Montreal is on a big island. Which means there are many different places and ways to access water. The city may be best known for its cool urban culture, for its bistros and bars and bands and boutiques, but it’s surrounded by the steady flow of the St. Lawrence River.
When you need a break from all those beautiful people, and all that exhilarating noise, make a beeline for the shoreline and hop on a SUP.
“Montreal is located where it is because of the rapids, because the boats the Europeans arrived in couldn’t travel farther upstream,” says Hugo Lavictoire, a former competitive kayaker who started KSF (Kayak Sans Frontiers) in 1995.
“When I arrived, I wasn’t planning to live in any city, but I fell in love with everything you can do here.” KSF, which has grown over the years into one of Canada’s biggest river sports outfitters, with lessons, rentals and a shop, added river surfing to its repertoire in 2003 and SUP in 2007.
If you can’t BYOB (bring your own boards), they’ll supply the stoke you need to see the city in a new light.
The Hotel Bonaventure, near the St. Lawrence in the dense downtown, has an oasis of a rooftop patio with a heated pool, hot tub and lush gardens with 50-year-old trees. hotelbonaventure.com
Docked near the lively Atwater Market, Canal Lounge—a glassed-in boat—morphs from daytime café to cocktails at night. Open from late May to mid-October. canallounge.com
When To Go
Unlike other rivers in Canada, the standing waves on the St. Lawrence last pretty much year-round, with changing features as water levels fluctuate. Bring a thick wetsuit for winter surf.
Although you can’t swim there, the Clock Tower Beach in Montreal’s Old Port features fine sand, chairs, umbrella and mist if you want a break from being in the water.
Billed as a food truck without wheels, Café September Surf, near the Lachine Canal, is great for grabbing a bite and talking surfing with locals between sessions.
If you have a half day:
The highlight of Montreal for a rookie river surfer is Guy’s Wave, a gentle bunny bump in LaSalle, in the west end of the city. KSF’s top SUP coach Pierre-Philippe Loiselle, who grew up across the river, calls this stretch of the St. Lawrence his sanctuary.
“It’s a place where things feel real,” he says, “and you’re almost part of the ecosystem.”Take a lesson with Loiselle and soak up the ambiance of the chill shoreline park where surfers lounge and picnic between runs.
If you have a day:
Walking through the trees to Lac des Régates on Île Notre-Dame, an artificial island on the St. Lawrence near Old Montreal, enveloped by the calls of red-winged blackbirds, it feels like you’re in a tropical jungle. Josiane O’Rourke, a SUP yoga instructor with KSF, enhances the sense of escape. “Go with the flow,” she advises. “This is about finding balance—on a SUP and within yourself.” Afterward, hit Guy’s Wave, or the nearby Habitat 67 wave for advanced surfers.
If you have a weekend:
The Lachine Canal, built nearly 200 years ago to bypass the rapids of the same name, has long ceased serving as an industrial artery. Today, lined by paths and parks, it’s a sweet ribbon of flatwater for recreational paddling. Launch near the Atwater Market, which is full of gourmet merchants, and enjoy the people watching. For a longer one-way trip, put-in on the St. Lawrence upstream from LaSalle and ride the current back toward the city center. And then surf!
If you have a week:
To earn your playtime in Montreal, start with a multi-day paddle from Ottawa. You’ll need to do your homework and have stamina: the route is roughly 160 kilometers, mostly on the Ottawa River, and there’s a major dam to bypass at Carillon, plus rapids on your approach to Montreal.
But several paddleboarders have made the trip, including one who continued on to New York City the following year. Most of the trip will be calm, and once you arrive, round out your week with some SUP surfing adrenaline.
Seeing Canada’s second-most populous city in a new light. | Photo: Mike Hitelman