¿Quieres leerlo en español? Want to read this in Spanish? ¡Haz click aquí!

The waves of the Pacific are widely famous within the surfing community because they are both fun and challenging to ride. But did you know it is also possible to surf on lakes? If you’re a traveling surfer in search of the best waves, this blog will show you the fascinating contrast between the imposing and warm waves of the Ecuadorian Pacific and the challenging waters of The Great Lakes in North America.

two surfers sharing a wave in Lake Superior in the winter
Two surfers sharing a wave on Lake Superior, March 2022. @teigansgallery

Through the eyes of Isi, a traveling surfer, we explored how each surfing experience has become a unique and memorable chapter in her journey through these diverse aquatic landscapes. From the tropical shores of the Pacific to the cold waters of the Great Lakes, surfing reveals itself as a universal language that connects people beyond geographical boundaries, weaving exciting stories with each new wave.

a surfer walking down the beach with her surfboard in November on Lake Huron, Canada
Lake Huron, November 2023

Isi is originally from Toronto, Canada, but has lived for short periods in Ecuador. First in Canoa, a small surfing town in northern Ecuador, and this time in Olón, on the central coast of the Ecuadorian Pacific, so she is Ecuadorian at heart. Isi is currently in Mexico adding more stories to her traveling surfer career.

two surfers coming out of the water in November on Lake Huron, Canada
Isi & Co. with their wetsuits ready to go surf, November 2023

What do you love about surfing?

For me, surfing is about having fun. When I started out I got frustrated often because I wanted to be so much better than I was. But as soon as I realized that surfing is a personal sport and a relationship between you and the water, I stopped comparing myself to other surfers and stopped focusing on being ten steps ahead of where I was at. Every time you go in the water it’s something new, every time you catch a wave it’s a new challenge and learning experience, so I always go into the water with an open mind and resign myself to the fact that I can’t predict anything, and that always grounds me and humbles me.

As long as I had fun I’m happy with my session, it doesn’t matter how many waves I caught. My other favourite part of surfing is supporting my friends! I love surfing with other women and empowering them to try. It literally doesn’t matter if you catch a wave or not, just being out in the water with your board is so exciting, and the best way to contradict any kind of tension in the lineup is to cheer for your friends and cheer for yourself! And cheer even harder if it’s a wipeout!

a group of surfers cheering each other on in the water in Lake Ontario Canada
Isi & Co. surfing the cold waters of Lake Ontario, December 2022

How did you feel living in Olón?

I loved it here. Everyone in Olón and on the Ecuadorian coast in general is so welcoming and kind. Every time I come here I feel immediately at home. The community in Olón is really special. Locals are so connected with the water and with the environment, and there’s a sense that everyone here really looks out for each other. Everyone here is so welcoming to tourists and I can really feel that they love to share their world with new people. I especially felt that with the surfers; they are always smiling and always happy to share their waves and their waters with new faces!

two traveling surfers watching the waves from the beach in Olon Ecuador
Isi and Mia checking out the waves before their surf session in Olón, January 2024

Tell us about The Great Lakes. What is your experience surfing those waves?

Like everyone who eventually surfs the lakes, I first thought it was impossible. I grew up living on Lake Ontario my whole life and had no clue that the coastline is filled with surf spots and incredible waves. After my first surf lesson in Portugal in 2019, I went home and immediately started researching how to surf at home, and a local Toronto surf shop popped up online. I went there (thinking it was just a surf shop for travelers) and started talking to Surf the Greats’ co-owner Lucas Murnaghan.

I literally said word for word “if I could surf on the lakes I would, but I know that’s impossible.” His face lit up with the biggest smile in the world. We talked for so long about the science behind lake waves and getting barrelled in a snowstorm. And that summer I saved up and bought a full set-up: 7 foot foamie, 5/4mm wetsuit, 7mm gloves, 7mm boots, boom. But I had no idea how hard it would be…

I thought one surf lesson was enough. Haha. My first session on the lakes was humbling. We did a surf trip up to Kincardine, a local spot on Lake Huron. It was October, dark and stormy, and the waves looked angry. I had never seen lake waves before and they looked ferocious. There were surfers everywhere – a bunch of seals in black water.

