentally) get me closer to the ocean inspires me. And Surfset classes are a kick ass inspiration.

“I find surfing a very interesting sport because it’s not like hockey, or volleyball, or baseball, or any other sport,” said Misiak. “In hockey you have an arena and at seven o’clock at night you can go to the arena, and you can play with your friends and compete whenever it is.”

“With surfing you are not in control of when you can do it. You usually have to know about the weather and the ocean. The combination of getting connected to nature and physical preparation is a little bit of a euphoric feeling because you are combining all these elements that come together for you to be able to get on the wave. It’s a huge sense of accomplishment every single time you catch a wave.”

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

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