Surfers in the Montreal region have skyrocketed during the pandemic, however not all new surfers are following the unwritten rules
As he sat on his surfboard floating on the St. Lawrence River, his blonde surfer-style hair dripped with water as he briefly waited for his next chance to catch a wave. Though only a 30-second surf, that small amount of time brought him joy. Whatever problems he dealt with that given day would fade once in the water.
Edouard Beauchamp is a surfer who’s been involved in the surfing community for over five years. Behind the Habitat 67 condo complex, the wave dubbed by surfers as “Habitat” is an intermediate spot that is the most popular surfing destination off the St. Lawrence River. Beauchamp has witnessed this location grow in popularity, creating longer wait times to ride and more traffic than ever before. The catharsis he felt when hitting the water has now morphed into annoyance as of late, as the community he’s been involved with over the past few years has changed. He still sits on that same surfboard, but now his blonde hair is dry as he must wait for over an hour to ride and experience those 30 precious seconds he has longed for all day.
Once tightly knit, the community rapidly grew amid the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a loss of order which created long waiting times for surfers trying to catch a wave. The city of Montreal also successfully promoted surfing as an activity for tourists due to its easy accessibility by public transit, creating an increase in new surfers who would frequent the wave. Surf instructor Antoine Lavigne also noticed an increase in surfers this season compared to previous years.
“It started a year before the pandemic, you would see more surfers and bigger lineups, but it really exploded last year and this summer,” Lavigne said.
Beauchamp remembers what things were like before Habitat became extremely popular. “From 2015 to 2018 surfing wasn’t trendy yet in Montreal,” he said. “You see the same people, and even though you didn’t know their names, you knew they were regulars.” Beauchamp isn’t annoyed with the number of people frequenting Habitat, but is rather frustrated with new surfer’s disruption and negligence towards rules.
“What happens is that the young surfers stay on the wave for most of the turn and it’s kind of like king of the mountain,” Lavigne said. “That’s what bothered locals this season.”
The mix of inexperienced surfers on a more challenging wave like Habitat, combined with a lack of respect towards the rules has caused long-time surfers to sometimes clash against newer ones.
“They don’t hold priority because they’re too concentrated on the wave they’re trying to ride,” Beauchamp said.
Long-time surfer Igor Goni has been active in the surfing community on the island for the past 30 years. Goni said this wasn’t the first time the community grew, and they’ve experienced similar problems in the past. During the pandemic, the initial wave of new surfers prompted regulations to be put in place to combat long waiting lines. The new directives emphasized order, which included shortening the ride time per wave from one minute to 30 seconds to create more fluidity. Its acceptance at surfing spots like Habitat made it easier for many surfers to ride more often on a busy day.
Despite these new regulations, the influx of new surfers over the past year has created traffic like never before. What was once a 15-minute wait time has since worsened to over hour-long waits to ride a wave. Beauchamp described how he now avoids going on weekends because the waiting times have gotten out of control.
“That’s what bothers me because they don’t understand the rules, you keep an order of who’s going next, and you call the person for their turn,” Beauchamp said.
According to Goni, the lack of surfing spots in Montreal and the added number of new surfers has resulted in longer waiting times than usual.
Goni, Beauchamp, and Lavigne believe that this spot doesn’t belong to them, admitting that surfing is open for everyone at all levels. However, they do agree that there needs to be a specific order that must be kept so that not only everything runs smoothly, but everyone is having fun in the process.
“The problem with the new kids is that they don’t understand the importance of these rules. […] If they did what they wanted, the lines would be much longer,” Goni said. Goni urged that these directives must be encouraged so that everyone can have fun surfing while sharing the space accordingly. “If that would require us to go tell 30-40 people to know their place in line, we’d gladly do it,” Goni said.
It’s still too soon to tell whether new surfers will accept these rules going into the next season. However likely it is, until things speed up, Beauchamp will continue surfing at night to avoid waiting, to keep doing the thing he loves as much as possible without being interrupted.
Photographs by Christine Beaudoin