Lars Graefe submitted this fabulous surf story to Local back in the Fall and in the largest error ever made in our publication history, we did not have a story credit on his page 17 story!!! SO frustrating that this omission took place and we apologize wholeheartedly to Lars. Errors are always irritating but this one went beyond that. The first time you publish is a treat and we mucked that up so our sincere apologies to Lars. Also though our sincere thanks for this story which truly captures the love or stoke that surfers have for their sport. Written more for surfers, I figured this story would work best alongside the feature that I wrote so that you get the outsiders look at the sport first and then the insider’s one courtesy of local surfer, Lars Graefe. Enjoy!
And if you are on a mobile browser, here is the text…
“It’s too hollow”. I never thought I would hear those words while surfing Lake Ontario. But last October, a year ago, I did. It was mid morning. The wind had just switched directions from the epic northeast of the night before to a 15 knot SW, as my friend Elias and I decided to leave 3rd Bay and walk over to Off-the-Hook. I was paddling back out after catching my first wave on the south side of the little bay, as I saw Elias posing for the perfect shot. His board was on top of him, bottom up and still attached to the ceiling of a perfect 4-foot tube [wave that curls over itself to form a tube]. Elias, snug in the same tube, just underneath his board, suspended in mid air, on his side right arm stretch out, like superman ready to fly out. No other picture would have captured the adventure of our session better than that split second.
“It’s too hollow”, Elias smiled at me after he came back up, and I smiled back at him, knowing, my mind drifting to the afternoon of the day before, when north east winds produced waves more than double that size. It wasn’t the only time, that Elias or I ate it that morning. But what did it matter? Even if we never quite flew out of any of the tubes, we rode them. We did cut backs on lips so powerful they whacked your board around for you. And, we could see the kind of air you would catch, if you just timed your bottom-turn right, on these close-outs. This and the day before completely redefined what’s possible when surfing Lake O, and ever since, the game has changed.
“It’s too hollow”. I thought those same words several times that day before. I just didn’t have anybody to share them with. I remember checking texts as I was walking down the hill along the retaining wall of the Water Works on Toronto’s east side. Waves were thundering on the beach below with such force, I could feel the ground vibrate. But The Cove was where everybody was going. The wind was going to peak at over 40 knots. On Lake Ontario it only gets that strong once or twice each year and when it does The Cove at Bluffer’s Park is the default spot. We know it can handle waves with 8-foot faces. But that afternoon I wanted to see what else this lake was capable off. My hope was that one of the many bays that the city of Toronto had created for erosion control past the Water Works would fire up a ridable tube. The shoreline there is perfectly angled to catch the full force of a North East swell without the wind blowing in your face. The city’s finger-shaped rock piles stick into the water far enough to create the occasional point break and to allow sand banks to build between them. We had only ever looked at the first three of those bays. I wanted to look further.
When I arrived at the bottom of the hill the weight of what I saw made my stomach drop. Off-the-Hook was one huge, violent close out. It was like the lake fell over itself, creating a waterfall across the entire bay and behind it for a few seconds a tunnel big enough for a 6-foot guy to glide through. But there was no way out. It just collapsed. All of it at once. We call this first bay Off-the-Hook, because when the wind is right and the water level not too high this spot is too good to be true. Nowhere on the lake will you catch this many waves in one session. One after the other. The left is slower, the right faster. And all of it just a few feet from shore, protected from the wind. No current. Just sets rolling in. It’s like an ocean break on a secret little beach at the bottom of a steep drop-off that nobody but us climbs down to. Just you and the pack listening to the echo of your howls bouncing of the cliffs.
This afternoon the friendly secret break had morphed into a monster with fangs. All kinds of debris was floating around. Plastic containers, a fence pole, a 10-foot tree trunk; a shopping cart caught in the sand. So, I continued carrying my board northeast, past 3rd Bay, which didn’t look make-able either. Another bay and another one, until I saw white foam flying high through the air. By that time I was in front of the Scarborough golf course and a bay three times as wide as the others opened up. A clean beach. No trash in the water and a 40-meter paddle away, past the rocks, an 8-foot break ridable to the right, all the way back to the rocks. That is, as far as I could tell through the heavy mist blown up by a 6-foot shorebreak thundering on the sand along the entire bay every couple of second. But once the anticipation of a ride has lit up your spine, a hint of it is all you need.
I waited for the impact, boom, and jumped on the foam ball paddling for my life. Once you jump there is no turning back. You can’t let the pain from your sinuses slow you down, as the cold water hits your face. Let’s go get some of those 8 footers. It was a lot of paddling and being bumped around. Some current. But, the 2 rides I managed to score were more than worth it. As it was getting bigger and messier it was time to look defeat in the eye and reunite with the masses at the Cove. I was getting cold and my wintersuit was waiting for me in my van. As I made my way back to shore, I realized that getting out of the water with both you and your board in one piece is a totally different story at Shorebreak than getting into the water. “Shorebreak” is what I’m going to call this spot, which should be my right, since I’m the first, and probably last one to have ridden this spot.
As I was walking back, along all those bays, my breath was louder than the roaring lake. My limbs felt numb from the cold. My mind was silent, until my head turned right at Off-the-Hook. There it was, a new break. The wind was now at its peak and built up a wave far away, breaking 20 meters beyond the rocks. It was big and steep. Steep enough to snug your head underneath the lip. You only had to make sure not to get carried into the close out inside the bay, which was now even gnarlier and gave you no way out. I remember my bright red hands as I was coming up from my duck dive. I waited two sets before paddling for one, popped up, went right, picking up speed as the face got steeper and steeper. When I dropped down on one knee I saw the opening. Wide and tall. Forgotten was the fact that this was the closeout I had to stay away from. All I saw was a tube that whispered my name. I flew inside. Through the dark. No sound but the beat of my pulse. When the roof collapsed I was ready. Thunder pushed me straight down into the lake, still on my board, until we got pulled back and up over that waterfall. Wham.
When you climb back up the hill from those bays along that big stone wall that the city built a hundred years ago, you get to a crooked tree that blocks your way. At that point my body was shivering from the cold and my cheeks were hurting from that smile that would simply not go away.