A beginner’s guide to cold-water surfing in Canada


While it may seem like a crazy idea, the best time to get your surf on in Canada is generally the spring and fall. Yep, depending on where you live, the best breaks may not happen until the air temperature is way below what average people would consider “swimming weather.” But that doesn’t stop the diehards. Because, as surfers will tell you, once you’re on the water it’s all worth it. Here are a few tips for getting out there.

Wear a wetsuit

If you’re ready to get in the water then you’ll definitely need a wetsuit. These can be a pretty major purchase and you want to get the right one for what you’ll use it for. Most people wear a steamer of some type; a steamer is a wetsuit that goes all the way down to your ankles and wrists, covering your entire body. Some of them also have a built-in hood. The thickness of the wetsuit will depend on where you’re surfing. They range in thickness from 3 to 7mm—7mm being the warmest, but also the bulkiest. Talk to you local surf shop to see what’s right for you. You’ll also want to consider a hood, gloves, and booties if you really want to stay warm.

Photo by Colin Field

Get a big board

The big question is what kind of board to get. It’s full of variables: Are you beginner or advanced? How much do you weigh? Where will you be surfing? These are the questions that need to be answered. Your best bet is to ask for help at your local surf shop. If you’ve never surfed before, be realistic: this isn’t an easy sport, so don’t go straight for a 6-foot board just because it looks cool. If you’re a beginner, get a bigger board. Start with something that’s at least 8 to 10 feet long and work your way down as you progress.

Adopt the etiquette 

Being accepted into the surf community isn’t that difficult. Generally surfers are a friendly bunch and are happy to share the stoke. That being said, there are a few small but crucial rules: keep your distance from other surfers (to the best of your ability); don’t hog all of the action; most importantly, don’t drop in on another surfer’s wave. It’s really all about respect for one another.

Photo by Colin Field

Learn from the pros

If you’re just getting started, it’s probably best to take a lesson. That way, you don’t have to worry about investing in all of the gear (let alone the proper gear) right away.

Nova Scotia: If you’re on the East Coast and hoping to try surfing, then look no further than the East Coast Surf School. Operated by local legend Nico Manos, he rents wetsuits and boards and will instruct anyone older than five years old.

Ontario: Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior all offer some great opportunities for surfing, but Lake Huron is probably the most accessible. The Bruce Peninsula’s shoreline means many different wind directions will open up different breaks. If you want to go find some waves on Lake Huron, then your man is James Carrick. Operating out of the Cabana Beach Hut in Sauble Beach, this guy is always on the water. And if there are waves breaking anywhere in the area, he’ll know about it. He can also supply rentals.

British Columbia: Undeniably the surf capitol of Canada, Tofino was a relatively secret spot for decades—not any more. There are multiple surf shops operating here and some of the best surfers in the country call this place home. If you’ve seen a surf shot from BC in a magazine lately, there’s a good chance Raphael Bruhwiler was the surfer. So why not learn from the best? Check out the Bruhwiler Surf School for a chance to catch a cold-water barrel.

Photo by Colin Field