Alex Pelletier zips up his sleeveless neoprene jacket, tethers his board to his ankle and walks down a steep path to the water’s edge. He disappears for a few moments behind the trees and bushes before he floats past Montreal’s Habitat 67 housing complex.
Lying on his surfboard—head facing up the St. Lawrence River—the current carries him into the wave. He stands, and is soon riding the whitewater, moving along its edge. “It’s like Tetris,” says Pelletier, when he returns to shore. He points to the water, just “look for that slot and go in.”
The 23-year-old has been surfing this standing wave on the St. Lawrence, located minutes from downtown Montreal, for eight years. “When you see it for the first time, you think it can be crazy, but it really is not,” he says.
“The bottom of the river in this area is a bit higher, and then it goes down really quickly. It’s like a spoon and it creates the wave. We do not have to wait for a swell to come or for the weather to be nice; this wave is always here. You could stay on it forever if you were good enough—and had strong legs.”
Pelletier works for KSF, a Montreal company that teaches surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on the St. Lawrence. He says Habitat 67 is the perfect place to surf in the city, and is sometimes visited at the end of a full day of lessons offered through the school.
“It does surprise people that aren’t from Montreal, because we are, maybe, five hours away from the ocean. You would never think there was a possibility you could surf here,” he says.
Getting to the wave takes a few minutes. After passing the stacked concrete boxes of iconic Habitat 67, you turn into a parking lot. From there, you walk through a grassy field followed by a narrow dirt path a few metres above the water that runs parallel to Habitat 67’s back fence.
The river can also be ridden most of the year, with the right equipment and skill level. In summer, the river can reach 24 C, but in winter, Pelletier says, you need to wear a thick wetsuit, hoodie and protective booties—and have warm water on hand in case your suit’s zipper freezes.