It's September 2017. We are all very excited for the fall season to start on the Great Lakes, but no waves are yet in sight. Everyone is slightly disappointed and anxiously waiting for winds and waves to come. I decided that this would be the best time to interview Pat.
I am happy to share with you the portrait of Patrice Manuel through my series of photos #isurf.
1. Did you go surfing there every day in Ottawa?
Every day I went with my suit, I would wait and then ask people if I could buy or borrow a board. People did not want to sell me their boards and no one offered to try their boards. Until one day, I met a guy (who again I am very grateful), Marco. He had a big board and he lent it to me for the rest of the season. In Ottawa, the season is short. I also had another friend in Ottawa and we both tried to do it, but we just had one board. When Marco gave me his board, it was perfect. On top of that, I had lost my job and I was unemployed. So I surfed every day for two months in Ottawa.
2. During these two months, did you meet more people in the Ottawa surf community?
It was amazing! There I met a surf crew called gypsy sabotage. We were three or four guys. We started going there a lot. This is when we started to advertise surfing in Ottawa. That was even before the surf shops had boards, they just had SUPs. Now it's different in Ottawa: they have annual surf jam, they work closely with the city and the firefighters now. There has been a lot of work with the city and the community. Surfing established itself in a very short time. As soon as I moved out of Ottawa, everything changed quickly for the better.
3. After Ottawa did you arrive to the Great Lakes?
I then moved to Guelph and I knew we could surf the Great Lakes. I had heard about it, but I did not know where to go, I did not know how it all worked and I had never seen pictures. But I knew it was happening. In my head, I thought that if it can be done in a river, it can also be done on a lake.
4. Tell us how you started on the Great Lakes?
The first time I asked someone about it, I was told about Kincardine. Then one day, I saw a strong northwesterly wind that was hitting Kincardine. I told myself that it must be it and I went to Kincardine. In Kincardine, there was waves and two or three surfers in the water. When I arrived in Kincardine, I felt like I was in a beach town. When I arrived on the pier and there was a sandy beach, surfers and waves; I thought it was like the ocean. It was the first thing that struck me, it made me feel so good to see that!
After I tried surfing in Toronto. I remember stopping at Ashbridge, I took the bus. I arrived there, it was almost evening. There was only a small wave, up to the knee. The next time, I went to Scarborough, to the bluffs, and there was nothing. I was so disappointed! I went another day but at the Cove, then Mini-Maverick. The Cove was a little intimidating, so I went to Mini-Maverick, but I had a lot of difficulty. That's how it started. Then I started going to several spots, even during the winters, when it was not frozen. I started looking for more spots and I would continue to drive until I found waves. I was surfing more often here than in Nova Scotia.
5. It's been a while now that you surf on the Great Lakes, can you describe the surfing community on the Great Lakes?
It has about three years and a bit that I surf on the Great Lakes. I started surfing steadily last year when I met Larry. Larry sold me a better board for the lakes and I started to surf better and catch more waves. It made a big difference. Then I met many more people and started surfing more regularly.
The Great Lakes are divided into small communities, it's almost like small tribes. I will not say that the Great Lakes are characterized only by one community. Each spot has its groups tied to it. I find that in general people are very nice, quite welcoming. They seem especially nice to me, when compared to my experiences in Nova Scotia and Ottawa. In Nova Scotia, I found people more reserved. In Ontario, in these small tribes, I have always met someone who were happy to meet me.
6. The surf scene on the Great Lakes has grown a lot in recent years, do you think that many people are involved in that growth of the community?
The scene on the Great Lakes has evolved, it has grown a lot. When I met Larry, he was really into helping the community. There are many other people who are involved. Larry has been a great help to the Toronto community. In Kincardine there is Ash. He does a lot and he has a surf shop. It's a very good energy. Of course, there are many people who help the community. Recently, there is Surf the Greats that helps the community a lot.
7. Can you describe your best ride?
Best ride? It was more like milestones for me. One of my best rides was on the ocean at Maruata in Mexico. I was with all my friends. The Mexicans called this spot "lengua" (the tongue) because it would almost project you. I was helping a guy get into the line-up and then I rode a wave and it was my best wave in Mexico. The wave really had a push, a "lengua"; the wave was so beautiful and it was my longest ride.
8. Your favorite spot on the Great Lakes?
On the big lakes, I love Crystal beach. I caught a lot of lefts there. It was during the winters, it was so cold, but I really felt like a Canadian surfer.
9. Do you have any advice for someone who is starting on the Great Lakes?
If the person is already a surfer, but he has not surfed the Great Lakes, I'll just tell him it's different from the ocean. You have to be adventurous, but anything is possible. You must not be fooled by the fact that it is a lake. I think it's a bit of people's impression that since it's a big lake, you can just do longboarding. I'm believe you can use shorts boards and I've even seen people doing airs. You need to go full out.
If the person has never surfed, well I would say it's a good sport. You have to take the time to learn, it's a journey. You have to enjoy each part. You must also connect with the community, they will make your experience a good experience.
The #isurf series follows people of the Great Lakes community and retells their stories through anecdotes, interviews and photographs. #isurf will be released every other month, the first part will be released on the Wednesday and the second on the Friday.