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Arts & Life
Arts & Life Series
Arts & Life is an important part of WXXI and CITY's reporting. From harnessing the knowledge of writers Jeff Spevak, Daniel J. Kushner, Rebecca Rafferty, Brenda Tremblay, Julia Figueras and Mona Seghatoleslami, to our television products that focus on lifestyles and the arts, WXXI is the place to turn for arts and life news.

Surfer takes on Great Lakes and winter storms

Max Schulte
Aurelien Bouche Pillon surfs Lake Ontario in the dead of winter.

When Aurelien Bouche Pillon stands on the shore at Sea Breeze Pier, he is constantly scanning the water.

Pillon is checking to see if the conditions are right for surfing. Even in the dead of winter, he can sometimes be spotted just off shore, surfing Lake Ontario.

“You have to do the best with where you live,” said Pillon.

Pillon is not originally from Rochester, but he's one of the many who have made Rochester their home. And he's an advocate for all its potential from a winter sport perspective -- not just snowboarding and snowmobiling, but donning on a heavy wetsuit and paddling into the closest Great Lake.

Pillon said he was always interested in surfing, and is used to having to make do with less than ideal conditions.

Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News
Aurelien Bouche Pillon suits up for a winter surf on Lake Ontario.

“When I was around 12 years old, I lived far from the ocean,” he said. “So I surfed on my bed, on my pillow. I always imagined my pillow was a surfboard and I was in the wave.”

When he was older, he moved closer to the water. He said he has been able to surf in countries all over the world. But the Great Lakes are a unique environment, and some of the best surfing conditions are often in the worst weather.

“We get a wave when we get wind,” he said. “And we get big winds when it’s cold, so the surfing is good when it’s cold.

“It’s a very spiritual experience.”

Pillon said searching for good surfing weather on a lake can be frustrating. The wind is always changing, weather reports can be wrong, sometimes you drive for hours only to find yourself disappointed by the current changing direction. On this day, too much ice has formed on the shore for him to be able to get into the water.

But every once in a while, you strike gold.

“To surf in a cold lake, in the winter, in a storm, I would say it's magical,” he said.

Pillon is a real advocate for winter surfing, especially now -- when COVID-19 restrictions have changed the way people live their daily lives.

And unlike Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Fiji, Lake Ontario has something that nowhere else has: solitude.

“I can talk to you right now, and look at the lake, and there's nobody else,” Pillon said. “And there's nowhere in the world where you can find that.”