Field Notes: Sharing the Breaks

I first shot photos of Great Lakes surfers back in 2008 at a place called Envy. It’s one of the best breaks around when it works. Lake surfing was a different sport then; there was barely anyone doing it. It was a secretive brotherhood. Being told where a new break was, meant you were in the club. But you couldn’t tell anyone else.


Words and photo: Colin Field

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Each surfer had their own varying code of ethics, but if you broke that code, well, you were out. It was a mean world. People didn’t like me taking photos of it; they thought a published photo would make the sport too popular and ruin the waves. I suppose they envisioned truckloads of newbies showing up, making the breaks too crowded to surf.

There are certainly more lake surfers than ever before, but it’s not because a couple photos appeared in Mountain Life. It’s more like we reached the tipping point: wetsuits became better and more readily available, forecasting technologies improved and awareness of an actual surf scene grew.

But what’s amazing about the Great Lakes surf scene is that it didn’t get meaner. While the waves are more crowded, the scene isn’t more cut-throat. In fact, the exact opposite happened; it’s friendlier than ever. There are more guys and girls in the lineup and most of them are all smiles. People like Larry Calvero, James Carrick and Josh Madryga are stoked to share waves. Their positivity and openness is inspiring. They’ll often fire me a text when the surf is pumping. They want me there. Heck, they want other surfers there. They want to share the stoke.

“What’s amazing about the Great Lakes surf scene is that it didn’t get meaner. While the waves are more crowded, the scene isn’t more cut-throat. In fact, the exact opposite happened; it’s friendlier than ever.”

Sure, the guys who wanted to smash my camera are still out there; they’re disgruntled at having to share their waves, and honestly, they sound like grumpy old men way before their time. That microcosm and evolution of the Great Lakes surf scene is an important analogy for us here in southern Georgian Bay. Because you know what? The whole area is experiencing a similar growth; the people are coming. They’re riding our trails, skiing our powder, surfing our waves and fishing our rivers. Simply put, the secret is out: Collingwood and surrounding area is an awesome place to live. People from the GTA are selling their overvalued homes and driving up local real estate prices.

These people aren’t moving here because they’ll make more money. They’re coming to ride bikes, jump snowboards and fly kites. They’re coming because of the trails, the Bay, the hills, the lifestyle. It means that places like Three Stage, the Swamp and Envy will see more traffic than ever before.

What can we do about it? I see two options.

We can be pissed off about it. We can gripe about it and fight the incoming tide. Or we can embrace it. We can take a cue from the new generation of Great Lakes surfers, and welcome people with smiles and shouts of encouragement. More riders means more trail builders. More surfers means better forecasting. More climbers leads to better access.

The migration of lifestyle-focused people to this area is inevitable. What you can choose, is how you react to it.


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