Lake Surfistas – The Women of The Great Lakes Surfing Community

The Great Lakes are a series of interconnected freshwater lakes in the upper mid-east part of North America, on the Canada–United States border. Within that community on the Canada side, there is a beautiful group of women braving the cold to surf the lake’s season wind swell – Meet The Great Lakes Surfing Lake Surfistas.


– Words & Photos by Aly Ambler


Freshwater lakes, wind, and winter are not something most ocean surfers would put together when thinking of places to surf. However, on the North American Great Lakes, those four words are music to people’s ears. During some of the hardest winter storms, the familiar neoprene clad figures dip in and out of the freshwater waves, that are powered by wind and low-pressure systems. Hail sprinkles into one’s eyes as chunks of ice float by. This is The Great Lakes surfing and in this community of surfers are women, powerfully bracing the gnarly conditions to feel that familiar rush. ​The lakes have a strong and emerging surfing community with women at the forefront of it.


Women of the great Lakes surfing
Photo by Aly Ambler


Several years ago I discovered lake surfing and with that came the discovery of a group of female lake surfers, the Lake Surfistas. This is a community of female surfers that are encouraging and educating all forms of surfers. From new to old to beginners to experienced, the Lake Surfistas are there and supporting.​This group catapulted me into this community and inspired this project. Each year I see more and more women of vastly varying ages (from 10-65) becoming introduced to the sport.


Group of women cold water surfers
Photo by Aly Ambler
Portrait of female surfer in wetsuit
Photo by Aly Ambler


The lineups on the lakes are like nothing I have ever experienced. The encouragement and support from the other women in them are unbelievable, everyone is welcome and loved. ​It is very hard to catch a wave on the lakes, much harder than the ocean, so encouragement becomes essential. 

After several years in this community, I discovered a lack of representation of female lake surfers. I recently went through several lake surfing Instagram feeds and found that there was an incredible lack of female presence. However, in the water women are showing up more and more and are becoming major members of the community. This discovery led to the start of a project called ​Outdoor Outliers,​ a project that documents female outdoor outlier communities, starting with the women of The Great Lakes. At the annual gathering of the women of the lakes I started to realise that through discussions, many other women in the community felt as fondly about their fellow surfers as I did. This love for the community-led many women to agree to participate in the project and be photographed.


Many female forerunners in history have been what they can’t see and it’s time we honoured them and helped more women see what they thought they could not be.


Two women surfers in cold water
Photo by Aly Ambler


This project has been wildly encouraged and participated in by the community and I am forever grateful. I hope that this is a step in the right direction and that more women can see themselves represented and begin surfing. It is time that we help women see themselves participating in sport and help them see others doing what they thought they would never do.


Wetsuit in snow
Photo by Aly Ambler
Women holding surfboard
Photo by Aly Ambler
Woman surfer in snow
Photo by Aly Ambler
Cold water surfer
Photo by Aly Ambler
Surfing in snow
Photo by Aly Ambler


Thank you Aly Ambler for this giving us a glimpse into the world of the women of The Lakes Surfing community. What a wonderful sisterhood and such incredible photos.

You can follow Amber Ambler’s amazing Instagram account for more of her work and an on-going window into this wonderful (cold) world of The Great Lakes. For more cold water surfing inspiration, check out our surfing expedition to the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido.


Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream. I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)


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