LAKE SURFISTAS | Another Kind of GNARLY

Photo Credit: Ryan Carter 2021 Surfers: Emily, Brit, and Steph Georgian Bay

The Lake Surfistas and their team members truly represent another kind of gnarly. They are a grassroots organization based in Canada dedicated to women who surf and SUP on the Great Lakes. In these frigid icy waters, staying safe and aware is essential therefore, having a community to watch out for one another is key to surviving and thriving. By connecting women who surf the Lakes, the Surfistas build solidarity, camaraderie, and safety in and out of the water.


Surfistas founder, Robin Pacquing, and surfer Shazia Mazhar, zoomed-in from Canada this winter to chat and share their joy and how the original Surfistas “seed” has “grown into something more than a few ladies scoring some chilly surf sessions at their favorite wind swell breaks.” It’s been “self-propelling” she states, explaining the community has progressed from just a few women out surfing the Lakes to over 1,000 women who now participate on their Facebook chat boards.


Photo Credit: Sarah Rabena 2021 Surfer: Shazia Mazhar Lake Ontario

There are nurses, doctors, moms, students, and women of all ages who participate. Interestingly, Robin describes individuals who frequently take public transit to their local breaks, highlighting the fact that the Lakes are intertwined with large cities such as Toronto.

Photo Credit: Sarah Rabena 2021 Surfer: Erin Skitch Lake Ontario

Unlike ocean tides, the Lakes waves rely on 100% wind swell, so surfable waves are usually at their best during the stormy winter months. Winter water temperatures are usually in the range of 32-40 degrees Fahrenheit. What's more, the Lakes are freshwater, making them less buoyant than the salty ocean. Brrrrrr

Photo Credit: Steven Miric 2021 Surfer: Amy Berkowitz Lake Ontario

The blossoming surf culture around the Lakes provides an opportunity to consciously create a forward-thinking, inclusive and welcoming surf community, and the Surfistas are doing their part.

Photo Credit: Ryan Carter 2021 Surfer: Steph Hebb Georgian Bay

Another unique aspect of the Lakes surf culture is the interconnected nature of the Lakes. The largest freshwater system in the world, the Lakes are essentially one giant ecosystem.

Photo Credit: Michelle Gorkunberg 2021 Surfer: Angela Chen Lake Ontario

This means that pollution in one region can affect them all, creating a common cause for Lakes surfers who often serve as ambassadors for the health/safety of the water they immerse themselves in. Additionally, the lakes are the primary source of drinking water for the surrounding regions in which Lake surfers live. Anthropogenic chemical, plastic, and phosphorus/nitrogen pollution (as well as climate change) pose a serious health and safety threat to the Lakes and their plants, animals, surfers, and neighbors.

Photograher: Robin Pacquing 2021 Surfers: Jen and Shazia Lake Ontario

The Lake Surfistas do incredible work to support their community and ecosystem, creating connections between women with shared passions and goals. Surfing the Great Lakes takes a level of dedication, stoke, and grit that goes above and beyond, and these ladies are extraordinarily inspiring both in and out of the water.


Look out for a future story later this year featuring Lake Surfista's broader community work, interconnectedness through surfing, and the well-being of the Lakes.

Photo Credit: Adam Pettengill_2020 Surfer: Rebecca Fox Lake Huron

Connect with the Lake Surfistas through their:

Website: LakeSurfistas.org

Instagram: @lakesurfistas

Facebook: @LakeSurfistas


Additional Photo/Video Credits

Video Credit: Abdul Shamad 2019 Surfer: Shazia Mazhar Lake Ontario

Collage group from left to right, top to bottom:

Photo Credit: Emma Silverthorne 2021 Surfer: Emma Silverthorne Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Shazia Mazhar 2015 Surfer: Aly Ambler Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Amy Berkowitz 2021 Surfer: Amy Berkowitz Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Nikki Cook 2021 Surfer: Nikki Cook Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Steve Chae 2021 Surfer: Caroline Cook and Hearing Dog Gracie! Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Sarah Rabena 2021 Surfer: Erin Skitch Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Sarah Rabena 2021 Surfer: Kaitlin Jingco Lake Ontario

Individual Images throughout post with contact info, top to bottom

Photo Credit: Ryan Carter 2021 Surfers: Emily, Brit, and Steph Georgian Bay

Photo Credit: Greg MacLeod, 2021 Surfer: Robin Pacquing Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Sarah Rabena 2021 Surfer: Shazia Mazhar Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Sarah Rabena 2021 Surfer: Erin Skitch Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Steven Miric 2021 Surfer: Amy Berkowitz Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Ryan Carter 2021 Surfer: Steph Hebb Georgian Bay

Photo Credit: Michelle Gorkunberg 2021 Surfer: Angela Chen Lake Ontario

Photograher: Robin Pacquing 2021 Surfers: Jen and Shazia Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: Adam Pettengill 2020 Surfer: Rebecca Fox Lake Huron


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