In Search of the Next Wave, with Antonio Lennert

Illustration—Florence Rivest

Antonio Lennert has been surfing his whole life: from the warm waters off the coast of Brazil, where he grew up, to the Pacific Ocean, near where he lived in San Diego, to the endless beaches of Australia. When he moved to Toronto in 2009, you might think he had resigned himself to a dry-land existence. But Lennert soon discovered a thriving community around the Great Lakes and began to explore the possibilities of surfing all year round.

Since discovering his passion for cold-water surfing, Lennert founded Surf the Greats, a surf shop and brand headquartered in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. He is the subject of the new documentary Fresh Water, which Canadian viewers can watch on Crave.

Antonio Lennert replied to our Questionnaire on a long flight to Los Angeles for five days of work and, of course, surfing.

Your most cherished childhood memory of being in nature. 
This one time when I was eight years old, my older brother and I were scouting for waves early in the morning and found one of our favourite surf breaks lined up with perfect corduroy lines. It was the best day we had at that break, and we still remember like it was yesterday and talk about it often. Mom and Dad also remember having a very hard time getting us out of the water.

Your best story about the woods, or your most uncomfortable outdoor experience.
When I was visiting Iceland, my partner and I were travelling around in a camper van. We traded our cellphones for a National Geographic paper map, and as we approached the northern coast, we were having breakfast and decided to hike a mountain. He drove while I searched the paper map for the tallest peak along our drive for the day. Iceland doesn’t have many trees, which makes hiking any mountain a very achievable endeavour. I picked the tallest peak on the northern side of the island, and we drove the van as close to the mountain as we could. With no marked trails, we began our ascent toward the top on a straight line. There were several river crossings, and it was by far the gnarliest hike I’ve ever been on. It took us about five hours to get to the top, and by the time we got there, we were so beat but determined to achieve what we had set out to do that day. The view from the top was one of the most beautiful we’ve seen in our lives. On the way down, we got to take a shortcut through a glacier and used volcanic rocks as brakes as we slid down the ice as if we were children again. That was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.

The place where you are happiest. 
In the water.

An architectural project that inspires you.
I am a big fan of Oscar Niemeyer’s work. You can find his beautiful projects in most of the biggest cities in Brazil. I love going to Rio de Janeiro and visiting the Sambadrome or the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niterói. His work is so whimsical, minimalist, and unique.

Something you think should disappear from the planet.

An issue you are concerned about in your neighbourhood, your city, or your country.
LGBTQ2+ rights in my home country (Brazil).

A project you are currently working on.
We just premiered a feature documentary about lake surfing and some of my work as an activist and community builder on the Great Lakes. The film is called Fresh Water, and it took us four years to complete. It is currently only available in Canada on Crave, and it’s about to premiere in Australia and in the United States. It was such a labour of love, and I just feel so honoured and humbled to have my story shared with the world in such a beautiful way.

What aspect of nature captures your attention the most?
The colours — especially at dusk and dawn.

How do you disconnect?
In my camper van, as far north as I can go.

What small habit makes you feel grounded?
A daily 15- to 20-minute meditation session.

Favourite place to walk?
A deserted beach.

What was your last encounter with the sublime?
It was free diving with sharks, stingrays, and marine iguanas in the Galápagos Islands.

In which little corner of the natural world are you most invested?
My world is split between northern Ontario and southern Brazil.

What experience in nature reminded you of your mortality?
Surfing big waves on the North Shore of Oahu.

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