Surfing the pandemic

A year ago, the pandemic hit us right in the face like a cold wave entering our tight wetsuit. It forced us to slow down our lifestyle and rethink our living. 

Personally, it’s been a year and a half since I set foot in the salty water and I miss it terribly. I usually go south on surf trips during the winter to catch some warm waves and during the fall, chase the hurricane season. The rest of the year, I'm gliding on the St.Lawrence River in Montreal. As much as I lived in my respective bubble in order to comply with government guidelines, I felt lucky to continue river surfing and bless to find the surf community in the water.

This winter, Prime Minister of Quebec Legault declared a curfew, forcing us to stay home after eight p.m. So I spent a lot of my time staring at my surfboards in the corner of the room. Scrolling through Instagram feeds, watching other people’s lives near the ocean. I also did an Instagram break to pass more quality time outside. But let’s be honest, it’s getting really tough on the morale and I got this feeling that I’m not the only one, that this winter was particularly difficult for many of us. Especially for our social life, mental and physical health.

However, Instagram made me discover Laurance Giguère, Rachel Barrett and Aline Carrier, three amazing and inspiring women surfers living in Canada. While chatting with them, I wanted to know the impact Covid-19 has had on their surfing practice, see different perspectives and realities of their life from East to West of Canada.

Laurance Giguère (@lauranceeg) is a Quebec surfer now living in Nova Scotia and a full-time e-Commerce Master student. For her, the pandemic led her to achieve what she wanted as a healthy lifestyle. “I found it so difficult for my morale to spend so much time in front of my screen and having to limit my visits to the big city. All I dreamed of was being in the ocean again, on my surfboard, feeling the salty air and hearing the sound of the waves around me.”

In 2020, she decides to settle near the ocean with her boyfriend. It was during a van trip on the East Coast that they fell in love with the Maritimes. “The feeling of finding myself in the ocean again was indescribable; it made me feel good. I feel like the ocean has always been my remedy for stress and anxiety, it allows me to feel in harmony with the world and in peace with myself, even in times of chaos. It was unthinkable for us to go back to the big city.” says Laurance. Making an important place for surfing in her life was what Laurance wanted. Less stress, and more and more surfing.

On the east coast, Rachel Barrett (@luminousandwild) is a mother, yoga teacher and surfer living in Nova Scotia. Her passion for dancing and celebrating life is really contagious. Living near the Atlantic Ocean, she admits that the pandemic has brought many new folks into cold water surfing. “The water is a lot busier now it’s actually crazy to me as usually winter thins out the crowds but this year has been the opposite and all gear sold out in a lot of places.” 

Speaking with Laurie Gauvin (@lauriegauvin), marketing manager at Billabong Canada, she explains: “When the pandemic first hit and stores had to shut down, the uncertainty of the future led to a wave of order cancellations from retailers to avoid having stock that they couldn’t sell in stores. Once summer came along and restrictions eased, people were eager to play outside and try new things. A lot of them were still unemployed and had more time to surf, which spiked a higher demand than usual for retailers that unfortunately had less inventory available to sell. On the back end, factories were still working at a limited capacity due to Covid-19 which slowed down production for companies to sustain the demand.”

With more people in the water, surfing can get more challenging. During winter, Rachel continues to go surfing and takes her place in the lineup. “I’m definitely still committed to carving out my ocean time and remind myself that there’s space for us in the ocean, even though it is a lot busier now. I’m hopeful that new people take it upon themselves to learn etiquette so that the busy spots can still feel safe and welcoming for everyone. We truly have a lot to celebrate about this amazing nature connection we share and when I feel scarcity mindset come in about breaks being busy, it is good to remember how healing surfing can be for us all.”

On the West Coast side, Aline Carrier (@ali.car) is a freediver, surfer, sailor and oceanographer. Half Quebecois and half Senegalese, she lives in British Columbia, near the Pacific Ocean. On March 25th, Parks Canada shut down the national parks and historic sites to slow down the spread of Covid-19. But it didn’t stop Aline from searching other surfing spots. “This is where I realized that even this would not stop me from surfing. Not only I found ways to access these surf breaks, but I also started to use different breaks more often. I also felt really lucky because even considering the access being more difficult, there were still a lot of ways to find a wave around here.” Like Rachel, she got some similar experiences with surf spots. It got crowded too and changed the quietness of the places. “There’s also all the people who would have normally gone surfing foreign breaks who stayed in the country. All of this didn’t only affect the quietness of my favourite surfing spots, but definitely increased the anthropogenic pressure on certain areas.”says Aline. 

Moreover, she definitely sees a positive aspect of exploring other spots “I also felt really lucky because even considering the access being more difficult, there were still a lot of ways to find a wave around here. So not only it reminded me how dedicated I was to surfing, but that I’m in a good place in life. I felt extremely privileged.”

With the pandemic leading the world right now, I salute the women who chase their dreams, take their place in the water and continue to put surfing as an important priority. I realized that even if I’m not living near the ocean, I feel really privileged to have the river near me and river surf. Because, at the end of the day, we go in the water and do what we love most.

 Written by Chloé Mocombe

Cover photo by Bryanna Bradley