The dark clouds came over the horizon with winds that could knock you over if you weren’t careful. The sky unleashed a downpour so hard it felt like the creator was pouring buckets from the sky. It looked like dusk but it was only noon. And then a text came through on my phone: Wanna go surfing? Storm’s bringing some killer waves.
It was my friend, Chris, who’s been an avid surfer around the Great Lakes since returning home from the Gold Coast in Australia. I’ve dabbled as a surfer throughout the years, having learned in Tofino when I was 24 and then doing a lot in Australia a few years later and even down in Montanita, Ecuador last summer. But when I returned home to Ontario, I assumed my surfing days were pretty much over.
I was wrong.
I answered that text a few years ago with a resounding ‘yes’, and we hopped in a truck with a few of his boards and drove out the pier at Kincardine for the afternoon. We had to pull over a few times because it was raining so hard we couldn’t see the road, but once we arrived and I saw the waves, I knew I had been missing out on something pretty cool. Kincardine’s pretty unique in that the waves break off a long pier when they come in from the NW, so you can walk to end and jump into the water to catch the break. There were already six other surfers out there when I took my first awkward leap off the pier, but I found my place and tried to remember everything from years ago.
I struggled with the mushy stuff and got tossed around for awhile. And then I got up. And I remembered why I love surfing.
It wasn’t long before I started going out more often and then bought myself a wetsuit and now I’ve got a new board to get more serious. Years ago, I would never have pictured myself getting up at 6am in November in Ontario to go surfing or to catch an afternoon session on Xmas Eve, but now that’s what gets my blood pumping.
It’s difficult to discuss Great Lakes surfing without talking about a pivotal figure in the scene, James Carrick, who shares his passion for the sport through his online group the Great Lakes Surfers. But instead of talking about James, I thought it would be better to talk to James. So the following is the first of a new series called Rrampt Interviews.
I met up with him at Two Chicks Cafe in Sauble Beach, a place I’d been frequenting this summer to finish up my first novel and drink mango smoothies. It’s a chill cafe that spills out onto a sandy front lawn, and with almost daily live music, it reminds a little of a place I used to go in Byron Bay.
Rrampt Interview with James:
When did you first discover surfing?
I was working up at the Sauble Beach amusements. I got off work because of a storm and a local person who’s a surfer here (my brother was actually dating his sister), said do you want to give this a go and I said ‘hells ya I want to give this a go.” And I didn’t even catch a wave my first time (laughs). But I was hooked for life, like I was gonna get it. My brother married his sister, so we’re pretty much family now. He never gave me a lesson. I’m still 100% self taught.
Where have you surfed around the world?
California, both coasts of Canada, two different islands in Indonesia, Bali, Java, Australia. There’s a long list of places I want to do for sure. I want to go to Peru and Costa Rica next.
Where was your first ocean experience?
I think Tofino was the first. I think it was the next year I went through California in a camper van with a buddy. It was a great trip. We spent just over a month. Went down to the Mexico border pretty much and back up. Surfed away. Living in a Dodge Caravan. We hit Malibu and Rincon. You gotta hit Rincon. It’s such an epic wave, it goes forever.
What motivated you to start the Great Lake Surfers webpage and GLS Facebook group?
I’ve always been like: if you wanted to learn how to surf, I’ll take you surfing. I taught people how to surf for 10 to 12 years before I started charging money. You figure out you can do this really awesome thing and you want to share it. That’s what I think with GLS, I wanted to meet other surfers but also to promote this awesome sport. Some people shat on me for it. But you see someone catch their first wave and hear them howl and it’s so satisfying. You know they’re hooked for life. Because you are [hooked] once you start. You never want to stop.
Are there people in the area that you hold a lot of respect for?
Oh ya, Todd [Fetter] ‘cause he’s one of the originals. He can get a 10 foot longboard out into 5th, 6th sandbar on a big day, I don’t know how he does it. Isaiah [Walters] and Barrie [Morgan Barrie] for being true searchers of waves. I really give a lot of respect to anyone who gives it a go. I think surfers in general respect each other, in most cases. I think surfers really cheer each other on a lot.
How many boards do you have and what are you riding most these days?
Westshore gave me a SuperBrand, and I’m really actually quite happy with that. When I got to ride it, it was a super amazing board. It’s kind of my go-to short board. I ride my Sweet Potato a lot because it’s good in mushy waves.
How many boards do I have now? I think somewhere around 10 or 11 surf boards and 3 paddle boards. I have surf-school boards, and one for the kids.
And I have the original board I bought in California. I just can’t get rid them, they’re my babies. Like a Fish I bought in Bali, and a single fin from Australia. Some of them are collectors for sure.
You say on your site that:
Surfing is one of the oldest sport’s in the world and the competition has alway’s been surfer working with the wave. To get the most amazing ride that surfing can allow, ending in the ear to ear smile planted on that surfer’s face. And a memory that will last a life time.
What is one of your favourite memories from surfing?
There’s so many. But probably my barrel in Uluwatu [Bali] It was the longest, craziest barrel I’ve ever gotten. I thought I was gonna get closed in on twice and I still managed to get spit out the end and it’s probably the best wave I’ve ever caught for sure. I love that place too, it’s a beautiful spot. It’s their ocean temple: world famous wave.
How does lake surfing differ from the ocean?
Well, the ocean goes flat too. So waiting for swell goes both ways. You definitely get waves more frequently in the ocean. The fact that ours are wind driven with fresh water is why they’re so close together. The water temperature means a lot too: because our waves are wind driven, in the spring there’s not much surf because the water’s really cold and the winds coming in are really warm, so it’s not picking up the water, it’s still too dense. You have to wait until the water warms up and then the wind will start picking it up easier. And the reason why our falls are so epic is because our winds are pumping and the water’s warm and easy to move. Buoyancy definitely plays a huge factor. People usually go for a higher volume board on the Great Lakes. (pauses) No sharks, no jelly fish. (laughs). It’s always nice. I’ve been stung a ton of times.
They’re [ocean surfers] are very welcoming. That’s why I don’t get the attitude that some people give out on the Great Lakes, because I’ve never, ever ran into that in the ocean.
Where do see the culture of Great Lakes surfing in ten years?
I think it will always grow. Before Facebook for example, I really didn’t know any other surfers anywhere. When FB came out and I started GLS, it was like boom; wow, there’s a lot of surfers everywhere. I knew it wasn’t just us doing it. It’s so new that not everyone knows you can surf on the Great Lakes. More and more people will do it because it’s been their dream.
Like Larry [Cavero, of Surf Dreams Canada] who moved from Peru and thought he gave up surfing and then he finds out you can surf the Lakes and some of the immigrants [to Canada] are the most stoked surfers out there because they thought they gave that up.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking of taking up the sport?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Or ask other surfers for advice because 9 times out of 10 they’re more than happy to. ‘Cause somebody had been there for them. It definitely helps to take a lesson
for sure. Start on a big board, that’s your easiest bet and watch weather conditions and know where you’re surfing. Watch the other surfers out there and how they act and react. And know what’s underneath the water. If you’ve never done it before, don’t go to somewhere that’s rocky, you’re going to get hurt.
If you’re interested in becoming a Great Lakes Surfer, join Carrick’s Facebook page and talk to Larry Cavero at Surf Dreams Canada about a board. You can also email us here at Rrampt for more information and contacts. There’ll be a wave waiting for you on the Great Lakes this fall.
Written by Jesse Wilkinson