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How to surf Lake Ontario when the weather’s sub-zero

Secret no. 12 to making the most of the city this chilly season

How to surf Lake Ontario when the weather's sub-zero
(Image: Eamon Mac Mahon)

In April 2014, when the rest of Toronto was recovering from polar-vortex paralysis, Kristen Hanna had an odd idea: let’s go surfing. She slipped on a four-millimetre-thick wetsuit, hiked through the slush with her board and paddled out into the near-freezing waters of Lake Ontario. Somewhere between the face-numbing winds and bone-chilling wipeouts, she found bliss. Hanna is a recent convert to the small, admittedly loony-tunes community of Great Lakes surfers. When severe weather alerts drive most of us onto our couches, their tribe rejoices: the stronger the winds, the wilder the waves, which can get up to two metres during January storms.

At Surf Ontario, the North York surf shop where Hanna works, staff watch the weather obsessively, ready to ship out to Ashbridges Bay, the Bluffs or even Kincardine to hang 10 at a moment’s notice. If such adventurous pursuits appeal, you can train at Surfset, a year-old fitness studio at Yonge and Eglinton with a fleet of indoor pseudo-surfboards designed to emulate real-water surfing. Also, Surf Ontario sells Goofboards, balance trainers that wobble and weave atop cylindrical beams. Surfset, 2481A Yonge St., 416-787-3738; Surf Ontario, 103-100 Sunrise Ave., 647-882-7873.

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