Portrait | Three Montreal Women Who Turned Surfing into a Living
This is a story about three Montreal women who managed to turn their passion for surfing into a living. About the powerful emotion surf can generate into one’s body. A feeling so strong that it makes you want to quit everything to get more of it.
The connection I felt with the ocean, with the universe, with the wind, was something I had never felt before. Staying focused in the present, trying to catch a wave, feeling the sun on your skin, paddling with all your heart and soul whilst connecting with a super force of nature brings you a deep rush of dopamine to the brain.
All the surfers I spoke to throughout my life spoke to me about surfing this way. It’s almost like once you try surfing for the first time, nothing else matters. Some even decide to shift their life completely so they can practice the sport more often.
The three women I interviewed also told me the same thing. It was love at first sight, like they’d just met their soulmate. They also all found a way to turn surfing into a living. I interviewed them at ’’Swell de filles’’ a women’s surf community event Lydia Ricard and Chloe Mocombe organized to help Montreal’s women surf community to meet, exchange and even swap wetsuits!
If you didn’t think there was a surf community in Montreal, think again! Welcome to The September Surf Cafe, a coffeeshop who takes it’s name from hurricane season’s swell.
Meet Lydia Ricard
Lydia’s first contact with the sport was when she traveled to Costa Rica for a month vacation and fell head over heals in love with surfing (or barefoot in this case). She also fell in love with the Pura Vida way of life which gave her the post-travel blues coming back to cold Montreal. Deep down she knew all she wanted was to figure out a way to surf more often.
She came back to her nursing studies and 3 months later she got sick with a mononucleosis. Having nothing to do but lie in bed, she started questioning her life, her passions, her goals… She took the decision to move to the country to find some peace which led her to meet a person that would change her life forever.
This person was heading out west and needed a ride to BC. He said he’d pay for gas if she drove him there. I believe the Universe put this fellow on her path.
She said yes, and drove all the way to Western Canada (3 days later!!!). In her mind, she was going to the Rockys, yet little did she know she would end up in a place where she would find herself and somehow everything : A life of salt water and waves.
She started working as a housekeeper in Tofino. It was a decent job considering her English wasn’t so good and she made just enough money to get by. Everything changed when she met a group of girls called the Surf Sisters who taught her everything about surfing…To the point she even became a surf instructor herself!
She told me surfing is a male dominated sport and it’s sometimes hard to find your place as a woman. It can be quite intimidating as a debutant to take your place when you’re sitting in the water on your board and all you see around you is very competitive men, fighting to catch the next wave
The Surf Sister community helped her without judging her, made her feel welcomed, and most importantly, were friends to her.
The best part of the story is yet to come…A year later, Lydia registered in a women’s surf competition. She figured committing to this challenge would motivate her to push her limits and get better at what she loved. Deep down, she wanted to show her family, friends and other woman out there that everything is possible if you really want it.
Well guess what, 4 years after surfing for the first time, she came in 2nd place as Canada’s best surfer in the long board category !
Right after Leah Dawson a California surfer girl who became pro and won several surf competitions. She never EVER thought that could happen and she believes it’s the community that helped her achieve that goal.
When I asked about her goal in life, she told me it was simply to inspire all the people that feel just like she use to feel. People that try to fit in a mould that wasn’t meant for them.
People who don’t really know what to do with their lives, who feel like they might have a deeper purpose but are scared to take a different path. She wants to inspire them to go after their dreams, even if it’s not what society wants us all to do.
And I love her for saying that!
Meet Chloe Mocombe
Chloé’s first surfing experience was in Costa Rica (seems to be a classic!). The waves, the heat, the sun, everything was perfect she says. She catched a wave on the first try and she immediately fell in love with the sport.
When she came back to Montreal, she had to get her fix so she turned to river surfing (only option we have in the city). She booked an introduction class with KSF and following that day, woke up every morning at 5 am to jump in Lasalle’s cold river waves to practice and better her technique. She was worried that with time, she would lose the skills she had developed in the beloved water’s of Costa Rica.
River surfing is a bit more challenging than Ocean surfing. For those who never tried it, river surfing works in a circuit. You wait in line, go in the water, and if you miss the wave, you’re pushed away by a powerful current. You have to paddle your LIFE away to get back to the shore. Once you get back to the riverside, you have to climb up a steep hill with your surfboard, find a few branches to hold on to in the process and walk all the way back to the descent where people wait in line to get back in the water.
Trust me, it’s INTENSE! When I tried it for the first time, I fucking panicked. I got carried away by the rapids, fell off my board and tried swimming to the shore (off my board) which makes it impossible. I thought I was going to die.
Now back to Chloé. This surf lady also turned her passion into a business when she started Ananus Boards, a surfboard shaping company with her boyfriend William Pichet. All boards are handmade from shaping to glassing and are also really good looking.
Last time I spoke to her she was heading to Newport Beach California for a month, to glass boards and ride waves in surfer’s paradise. Newport is actually where I learned to surf and I still remember it today as one of the best days of my life. Definitely in my top 3.
Surfing does that to people.
To conclude, we spoke about the surfing community, which is one of the main reasons she loves the sport. She and Lydia organized this event together for surfer women to meet and exchange. What I observed within this community is kindness, sisterhood, support, motivation and friendship.
Meet Annie-Claude Piché
Annie-Claude’s first experience surfing was with her brother in Costa Rica a few years ago. They registered to a surf class via their hostel without any expectations. After a few stretches and pop-up on the sand, she paddled in the ocean and placed herself in the lineup not realizing the impact this day would have on the rest of her life. The second she took her first wave she felt liberated and connected with nature in a way she had never felt before.
She used to be scared of the ocean but floating on top of the water with the board made her feel safe. She became one with the sea, the fish, the rays, the salt water… During the entire session, she smiled so much her cheeks hurt. After that session, she felt “high” and she later on learned there is an exact term for the way she felt : she was stoked from her surf session.
Just like the two badass ladies above, AC turned her passion into a living. From May to mid-October, she works at KSF a company that teaches white water kayaking, SUP and river surfing. She also started working on a business plan that would allow her to create a life she loves : a surf trip company dedicated to the Moroccan surf culture.
Morocco is a country rich in flavour, culture but also rich in swell, she says. Through road trips from North to South, her guests will experience surf adventures filled with waves, camels, couscous and memories that will last a lifetime.
She is heading to Morocco this winter to meet some suppliers and make partnerships in order to establish a transportation itinerary from point A to B, and work on an accommodation plan for her guests. She will need a few months to do so, especially because in Morocco you make business relationships by shaking hands. A DM and a few emails won’t cut it. ;)
Once all the logistics are figured out, she’ll be able to curate the perfect surf trip, giving her guests the opportunity to discover more surf spots, awesome cities and make new friends.
When I asked her what was her biggest challenge in starting this new business, she said it was mainly to go through the process alone. She’s turning 27 and her entourage is mostly into getting settled with a 9 to 5 job and a good dental plan (no judgement here though!).
We all have different purposes. No path is better than the other…As long as you’re following your true calling. The universe will move quickly with you once you have decided to do so.
Here are some pictures of a fall river surfing shoot I did with Annie-Claude down at Habitat 67. I must admit, I was pretty impressed when I saw here change outside of her car and get into the water at 4° C.