“I love it when people walk into the café and look through the window and say ‘what the hell is going on here?’”
Mitch Martin, one of the owners of September Surf Café points to the rectangular window at the back of the bright, high-ceilinged space. On any given day you’ll find customers with foreheads pressed to the glass, coffee in hand, looking into the contrastingly dark room; tools and blank boards belonging to the DIY surfboard workshop Shaper Studios lining the walls. If you’re lucky, you’ll find Martin or one of his colleagues clad in respirator masks shaping away in the soundproof room—the café buzzing on the other side.
While Montreal isn’t the first place that comes to mind when discussing “surf culture,” September Surf is a café-workshop hybrid that aims to bring Montreal’s popular yet little-known surf community into the limelight. Inspired by the old school California-style surf shop, September – which takes its name from the East Coast’s best surfing month – pairs a relaxed, West Coast vibe with a polished setting in a stunning building on Notre Dame Ouest, a stone’s throw from the Joe Beef family. Alongside partners Marie-Élisabeth Lajoie, Isaac Berman, and Ravi Henda, Martin hopes to transfer his years surfing knowledge to all those willing to learn.
“I was living in Vancouver for two years working for a surf and travel company,” says Martin, “and one day my buddy and I got into making surfboards. We taught ourselves through Youtube and made a bunch of mistakes, rented this garage for 300 bucks a month in someone’s backyard, and we just started learning how to make boards! After a while, we got approached by Shaper Studios in California, which has a similar business model: to teach people how to make their own boards. We then partnered with them and became part of this global brand, this global community. When it was time for me to move back to Montreal – I grew up here, I knew there was a very strong surf culture here – it was just growing and I was like ‘well this would totally work in Montreal.’ Ravi figured out the logistics to make a sound-proof shaping room and then I came back to Montreal, found this perfect space, found the business partners, and then it just happened, and here we are a year and a half later.”
And where do you surf in Montreal, exactly? Well, there’s, of course, river surfing, most notably near Lasalle and Habitat 67. Martin swears, however, that it’s all about ocean surfing. “There are thousands of passionate surfers in Montreal. If you just want to get on your board on a really hot day and cool off, river surfing is nice. But real surf culture is based on ocean surfing. When there’s a swell, when you go down to New Hampshire, Maine, or Nova Scotia, there are Quebec license plates everywhere. People don’t mind the five-hour-drive to get those waves.”
While having two veritable companies under one roof is a big undertaking for a team who’ve never managed a café before, their partnership with Anchored Coffee – who are fellow surf-enthusiasts – as well as having a strong team and community support have allowed their popularity to grow steadily throughout the past year and a half. “We knew how to throw parties, and having a coffee shop is basically throwing an all-day party,” jokes Martin.
Aside from September Surf, Montreal’s surf community is composed of a handful of key players: there’s Archive, a boutique in Villeray, KSF Surf in Lasalle – “they rent, provide and give lessons, teaching people how to actually river surf,” as well as Guava Surfboards and OuiSurf. “There’s definitely a very strong community aspect to surfing,” says Martin. “That’s what we wanted to do here: surfing or not, it doesn’t matter. Everyone can appreciate the vibe of a surf-inspired cafe.
And what’s next for September Surf Café? According to Martin, it’s later nights and the addition of craft beers and natural wines. “We have our alcohol permit which is our new project. It really is a bummer to close at 6:00 pm in a neighbourhood which is just so lively in the evening. We’re going to start this new program in September, which is good timing!”
This article is part of Issue 2: Outdoors