Meet the Women Who Are Leading Surf Culture in Canada

International Women's Day

Since its inception, surfing has always been dubbed a "man's sport". Despite the relaxed counterculture vibe of surfing, the image of the surfer has always been male as depicted by pop culture media. But here in Canada, women's presence in surf culture has been just as big as men's. And if you don't think that Canada has a strong surf culture, think again. We're more than just igloos and maple syrup. 

Women's presence in surfing can be traced back to the Tetlit Gwich’in, the North West Territories First Nation. For this Indigenous group, women have the roles of "water carriers" — those who protect this life source. Toronto surfer Jenifer Rudski feels that connection to her heritage when she's out on the waters. And although it's still seen as a male-dominated sport, she says that "the female surf community is growing because of that inclusiveness and the desire to share the connection we have as women to the water." To accommodate the growing demand for surf activities by Toronto women, Rudski and Antonio Lennert, the owner of local surf shop Surf the Greats, started a women-only surf workshop called "She Shreads". 

Shelley Renard, Canadian female surfer

The interest in surfing by women also extends to the opposite end of Canada to Tofino, British Columbia. In 1977, Shelley Renard became one of the first women to surf Canada's Pacific Ocean and eventually convinced her future husband, Jack Bauer — a surfer and California-native, to move to Tofino, touting its strong yet humbled surf culture. 

Catherine Bruhwiler is a Tofino surf legend and Canada's first professional female surfer. As one of the first surfers in her area, there were no rules as to who could surf. It wasn't a sport that was reserved for men. Catherine also believes that Canadian women are inherently fearless — they refuse to be left behind. 

Catherine Bruhwiler

Krissy Montgomery started Surf Sister, one of the largest surf schools in the world to have all-female instructors. She and her school have helped create and grow a community of female surfers in Tofino's small coastal town. "I never wanted to exclude men in any kind of way. It's just we wanted to make women feel included."

Krissy Montgomery

Meet more of Tofino's surfing sisterhood

Aqua Bruhwiler

Aqua Bruhwiler, 12 years old and the daughter of Canada's first professional surfer, Raph Bruhwiler.

Jennifer Smallwood

Jennifer Smallwood, an Ontario native who moved to Tofino after discovering her love for surfing.

Tia Traviss

Tia Traviss is a surf instructor at Surf Sister. 

Learn more about the women leading surf culture in Canada

Photos and original article by Melissa Renwick for The Globe and Mail, and Jonathan Forani for the Toronto Star.