I walked in and immediately felt the current pulling me to the left. I was like woah… I tried paddling out but had zero concept of how to do that, at all. I don’t even remember what happened. The waves absolutely threw me around. But I felt like I did a good job, which is hilarious. When I got out of the water I just had this stoke that I couldn’t let go of. Something was so crazy to me about surfing in terrible weather conditions. I was obsessed.

And how do you feel surfing on the Ecuadorian coast?

I won’t lie, my heart will always be in Ecuador when it comes to surfing. I learned how to surf here and I learned how to get comfortable in wavy water here so it’s where I feel most at home. There are also no sharks, you almost never have to fight for waves because there are endless surf spots, and the people are just so amazing.

Improving my skills in Olón has been incredible. There’s so much to learn from surfing in Olon because there are days for all levels. Sometimes it’s whitewash and sometimes it’s absolutely massive, so I’ve been able to practice on the easy days and push myself on the big days. But my favourite place to surf around here is La Rinconada. OUTDOOR ECUADOR took us there on a surf trip in January, and when we got to the lookout point and saw the beautiful corduroy lines, I fell in love. In low tide the wave there is super long, super chill, and super clean, and it was one of the most fun surf sessions I’ve had in a long time.

My other favourite place I’ve surfed in Ecuador is Mompiche. It’s almost as far north as you can go on the coast, and it’s breathtaking. The jungle hangs over the water, and there’s just this one long left, and when the swell isn’t too huge it’s absolutely perfect for beginners & intermediate surfers.

a surfer walking with her board at sunset in Olon Ecuador
Sunset surf in Olón, January 2024

What is the biggest difference between surfing The Great Lakes and surfing the Ecuadorian coast?

The biggest difference between lake surfing and ocean surfing that you feel right away is fresh water vs salt water. Salt water is more buoyant, so you float easier, and you have to paddle less to catch a wave. In lake water, you need boards that have more volume to help you float, and you have to paddle way harder to catch a wave. This is why a lot of lake surfers longboard, or surf on a high-volume shortboard. The second biggest difference is that lake waves are generally more messy, and ocean waves are almost always clean.

Lake waves are generated by wind swell so the waves are often moving in different directions, and there are smaller set periods, whereas in the ocean you can almost always expect predictable sets, predictable periods, and .. no 70km/hr winds. Because we depend on wind for lake waves, there’s a lot of chasing and a lot of paddling, so your reaction time has to be really fast to catch a wave.

Essentially: the lakes are harder. We always say if you’re good at surfing on the lakes, you’ll be a pro when you go to the ocean. It takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of love for the sport. This all sounds really bad, but sometimes it’s glass, sometimes there’s barrels, sometimes there’s a snowstorm, and those few perfect sessions literally make all of it worth it.

a surfer smiling next to four longboards on a snowy day in Collingwood Canada
Snowy surf on Lake Huron, November 2022

Do you believe that the connection you had with the waves of the Ecuadorian Pacific will help you understand the waves of The Great Lakes better?

Absolutely. I’ve learned so much from surfing almost every day during my time in Olón and especially from taking real lessons again after years of just trying to figure it out alone. You can always benefit from taking another lesson even if you don’t think you need to, I learned that. But finding my rhythm and my style in a place that’s much more consistent is going to help me so much when I go back to the lakes. But, for the foreseeable future, you’ll find me in warm salty water.

a surfer running into the water in Olon Ecuador
Isi getting ready to surf some waves in the Pacific Ocean.

Pues, de parte de la familia OUTDOOR ECUADOR esperamos que los vientos y las mareas siempre te ofrezcan experiencias de surf increíbles y que en el futuro te traigan de vuelta a tu segunda casa, Ecuador! Buenas olas Isi!