Surfing, Downtown Montreal
A guide to Montreal Playspots
by Simon Wiles
Donkey flip off Big Joe wave, Lachine Rapids
Montreal, located in Southern Quebec, is a summer mecca for Northeast USA and Canadian playboaters. Two world class waves lie on the outskirts of this sprawling cosmopolitan city, whose nightlife is also justifiably famous. Within an hour of stepping off the plane from London, you can be playing on world class waves. The local boaters speak French, but are friendly and helpful.
The well known Lachine rapids sport the mighty Big Joe. Further downstream on the St Lawrence River lies the Expo 67 wave lesser known, but no less popular with local boaters and visitors alike. In Spring, the Chambly waves offer great, but cold boating.
This well known spot on the South East edge of Montreal is best mid to late summer. The St Lawrence is wide and huge volume. Many different channels exist, but it is straightforward enough to see where you want to be. Picking your way downstream, through 500 metres of big volume class 3, a 100m wide hungry hole marks the end of the rapid and guards the eddy from which the days play is about to start. A number of chutes exist through this hole, ranging from the down the middle, the left, and the far left sneak. Locals line up a tree with a building to line up the left chute, but I prefer to take it down the gutsy middle line.
It is worth hooking up with someone locally, or sneaking it the first time to see where you dont want to be. There are usually a few boaters about.
A handy wooden rest/ viewing platform has been built next to the eddy. This is hard to see from upstream, unless someone is standing on it. It allows plenty of chill out/ lunch opportunities.
From the Eddy, Big Joe, the main feature is an easy 50 yard ferry and drop on. This massive broken wave is very fast and very big. It has two main aspects, a stable surf wave with pile, and a more surging pit where all the latest bouncy big air moves can be performed.
For those who dont like to wait in line, a second clean green wave the Pyramid lies nearer the eddy. This 1m wave is great for spins and surfs.
When you wash off either wave, there are a number of crashing secondary waves to contend with. A swim would be a long one.
Once back in the calm of the eddy, a number of ropes are arranged to allow you to pull yourself up the shallow rock ledges. This is not easy on you or your boat, but certainly thins the eddy queue. It takes about 10 minutes to work your way back to the platform.
Now the drawback These descriptions are based on midsummer flows. In spring or early summer, with higher water, Big Joe gets even bigger. The ropes and ledges are usually underwater, and there is no easy way back to the top of the eddy. The only realistic way back, is the long ferry back to the side of the river and a walk back up, if you can be bothered.
Rafts and jet boats are also a frequent companion, although the jet boats decently prefer features other than Big Joe, unlike the St Davids jet boats that youve probably been run over by at the Bitches. The rafts usually hang out in the eddy for a while, so Its unlikely that youll be run over. Even board surfers have been known to make an appearance on the Pyramid wave.
Directions to the Lachine Rapids:
From Montreal's south shore, take the Champlain Bridge (route 10 West) and then Wellington street exit. Turn right then left onto Wellington. Take a left again onto Lasalle Boulevard and keep going until you get to the Lachine rapids parking lot on the left.
You can view the rapids from the park, and work out your preferred route there and back.
The Expo/ 67 Wave
The Expo wave or the 67 wave, is located at the near the site of the Montreal Exposition of 1967. It is hidden from view behind the monstrous 60s cubist apartments that were someones idea of future living.
This spot compliments Lachine superbly. It is best in early summer or spring, later in the summer the wave greens out, and is hard to catch and retain. Like Lachine, you must peel out of the eddy and drop on to the wave. Unlike Lachine, this wave is right next to the riverbank, and only a short walk up the bank is necessary to regain the starting eddy.
This wide feature has a great stable pile, which you could surf all day. Bouncy air moves are harder than Lachine, but are still possible. This is a much friendlier and easier feature if Lachine is too much for you.
This spot is great for a post-work surf in the Summer, and is justifiably popular and can get busy. Its just getting known, even to the locals.
Directions to the Expo Wave
Heading to Montreal from the SE, on the 10, cross the Champlain Bridge, take the second exit, signed Downtown. Follow the signed for Casino, and you should take the next exit. Turn right at the traffic lights, and continue 500m. Youll see the ugly apartments. There is a park just before the bridge. Turn right into the park. From here cross the park to the River, and head upstream 200m.
During the spring, the best playspots in the areas are at Chambly. Located just below the dam on the Richelieu river. At this time, the water levels are high, and the water cold! This is a very popular spot in the spring, and the first of the Montreal playspots to come in. A wide breaking wave forms from April until usually late May. A secondary wave forms just downstream. These features are at the top of a half mile long grade 3 / 4 rapid. Failing to roll here is punished by a long swim to the downstream lake, in very chilly water. These features can be a bit flushy, but all the new wave moves can be pulled off here. There is an eddy for the steeper narrower bottom wave, but no eddy for the top wave. A very civilized system is in place for this wave, where all the boaters sit around waiting for their turns before sliding down the rocks into the water.
Chambly is located about 30 minutes east of Montreal.
Directions to the Chambly waves
To get there from Montreal, cross the Champlain bridge, and carry on the I10 until you get to the Chambly exit. Follow signs for Chambly, though a number of stop signs until you get to the lake. Turn right at the lake, and cross a narrow bridge. Follow this for about half a mile, then turn left by a flower store. Park up just by the park next to the river.
Timescale for Montreal Playspots:
From April until the end of May Chambly provides the best play whilst Expo and Lachine are too high, or offer no eddy service
From June through July Expo is running, Lachine could be run, but there is no eddy, and Chambly is too low.
July Oct Lachine is working, The eddy starts forming, so you can get back to the wave. Expo starts to get too low.
As well as great playboating, Montreal is a perfect arrival location for a summer river running/ playboating tour. The Ottawa (3 hrs), the Gatineau (2 hrs) and the Rouge (1 hr) all west of Montreal, have reliable summer flows. The Jacques Cartier is about 3 hrs east, and has a number of summer sections from grade 3 5including the infamous Taureau Gorge (grade 5).
Quebec has many such runs, and is only let down by the lack of a guidebook, or central website for river information. Many runs exist out there if you know where to find them...
www.boatwerks.net Boatwerks Canadian boater board, river levels are usually out of date, but posings usually indicate suitability of playspots.
www.canot-kayak.qc.ca - Quebec Water levels (in French Im afraid) click on Produits et services
www.festivaljacquescartier.cjb.net - Jacques Cartier River
www.gatineau.org - Gatineau River
www.ottawariver.com - Ottawa
Now living in Vermont USA, only 2 hrs from Montreal
Thanks to Perception UK for their support