Five Indigenous sisters celebrate 10 years of teaching Toronto to paddleboard

In 2012, Jenifer Redsky had been living in Parkdale for five years, but she rarely took advantage of her proximity to the lake and, she thought, neither did many of her neighbours. Redsky wondered how she could change that. “It’s so joyful and inspiring to be on, in or around the water,” she says. “Water is healing, peaceful and energizing.”

Redsky, who is Tet’lit Gwichen and Maliseet First Nations, spent childhood summers camping, hiking, swimming, biking and harvesting wild food throughout Canada. “Our sense of adventure and connection to land and water were instilled in us by our parents,” she says. As an adult, she loved surfing, and then got into stand-up paddleboarding out in the Beach. But how could she get other locals to enjoy the waterfront? “I conceived Oceah Oceah through my desire to connect my community in Parkdale and Roncesvalles area to the water ,” she says. “I wanted to provide this service to make the water accessible to everyone.”

Redsky launched Oceah Oceah with her sisters, Sharon, Lana, Tara and Robyn on Indigenous Peoples Day in 2012 with a community BBQ on the beach. Based out of Budapest Beach in the west and Scarborough Bluffs in the east, Oceah Oceah offers stand-up paddleboarding and kayak lessons, along with tours, rentals, and day retreats, plus stand-up paddleboard yoga. “We believe that we offer more than an in-and-out rental shop,” Redsky says, “and we have always put our energy into creating a space that people want to return to and feel part of.”

One of their signature offerings is a Humber River tour. “The Humber River is culturally significant as it is the original trade route of the Indigenous people of this territory and connects Lake Ontario to the Upper Great Lakes,” Redsky says. “It is magical to paddle from the city into the river and so beautiful to experience the peace and nature and see the animals. We’ve seen deer, beavers, turtles, eagles, minks, foxes and so many birds.”

Celebrating 10 years this summer, Oceah Oceah partners with youth groups across the city and girls camps like Power4Teens — and, hopefully, spurring people to become water advocates themselves. “We believe that offering a way to connect with and to water in the city,” Redsky says, “will inspire relationship, awareness and consciousness to how people relate to water, how they use and care for water.”

Plus, she adds,just plain fun. “Someone,” she says, “once summed up their paddleboarding experience by saying it taught them to stand strong on their own two feet while going with the flow.”

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