Meet Brad Petrus

Brad is a long-time surfer and paddleboarder, and this will be his second year in the Lake Erie Challenge -- although this is the first year it's been in an official capacity! Learn more about how Brad originally stumbled across the Lake Erie Challenge and his motivations to make Lake Erie a better place now, and for future generations.

Hi Brad! Can you tell us a bit about your story with stand-up paddleboarding?

I spent 10 years overseas living in the UK, I was a surf instructor there. And the school, when stand-up paddleboarding came out back in 2008 or 2009 when it really started to boom, we took it on as a flat water alternative and just sort of picked it up from there. I used to teach it, and we would use it as an alternative to surfing.

It soon became a hobby, when there wasn't surf, to cover some distance. There is a great fitness aspect to it. As I got more into it, I started racing and covering larger distances that were more challenging than a quick hour to here or there.

It sounds like you were an early adopter of the sport.

The sport has been around a really long time. If you talk to somebody from the Polynesian islands or the Hawaiian Islands, they will tell you that this type of sport has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years. It was a method of transportation where they would stand up in their canoes.

But the mainstream sport that we call stand-up paddleboard, yeah, it was sort of in that 2007 or 2008 period. And I just so happened to have the opportunity through the surf school I was working for that I was able to get my hands on it, and I've done it since then.

Can you tell me a little bit about your favourite memory of Lake Erie?

I grew up around Lake Erie. I've been out on it for my entire life, since I was a kid. We had all our vacations there, our boat was there. It was just everything to us. But my thoughts really go back to one summer when I was a bit younger, maybe around 12. My family and I spent three weeks circumnavigated Lake Erie on a powerboat. We left Port Colborne and did a full loop all the way around the lake on our boat and got to see so much, including some of the American side. We went right down at the end, to Sandusky, Ohio, where went to the amusement park, Cedar Point. We went to Pelee Island and we were mooring in these really remote places you can't get to. You felt like you were overseas, cruising the Bahamas. It was just a really cool memory.

I've heard that you've had an interesting history with the Lake Erie challenge. Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved?

Sure! I'm not sure which capacity I'm allowed to say this. But basically, I stumbled across it. So as a surfer, I'm part of a surf club called the Wyldewood Surf Club. Wyldewood Surf Club was established on Lake Erie in the 60s, and it's one of the longest-standing surf clubs of the Great Lakes. And as a club where we're very conscientious about the health of the Great Lakes because of the fact that we're surrounded and engulfed in them. For the last few years, we've been leading beach cleanups and other incentives to make sure that we're doing our best to clean up where we can locally.

I was doing a lot of virtual racing last summer, because of the first year COVID, and I came across the Freshwater Alliance and started following the organization on Instagram and Facebook. Then I saw that you were leading a challenge, where a couple of swimmers, kayakers and paddleboards were covering a 50-kilometre distance to raise awareness for the issues facing Lake Erie. But it was based down at the west end of Lake Erie and I couldn't make the event. So I reached out and said, "Listen, I can't come down there. But I want to generate some money and send it to you guys. I have an organization down here that kind of does this type of stuff anyways. But I want to do the 50 kilometres on my own."

And I did the whole distance as a paddler on the same day the rest of the athletes did. I was able to paddle 50 kilometres in somewhere between the five and a half to six-hour range. So I was an unofficial member. I wasn't sanctioned. But, you know, you let me bolt on and I raised a couple of bucks! 

Had you ever done that type of distance before?

No! I've done that over a weekend, where you're camping and portaging, but never before with the intention of getting a good time and completing this task. That was the first time I've ever done a distance of that magnitude.

What are your biggest concerns when it comes to the threats facing Lake Erie?

That the lakes are one of those things that people take for granted, you know? The lake is there, everybody knows it's there. Down here in the Niagara region, we have Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and Lake Ontario, all within 30 minutes of each other. And nobody really understands how it directly affects them. So many people take the lakes for granted. They think, "Oh, well, I don't live on the lake. So I don't get the benefit from it."

But really, they don't understand that the lake could be generating their power, or be a part of their wastewater pollution systems. So if people start to think about how their entire life has the Great Lakes involved in it, then they start to say, "Well, what's the best thing for them?"

Coming at it as a surfer and paddler, I think of the big concerns such as algae. We don't get the blooms down at this end because there's so much water flow with the Niagara River, but e-coli is an issue down here. And with the weather warming up, the lakes are getting warmer, which affects the fish populations, water quality for recreation use and so on. 

Jumping off of that question, has there been any time where you've been personally affected by any of the issues that are taking place in Lake Erie? 

No, not directly affected in terms where it, for example, put me in the hospital or anything like that. But I have seen a lot of little illnesses amongst fellow surfers and family members just from poor water quality. I go surfing in July and August, and I'm more likely to get ear infections, eye infections, all these infections because of the quality of water. 

But that's when everybody puts their kids in the water. Those are beach days. People shouldn't get ill for that. I have a young son and I wonder what's gonna happen when I'm dead and gone? What's gonna happen to my grandchildren or their kids?

People swim in key areas that are seeing more pollution. There are alternate places that are clearer, but this shouldn't be happening in the first place. The pollution needs to be massively cut back or reduced. We got to look after it now.

What does it mean for you to come together with other Lake Erie citizens for this challenge?

To me, it means there's hope. That there are other like-minded people out there that are concerned. And that there is a voice.

Getting together and completing something that maybe makes a ripple in most people's mindsets, and it touches different communities in different ways and how they are involved. I think it all helps, right? It helps you think about the issues. They've been talking about single-use plastics for decades, but all of a sudden, in 2020 and earlier big businesses are starting to reduce their consumption and their output of it.

The more and more we do, the more and more we can get done. And getting together with people like this, we're all speaking the same language for the same good cause.

Before we go, we'll end this interview on a lighter note. Is there is a fun fact about yourself that you would like to share?

(Laughs) When you asked me to answer these questions, I made some notes and I have nothing in that column. Because I'm genuinely not sure what a fun fact would be.

I can ask something about you that I've wondered since we met -- how many sports do you do?

I do surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. I sail and compete in some amateur sailing races, which is totally fun. And then there's all the fun stuff like snorkelling and diving, some fishing. But the main sports would probably be surfing, sailing and paddling.

And as we close out, is there anything you want to mention that we haven't talked about?

Just happy to get involved, happy to be part of this in an official capacity this year. And, you know, looking forward to the Challenge, looking forward to paddling in a new area with a new group of people. So for anyone reading, follow the Challenge, donate some money, clean up the lakes and let's take care of things.

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