by Lynn Burshtein
The Toronto Islands are just a ten-minute ferry ride from the southern edge of the city’s harbour front, but they feel like worlds away. The 15 small islands, lovely and largely untouched, are the largest urban car-free area in North America and home to quiet beaches and just a few hundred year-round residents. There is also a handful of community organizations and seasonal businesses including tennis and yacht clubs, an amusement park, cafes and, my personal favorite, the Toronto Island Stand Up Paddle (TISUP) Club, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023.
TISUP has sprouted over the years from its humble origins. Owner and operator Julian Ganton, a water sport enthusiast who grew up on the islands, launched the club 10 years ago with just a tent propped up on the beach and a dozen paddle boards for rent.
Now with a decked-out TISUP trailer, onsite lockers and reservation software that makes bookings a cinch, the club has expanded its offerings to a wide range of both guided and unguided kayaking and stand-up paddle board experiences: think team-building retreats, SUP Yoga Classes, Paddlebirding (guided by professional birders), “emBARK” on the Doggy Paddle (paddleboarding lessons with your pooch), and the Sunset SUP Safari, the latter offering glorious nighttime views of the Toronto skyline with its famed CN Tower. With purple-hued flashlights and your waterproof camera case in tow, the photo ops are magnificent.
First-time paddlers need not feel intimidated. TISUP staff are friendly and helpful and will guide the uninitiated through SUP safety precautions and techniques. Some prefer to paddle while positioned on their knees while others who feel confident in their core strength will stand up. Either way, a good upper body workout is guaranteed. Others who want to observe the lagoons and wildlife more closely may opt for a kayak excursion around the islands.
Those who want to learn about the area will receive plenty of information on the guided tours. Eco-conscious paddlers will love the Eco-Tour of the Islands where the history and ecology of the area are provided. In addition, there is the rewarding if not glamorous Trash Dash, where participants can rent a paddle board for an extended period at a reduced price in exchange for cleaning up garbage floating around (gloves and garbage bags are provided). Protecting the water and environment is a core value of TISUP and Toronto islanders in general. Aside from the extrinsic benefits of doing good, a sense of accomplishment ensues after a Trash Dash.
“When I’m on the water, I feel peace, says Ganton. “It’s a way to clear my head and get some calm in my life. Everybody goes through moments of hardship or stress…and the water balances everything. It brings you back to homeostasis. Back to a calm and peaceful state that you want to be in.”
While TISUP’s motto is “Freedom on the Water,” another apt slogan would be “wellness on the water.” Enjoying exercise on Lake Ontario while breathing in fresh air, bettering the environment and building community, a TISUP excursion provides a wellness “daycation” for visitors and Torontonians who want an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and experience the sense of tranquility that being on the water provides.
Toronto Island Stand Up Paddle (TISUP) is open June 1 to September 30, seven days a week.
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Lynn Burshtein is a Toronto based travel writer and regular contributor to Travel to Wellness.