Meet Derik Hyatt

This will be Derik's first Lake Erie Challenge, but he's no stranger to being out on the water. An accomplished surfer and paddleboarder, Derik is also the Co-Founder and CEO of Freshwater Surf Goods, runs the Permastoked podcast and teaches surf and SUP lessons.

Photo: Nelson Phillips

Hi Derik! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Hi! Yeah, so my name is Derik Hyatt. I'm originally from a small town in Ontario called Leamington, the most southern point of Canada. I grew up there on the shores of Lake Erie. And so you know, the lake was always an important part of my life I grew up fishing and playing in the water. As a kid, anytime there would be a storm or a system coming through and the waves were kicking up, I'd go down to the beach and I'd just go body surfing.

At that time, I had no idea about the possibility of surfing the Great Lakes and stand-up paddleboarding certainly wasn't a thing or around really when I was growing up.

I was living in Vancouver for the past 12 years, up until last summer, so I just recently returned back to Ontario. I teach paddle boarding and surfing lessons typically in Bruce County on the Northern Bruce Peninsula. So anybody listening wants to come up for a beautiful weekend out on the water hit me up for a freshwater experience. So there's a little plug right off the top.

Is it true that Leamington is the tomato capital of the world?

Absolutely correct! So Leamington is really positioned nicely in the Great Lakes. There's really really great fertile soil. They're perfect for growing tomatoes. So yes, it is the tomato capital of Canada. When I grew up, the HJ Heinz factory had the best tomatoes. You'd stop at the roadside stands, drop a loonie in the in the glass jar on the honour system. Tomatoes or cucumbers, they were both just fantastic. And so over the years whenever I have a tomato from the grocery store, it's just not the same. And we used to have something called the Tomato Fest growing up. It was this festival held every year. They'd stomp tomatoes and throw tomatoes and we had bands and stuff. Sadly that has gone by the wayside. So no festival anymore, but it was a cool tradition. It's really sad that the plant closed down. The scene has really changed in that way. That the industry isn't really there as much in terms of those sort of factory jobs. Most people work at one of the big three car companies down in Windsor otherwise, it's a pretty blue-collar, rural area.

It's a beautiful place though. Lots of properties right on the lake, gorgeous sights and I believe Point Pelee is nearby as well?

That is absolutely correct. Point Pelee National Park. So there was almost like a rivalry between Leamington and the neighbouring town, over who's the most southern town. Leamington easily wins ever since Point Pelee was amalgamated into the township. There's really no debate anymore. 

It sounds like you have a lot of really great memories from your time growing up there. Do you have a favourite memory of Lake Erie? 

I can remember the very first time I went fishing it was with my stepdad. I was probably five or six years old. And we went out on a boat out in the lake and I caught six perch and two pickerel, while he caught one measly perch! So that was one of my earliest introductions, through my stepdad.

Another memory that really stands out is when I was probably four or five and my dad took me down to a beach which is on the drive to Point Pelee. I was just a little kid super skinny, probably not even four feet tall yet. And I was standing on the water's edge, but I wasn't looking at the water. I was looking towards the shore. You know, just being a kid playing around in the water.

It was quite wavy that day and then suddenly this wave came out of nowhere. Well, probably not out of nowhere, but I wasn't watching. But anyway, this wave came and it engulfed me. It went right over my small body. I remember it pulled me into the water and began dragging me along the bed of the lake. Then it grabbed me and catapulted me back to our shore, like the wave just picked me right up, and then slammed me on the ground all underwater. And I remember all the little rocks that were down there, the wave grabbed those little rocks and picked them up and pelted them at me.

I remember that very vividly. Because that was this experience where I could have been like, "Oh, Mom, Dad, I'm scared" or something to that effect. But instead, it was like the beginning of this love affair with the water. I really think in a way I became stoked in that moment. That was when I discovered waves and how dangerous they can be, but also how fun they can be too when you learn how to harness that energy.

Photo: Nelson Phillips

Wow. That's an experience that a lot of people might develop a fear from, but instead, you really shifted it and made it into something really positive - an ongoing love of Lake Erie and the power it holds. Fast-forward to today and now you're paddleboarding with us! Which brings me to the next question: can you tell us why you chose to get involved with the Challenge this year?

Yeah, so like I said, I'm fairly new to being back in the province of Ontario. I moved back in August 2020, and since I got back the Permastoked podcast has really been growing and gaining some momentum and speed. So I thought it was important to reach out to some organizations that are doing good work with the water and cleaning up pollution and stuff like that. So I did a podcast recording with Surfrider and another with Swim Drink Fish. And then I wanted to check out the Freshwater Alliance.

I had a conversation with Raj Gill from the Freshwater Alliance just to learn a little bit about what the organization was all about and that's when she brought up the idea of the Lake Erie Challenge.

