People now flock to the two well known surf spots in the city. At one time, both were considered endless waves that one could surf as long as desired. That time has long passed and now at any given time between sunrise and sunset in the summer months, you’ll find a lineup, with polite etiquette, each waiting their turn and kindly taking only a few mins for each surfer on the wave.
The crowd is smaller during the colder months, with Montreal’s harsh winters and the hazards of the ice in the river are a call for the brave or a crazy canuck.
After a long stretch of traveling, I recently became more interested in photographing and filming the longboarders here. “Vague à Guy” (translated to Guy’s wave) is a small constant wave that is ideal for longboarding. I decided to reach out to the local surf community in Montreal and connect with some of the longboarders to do a few photoshoots. After posting on a Facebook group, Yuan Legault, a long time Montreal river surfer, responded for a sunrise surf photo session. Basically strangers, we had briefly messaged to arrange the shoot, but to avoid risking any time or losing the lighting, I popped out my camera and started shooting after a quick hello. We barely spoke with the flow of the river and sunrise guiding the session. The shoot reminded me of the love I have to shoot surfing and the magic that lies in the quiet hours before the world wakes up.
After shooting, Yuan and I sat down to chat. Yuan described his first experiences surfing the river. He had heard about the wave many years ago and decided to give it a go. At that time, it wasn’t common knowledge and surfing had yet to become the mainstream sport it is today. He spoke about the challenges to learning and getting cold once summer ended which led him to invest in a wetsuit. He then found humility by taking river surfing into the ocean while traveling to Mexico and Central America. The trip served as a bit of a reality check on the dangers of the ocean but also the limitations of shortboards. He was searching for an instructor to teach him how to take a barrel, when failing to find one due to all the injured instructors and the big surf conditions, he started to question himself
“What a river surfer from Montreal was doing in Escondido trying to take barrels in the first place?”
Then after a dry spell there, he could feel the tension in and out of the lineup building so he decided to grab a longboard. He found himself connecting all the peaks while everyone else sat waiting for more powerful waves to arrive, realizing the benefits of longboarding. Returning to Montreal with new knowledge, he started experimenting with different surfboards until finding the right one just years ago, being a log. Thus transiting into his love and passion for longboarding, one being the ability to catch more waves per session but more importantly, his love for the inclusive attitude of longboarding. Sharing the waves and creating a sense of community rather than that competitiveness or old school localism.
We spoke about how surfing had changed our lives in terms of its power over our mental health. How any past addictions and other forms of escapism we once had, were now replaced with surfing. How it changed our mindset and mentality. Although we both shared that adventure seeking, and natural curiosity, we both learnt to surf later in life, and have transitioned our entire lives for it. I find it rather beautiful, like a second chance in life. Surfing is a passion that surfers might recognize as a “fire within”. We spoke how surfing has helped us listen more to our intuition and the way it lights that fire. Yuan has adjusted his life to surround surfing by instructing with the local surf school KSF and teaching physical education to maximize his time surfing. He spoke of the early days of Montreal river surfing long before lineups and it was still a small crew of local surfers, sometimes competing for a case of beer in what they called the “Corona Cup”. Since then it has now been replaced by Mtl Log Fest, an invitational longboarding competition, with their 2nd edition just this past summer. He told me about some of the highly skilled surfers in Montreal who compete in it.
After 12 years surfing the river, Yuan decided he wanted to give back to the surf community. Joining a new local organization Surf Grand Montreal, that gives a voice to the surfers within government systems. Yuan helps as part of the committee focused on events, finance and funding. Aiding with the idea of a “Paddle Out” to ensemble the local surfers in hopes to bring attention to creating more waves in the city. He was kind and welcoming me to the wave after being away and sharing that warm longboarding attitude. It reminded me of my Canadian roots and made me feel part of a surf community again after solo surfing for so long.