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Surfing the off-season wave

Surf aux Îles de la Madeleine 

Mid-November, Magdalen Islands.

Sailboats have been gone for a couple of weeks, almost all fishing boats have deserted the harbours, summer is back on the postcard, and the seas seem calm and quiet. And yet, if you let your gaze wander towards the horizon at the right time and on the right spot, you could catch a few black-and-white dots just above the sea line, gliding near the shores. Who knows? Maybe you just glimpsed at a swell of local surfers, gathered to challenge the autumn winds and waves.

There are about ten of them, scattered all over the islands. They keep a weather eye on the forecasts andchat online daily about the state of the waves. They're always on the lookout for the perfect conditions, which may only last for a few hours.

Quickly slip into a thick drysuit, complete with boots, mittens and a hood, and dive with them in the icy waves of the Gulf to learn a bit more about this still-underground local brew of enthusiasm. Here are four pointers on how to surf in the Maggies.

The best waves don't come from the strongest winds

Even though you can surf year-long around the Magdalen Islands, we really owe the best conditions to the fall & winter winds. While there's much being said about the incredible strength of the winds blowing on the Islands, it's truly their steadiness that makes them remarkable. It's always windy on the Islands. In the summer, the prevailing southwesterly winds are regular and somewhat clement. When the fall shows up, it brings gusts and powerful storms from the northeast.

In the very heart of the St. Lawrence Gulf, no matter the direction of the wind, it always blows from afar, and it's always been blowing for a while. When seen from our little cluster of isletsjust above the sea level, the resulting waves are impressive, thrilling. The fall season often brings raging waters, brimmed with unstructured foamy clouds. Insiders know that perfect surfing conditions are likelier on the day following such strong winds. The day right after an easterly wind storm is a treat, for these storms bring a swell hailing from the outer reaches of the Atlantic and reshape the underwater sandbanks which then allow for neatly-spaced barrels. These idyllic surfing conditions turn the Islands in a maritime hangout that has little to envy to other famous surfing spots.

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November surf #ilesdelamadeleine #fousdesiles #surfauxiles

Une publication partagée par jarrett quinn (@jarrett_quinn) le 17 Nov. 2018 à 4 :14 PST

No cold feet here!

Surfing the Atlantic waves right in the middle of the Gulf is pretty adventurous as it is, but doing it in the fall or the winter - on icy waters, no less - is as extreme as it gets. After seeing these undefeatable Islanders go out and surf on a 24th of December, there's no doubt left on the quality of equipment and willpower required to do so.

Local surfers dress up in a full isothermal suit that includes boots, a hood and mittens. Many suggest going for a 5/4 millimetres suit (that's a 5-mm thickness for the legs, 4-mm for the arms). Once set up, the only body part left uncovered are the eyes. Fearful of the head-first dive in the freezing waters? Our sources agree that the temperature of the water in your face isn't that bad, especially when compared to the bite of the wind. Ultimately, it's more comfortable in the water than out of it!


Alone, together

Surfing is widely seen as a challenging activity, an opportunity to overcome one's limits. It may seem like a solo sport, but it's also deeply anchored in a strong community, especially in a place like the Magdalen Islands. To get a fair chance against the elements, local surfers naturally band together. Before anything else, it's a matter of safety; our archipelago is well-known for the strength of its currents and the unpredictability of the weather conditions. In a nutshell, we keep an eye on each other while everyone does their own thing. Alone, together!

Moreover, once on the water, we're all equals. You could end up swimming next to an artist, an executive administrator, a high-school teacher, a legal officer, a land surveyor or a chef. It's easy to share the playground when the sea blesses us with such vastness. On top of a November wave heading for the Maggies, you're as far as you could be from the traffic jam, the lights, and the unmoving cars stuck in a line.


A patient endeavour

You've probably heard it already: on the Magdalen Islands, there's no rush, we have time for it. It also translates to show that a good wave deserves to be earned and awaited. In a modern world always going faster and drowning in instant requests and results, a bit of patience can present itself as a good and healthy thing. On the Islands, the right conditions can sometimes take their sweet time to come back. We still believe that the wave is well-worth the wait, and there's no lack of ways to stay busy and entertained in the interval.



Finally, here are some of the local community's favourite surfing spots around the Islands:

Par Jean-Étienne Solomon

As a Madelinot, I am one of the many locals who enjoy the archipelago no matter the season and revisit a land that never ceases to amaze and evolve.

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