Hit the water and explore the Lake Ontario waterfront on an Indigenous-led SUP tour.
As I’ve come into my young adult years and begun exploring the cities around me, I’ve fallen in love with Toronto for its fantastic food, vibrant communities and profound histories. And as much as I admire these qualities, I’ve also found that it’s easy to become disconnected in big cities, where concrete urges you to forget the Earth underneath, and the rushing sounds of the subway compete with my memory of the rushing sounds of water.
At those moments, I’m grateful for the many watersheds that interact with Toronto. Lake Ontario and the Humber River are among those watersheds. Lake Ontario’s vastness is humbling and grounding. The Humber, a historic landmark for a central First Nations’ trade route called the Toronto Carrying Place Trail, reminds us of the innate human need for connection.
Reconnecting with the water with Oceah Oceah
Small, local tour operators like stand-up paddleboarding (SUP)/yoga outfitter Oceah Oceah facilitate reconnection to self, water and community beautifully.
Oceah Oceah is owned by Jenifer Rudski, a Tetlit Gwich’in and Maliseet woman who says her connection to water “has always been a place of healing [and] inspiration.” Oceah Oceah is Jenifer’s way of sharing this gift with others.
She and her sisters offer SUP tours and rentals, plus SUP/yoga sessions, at two different Lake Ontario beaches: Westside’s Budapest Park in the Sunnyside neighbourhood, and Eastside’s Bluffer’s Park at the Scarborough Bluffs.
I’m so grateful to have spent an early summer afternoon exploring Budapest Park beach with the team. Jenifer started our 90-minute lesson and tour with introductions to one another and Lake Ontario. The expansive blue was daunting and beautiful and reminded me of my responsibilities to protect and be in relationship with the water as an Anishinaabekwe. I was excited to have such an experience led by someone who is also familiar with that responsibility.
Next up was an introduction to paddleboarding. Jenifer helped us size our paddles, and talked us through the different steps that would eventually lead us to standing on a paddleboard. I have to admit, the idea was nerve-wracking at first. I'd been kayaking before and, as I was learning, I became quite familiar with being suddenly plunged into cold waters. Spoiler alert: I didn’t end up falling in on this trip!
As she guided our group of five, Jenifer was encouraging and attentive to each of us. When I tried standing for the first time, I couldn't wrench my eyes away from my feet. “I like to look at the horizon when I’m paddleboarding,” Jenifer shared. I took a deep breath, followed her advice and started feeling the sway of the water instead of the trembling of my legs.
With her love of water as a catalyst, Jenifer has travelled the world to surf, SUP and lead retreats. She makes her home in Toronto and Hawaii. “When I started paddleboarding, it opened up this whole world,” Jenifer shared.
As I reflect on my experience, that statement rings true. Even on my short adventure, I connected with Lake Ontario in a way that I never had before. It was empowering to stand on a paddleboard amidst such powerful waters and to feel the push against my paddle.
Find your flow on the water
Among Oceah Oceah’s tour options, the Humber River Paddle Tour is a great chance to find a quiet moment of connection and grounding. Along this river route, you can witness the natural wonders of Toronto that you don’t often find when you’re surrounded by the bustling streets and tall buildings of the downtown core.
This tour takes you through a bird sanctuary, where you may spot great egrets, kingfishers, woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays and other species. And if you’re a turtle lover, like I am, then keep an eye out because they’re also common along this waterway.
My people believe that water can be a tool for healing, and Jenifer honours that belief by bridging healing practices and paddleboarding. On top of the paddle tours that Oceah Oceah shares, they also offer SUP Yoga, a chance for participants to calm the mind and move through a complete yoga sequence.
This summer, Oceah Oceah is also offering unique — some may say “life-changing” — full moon SUP, meditation and social sessions (July 3, August 1, August 31 and September 29, 2023). During each full moon experience, participants will join the Oceah Oceah team at dusk in a water ceremony and set intentions for the next moon cycle through meditation.
Glide onto the water as day fades, the full moon rises, and your focus slows from the minutiae of everyday, to the gentle movement and magic of the water. When you return to shore, be prepared to tuck into bannock and other local refreshments.
After being on the water myself, I can testify to its rejuvenating effect. Now that I’ve taken the Intro to SUP lesson, I’m super eager to take to the water again for one of these special experiences.
“When we’re connecting with the water, even through paddleboarding, it’s an opportunity to think of our connection and how we use [the water], how we treat it and then hopefully that starts a ripple effect,” says Jenifer.
If you’re looking for a unique way to explore Tkaronto and connect holistically with the world and yourself, Oceah Oceah offers many options for discovery on its daytime, sunset and full moon explorations.