Hélène Filion's obsession started in the most harmless of ways.
Two days before her visit to Tofino, B.C., was about to wrap up, she rented a surf board to enjoy the west coast of Vancouver Island. All it took was a moment on the water for the Sudbury native to get hooked.
“I delayed my flight twice,” Filion said with a laugh. She probably would have moved the plane ride home back again, if her mom hadn't threatened to come get her and drag her back home.
Since then, she has completely immersed herself in the sport. She has missed birthdays, cancelled plans and even skipped her own graduation — all in the pursuit of her passion.
Given that she lives in the North, there aren't exactly a lot of opportunities for her to ride close to home. Not only does geography limit her ability to play at home, the weather gets in the way, too. There isn't much use trying to catch a wave on frozen water.
She's convinced if she stays plugged in to weather reports and keeps an eye on the forecast, she can find the right conditions.
“I'm sure I can find the right kind of waves,” she said, grinning ear to ear.
Filion said it might take a little bit of driving to get to the waterfront, but she certainly doesn't mind. After all, she can get out of the city and into the water within a few hours, when all the conditions are right.
Filion is part of a small group of Ontario-based Great Lake surfers.
The fresh-water sport allows her to keep her obsession under control. While riding in Ontario isn't quite like riding an ocean, it still gives Filion the chance to be on the water, standing sideways, embracing the pastime she loves most.
The fresh-water version of surfing has also helped Filion hone her skills.
I'm really pushing women to get more involved. I want to share it with other people. Everyone should try it once.
Great Lake surfer
“Lake surfing is so difficult,” she said.
Fresh water is less buoyant, which makes her have to paddle harder to get to waves and catch them, and wind swells produce rougher riding conditions.
“You have to have really good arms to paddle out,” she said.
In order to get the most from every outing on the water, Filion works hard to stay fit. Even as local lakes were beginning to freeze, she was out paddling in a wet suit, gloves and a hood. Now that lakes are completely covered in ice, she's taken to paddling in pools.
Her incredible love and dedication to the sport has resulted in her picking up a sponsorship courtesy of Chick Sticks by Lola.
The California-based surf board company makes decks specifically for women, taking into account their centre of balance, stance and shapes. As part of the fresh-water team, Filion shows her appreciation by competing on behalf of the brand and promoting the sport everywhere she goes.
She is the first Canadian rider to be part of the team.
“I'm really pushing women to get more involved,” she said. “I want to share it with other people. Everyone should try it once.”
Filion has even convinced her mom to try it. While it may be physically demanding, she said anyone can master the sport.
“If you really, really love it, you'll get good at it,” she said.
It's not only the actual act of carving through a wall of water that Filion is so drawn to — it's the lifestyle that surrounds it. The full-time hospital ward clerk will work around surf days. She said she purposefully found a job that would allow her to have a flexible schedule to pursue her passion.
“It allows me to travel a lot,” she said. “I chose the job because it accommodates my lifestyle.”
While she enjoys hitting fresh water on Manitoulin Island and southern Ontario, Filion said it's nice to get to the ocean a few times a year, too.
“I like travelling,” she said. “It's part of the adventure — the thrill of the chase.”
Now that she's been bitten by the surf bug, Filion plans to keep up the lifestyle.
“It's an illness,” she said. “That's the best way to describe it. Once you start, it changes your life.”
For more information about surfing in Ontario, visit www.greatlakesurfers.com.