Torch Paddleboarding with Toronto Island SUP

In mid august 2017, I went south on the harbour ferry to explore Toronto Island’s marine channels at night while ‘Torch Paddleboarding’ with Toronto Island SUP tour guides Jana Ruby, James Statham and Niv Froehlich.

Raymi the Minx paddleboarding Toronto islandsThis evening’s Torch SUP or Stand Up Paddle Boarding adventure was set to cruise through an area of the city which was heavily flooded in the spring of 2017.  The tour was organized to visit the area and share the sights and discuss the effects of the flooding and how it has impacted the islands (as some areas were still off-limits). Sections of Centre Island, where the amusement park is located had been shut down for a month and only just re-opened the week before, and other popular destinations like Olympic Island, Gibraltar Point were still closed.
Raymi the Minx on paddle boards in Toronto Island 2017

raymi boards the paddleboard

Toronto Island Park has been closed to the public since early May, when heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding in what the city called a “100-year event.”  The island’s recovery is further hampered by daily rain and the sad fact that water levels on Lake Ontario are receding slower than expected. Niv said local businesses are missing out on as many twenty thousand visitors a day.  City council also voted to stop collecting rent and license fees from island residents and license holders until the full scale of the flood’s financial impact is known.

Torch SUP in Toronto IslandTorch SUP is better than a scenic boat cruise; it’s a brilliantly buoyant sightseeing adventure experienced from atop wide foam paddle boards.  Toronto Island SUP provides all equipment including boards that don’t hurt your feet.  These platforms all have leashes, and are issued with yellow life jackets / PFDs, and illuminated Torch Paddles. The event I attended featured a guided night tour through the calm, sheltered waterways of the Toronto Islands. And it was amazing.

The activity we call paddleboarding today started in Hawaii in the 1960s when the Beach Boys of Waikiki started standing on their longboards and using outrigger paddles to venture out farther on the ocean for a better view of the incoming surf.

The sport didn’t take off until the 2000s when pro surfers more regularly stood on their boards and used a paddle to continue training when the ocean was too calm to surf the waves.

Today SUP has gone mainstream, and the World Paddle Association (WPA) makes it easy to find races, meetups, and classes across the country. The WPA is very aware of Toronto Island SUP because of the amazing photos the retweet and re-pin and otherwise promote on their social media.Torch SUP, Toronto skyscape - sunset, 09 Aug 2017Toronto Island SUP tours are really well organized. Eighteen people signed up to take a short ferry ride to Wards Island and once there to paddle once through its central channels and lagoons. The weather was perfect and that included a scenic sunset. We did group photography in the sweet spot which is the mouth of the main channel through the islands. The group photo we took that night is so good the company now uses it in their marketing. Can you see me?

The evenings Torch SUP saw all participants master their balance on the boards. Periodically the Stand-up part of teh exercise become squatting, kneeling and crouching under tree branches.

The Toronto Islands is an archipelago and sand bar just off of the city of Toronto, in the western part of Lake Ontario. The beautiful aquatic abode is home to many bird, fish, amphibian and mammal species, and it’s a wonderful place to escape the city for quiet parks, beaches and waterways.

Day or night SUP activities are a great way to explore Lake Ontario and the waterways surrounding the fourteen Toronto Islands (Niv says there’s actually more than that).

We poked around the many streams and lagoons for ninety minutes, and i saw turtles and heard plenty of frogs. We floated alongside lots of brown ducks which came up close looking for food. If I ever do this again, I will be sure and bring some nibbles for them although that’s probably not advised  We passed close to beautiful yachts and paddled under old wooden bridges and down canals bisected with debris from the flood. The paddle was peppered with breathtaking views of the City of Toronto at night.

The event lasted for ninety minutes and the end came as a bit of a relief – paddle boarding is a full body workout.

The main muscle groups that are being activated during a paddle are your mid back muscles (latissimus Dorsi), Shoulders (deltoids), Arms (triceps & biceps) and abs.

There were no surprises because right at the start James and Niv went over their ‘float plan’ which outlined the route, what weather they were expecting, and the time of return.  While it was clear that our guides love to have fun, safety is their main concern.

Three experienced SUP instructors accompanied our group; one at the front, one in the middle, and one at the end of our paddleboard ‘congo line’ through the Island channels. So no matter what skill-level each paddle boarder had (they all improved after 30 mins anyway), each participant felt both safe and stimulated.

Things learned at Toronto Island SUP

When they say please arrive changed and ready to go., they mean it, as there are no facilities near where they launch, and most of the island’s cafes and shops are closed in the evening.

We got lucky with the weather, and it was a warm summer night, but all the same I was glad I’d dressed in layers and could remove garments when overheated and replace them later when it got chilly at the end of the night. The best combination seemed to be a long sleeve shirt with a thin windbreaker over top.  Many of the ladies wore yoga pants and cloth sneakers on their feet and this is also recommended. Well the instructors didnt say that,  but i believe its a good idea as there could and probably is all manner of crude on the bottom of these lagoons and if you ever tipped in shallows of the main channel you’d for a second be standing on…  the idea abhors me.
You can bring cameras and phones and the instructors MIGHT have some dry bags to put them in but this is not guaranteed. You are better off leaving your phone and camera IN YOUR CAR  back on the mainland and just letting the instructors take your pics – they do and you get them and their great.  Because no matter how stable the board there is always a possibility that you might fall in the water. Although the boards are really wide and the guides like to keep the trek on calm surfaces the possibility exists all the same, and so it’s recommended that you bring a change of clothes for afterwards, just in case you do get soaked.

Overall, the excursion uncovered some remarkable nature spots and hidden locations know only to the locals (I’m already planning fashion photo shoots in my mind).  We learned a lot about the history and ecology of the islands plus we learned better paddling techniques which made the journey even more enjoyable.