And I've been a little slow to get in the water this year. Normally, by this time -- with today being May 27 -- normally I would have been in the water for a couple of months already, and I'd be in pretty good shape. But this year with the move -- we just bought a house -- and the business... there's just a million moving pieces. So I've been a bit slower to get in the water, and I liked the idea of having a goal in mind for the year something to work up to and train for.

So part of it was to get myself motivated. But there's more to it than that. Even though I live on Lake Huron, I care incredibly deeply about Lake Erie. I'm not a very scientific person. I couldn't tell you, you know what's wrong with it and all the algae stuff. I trust you guys when you say that things aren't going great with certain aspects of it. So I just want to bring awareness to that. Lake Erie is so close to my heart. If it wasn't there when I was growing up or wasn't available to do leisure activities, the trajectory of my life would look a lot different.

So, for me, it's important to support that and pay that forward. I want that lake available for other people to enjoy.

And then for anybody out there listening who knows: Larry Cavero, a Great Lakes surfer, he had this idea for getting Indigenous youth on the lake through surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. And I have a lot of interest in Indigenous issues. I went to school for that and I've worked with various communities, it's very close to my heart. And last summer, I had a student named Patricia. She's from Caldwell First Nation. I started telling her about Larry's idea.

Well Patricia has her connection with the Caldwell First Nation, which just so happens to be in Leamington, which just so happens to be where we're paddling from for the Challenge. So we decided to find a way to get the Caldwell youth involved. And so I'm really stoked to meet those Indigenous youth and see their connection with the water and what it means to them. And I'm just really glad I can be a part of an event that even provides that platform and opportunity for both them and us.

And those Indigenous youth from Caldwell, they'll be paddling in for the last couple kilometres of the challenge with you, is that right?

Yeah, they'll join us for the last few kilometres and come to shore with all the media coverage and get some of that glory. Meanwhile, we've got an extra 23 or 24 kilometres to do on top of the final stretch, but that's cool. That's fine. (Laughs.) I'm really looking forward to paddling in with those kids. Absolutely. It's gonna be beautiful. 

I love that being able to put your passion into action that way. Is there any way that you've been personally impacted by the issues that Lake Erie is facing right now? You mentioned how you had the opportunity to grow up on the lake and how it really helped shape who you became as you grew up. And as the algae blooms get worse and the problems Lake Erie face grow, that might not be a possibility for kids in the future. 

For sure. Yeah. So for me, my childhood was in the 80s and 90s. And the Leamington waterfront had a dock where the water would wash up and that's exactly where I started surfing. But even back then, it was just full of brown sludge and grossness every summer. You'd hear about these e-coli warnings. And it seems to me that it has become the expectation that the water is unclean and let's find out when it is clean and we can go in. And I think there's a big problem with that. It really should be the other way around. We should be defaulting to a clean lake and being made aware of when it's dirty, and what are we going to do about it? I really think that that needs to change. People need to know that it's not right. That's not normal.

Actually one of the things that I did learn from Swim Drink Fish is that people just put out these band-aid solutions, like, "Oh, no swimming here." But what does that do long-term? That's doing nothing to actually protect the lake. It's protecting you from going in it. But it's not actually changing the state of the lake. So we need to be doing more. And so this is an opportunity for me to be a part of something that will bring that awareness to it.

Yeah, definitely. We don't want that to become the new normal.

I mean, I feel fortunate. I've not seen a terrible amount of certain pollutions in the lake. You hear stories about people surfing in mounds of plastic and stuff like that. I haven't seen anything quite that bad on Lake Erie, although I'm sure there are places. But regardless, I just think there needs to be a whole shift in thinking around our lakes. I mean, around everything really, but right now we're focused on the lake. So I think it's really important to bring up. 

Photo: Nelson Phillips

I agree 100%. Thanks so much for your insights Derik. And before we sign off, I just wanted to know, is there a fun fact or anything that you'd like to share about yourself?

For sure, there's lots of fun facts! What's come to my mind is another very cool memory around Lake Erie was in the late 90s or early 2000s. During one of those tomato festivals that I told you about. The Beach Boys actually came and performed. They weren't exactly in their prime, it wasn't the 1960s. But still, it was really cool to have the Beach Boys in our town. And for me as a surfer, and a big fan, I was pretty stoked that they were there. At one time, the Beach Boys were synonymous with the Beatles. So it was kind of a big deal to me.

Anyway, me and my friend, we were there that day surfing. And the Beach Boys saw us when we came up to shore and they actually waved us up. So we got to go onstage with our surfboards and we were dancing around the stage and crowd. That was just a lot of fun. That was a really cool memory for me. And if anybody's reading this, and you were at that concert, I would love to get my hands on a photo of us on stage with the Beach Boys.

So anyhow, that was really good. So that's just one thing. I performed with the Beach Boys onstage goofing around on my surfboard.

Thanks Derik! And for all the folks reading out there, please consider donating to the Lake Erie Challenge today to help make a difference for Lake Erie, now and for generations to come. 

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