EO Canada Bridge member Antonio Lennert is an entrepreneur, designer and community builder. He is the co-founder and CEO of Surf the Greats, Canada’s largest brand and community for surf education, adventure and lifestyle on the Great Lakes and beyond. Marina Byzanova talks to Antonio about his entrepreneurial journey and contributed to this post.
When Antonio Lennert left Brazil at age 20, he was looking for a community. Upon arrival in California, he met Lucas Murnaghan, his partner in both business and life, and the two made a new home in Canada.
Moving to Toronto meant that opportunities for surfing, his favorite pastime, appeared few and far between.
“Canada is not known as a surfing hotspot,” said Lennert. “In my mind, I basically said goodbye to surfing entirely.”
After earning a degree in graphic design from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Lennert launched and grew a successful creative design agency, which he ran for more than three years. The agency was an early foray into the world of entrepreneurship – but one that took its toll.
“I love the world of design,” said Lennert. “But building an agency was a complicated, always-on kind of business. Before I knew it, I was completely burned out.”
Lennert got out of the design business. During a sabbatical dedicated to recharging her mental and physical health in Costa Rica, which included a 10-day silent meditation retreat, something began to change for her.
“I started surfing again during that sabbatical,” Lennert said. “Surfing not only helped me heal, but it reminded me of something I’d forgotten: Time spent surfing on the water was where I felt my happiest.”
Lennert and his cofounding business partner, Marcelo Gortana, earned their teaching certificates with the International Surfing Association. Lennert began to have a new vision for life—and he brought that vision back to Toronto.
When he began to explore Canadian surfing, he realized what felt like a “secret” to surfers around the world and to Canadians themselves: Ontario has amazing surfing to be had in the Great Lakes!
He initially saw how his passion could be harnessed for a greater purpose.
A passion, a cause and an opportunity
Although a pre-existing surfing community existed in the Great Lakes region, Lennert quickly found that it consisted of veterans who had been riding these waves for decades; He had little interest in catering to the newcomers.
“My version of the Canadian dream involves capitalizing on the inclusivity of Canadian life,” Lennert said.
He once again thought about hanging up his wetsuit. Yet, after rescuing people who were unfamiliar with the waters of the Great Lakes, he saw an opportunity to expand and shape this community into one that was inclusive, driven by education and adventure.
Lennart initially focused on making surfing in the North safer. The two opened occasional pop-ups to bring the community together, with Marcelo starting an online store. Adventurous, Lennert soon left Toronto’s advertising scene, at which point his new venture really began.
Lennert and Marnaghan opened Surf the Greats, a newcomer-friendly, Toronto-based surf and coffee shop, in 2017. The venture quickly grew beyond its initial vision. What started as the go-to source for surfboards, wetsuits, swimwear, and other surfing gear has turned into a strong community for all adventurers on the Great Lakes and beyond.
While Lennart’s life partner, Lucas Murnaghan, remained a silent partner for the first few years, Murnaghan became particularly invested in day-to-day activities in 2019 after falling ill, forcing him to serve as an orthopedic surgeon at SickKids in Toronto. I was forced to take leave from my post. hospital. Lennart continued to grow the business with Murnaghan’s help.
Today, the organization is making big waves in Freshwater. Surf the Greats has collaborated with a veritable tsunami of leaders in the sports industry: Patagonia, Rip Curl and Red Bull, as well as artists of all identities and backgrounds.
“The whole purpose of this company is to educate and create space for the community to come together and live this lifestyle,” Lennert said.
With a following of 25,000+ ever-growing social media and support sending Canadian surfers to global surf competitions, Surf the Greats has helped elevate Canadian surfing to the international level. Joe has since grown into a Canadian surf brand, becoming the Great Lakes’ premier surf authority.
“Through a lot of work building this community and showcasing our waves, we have achieved international respect in the world of surfing,” Lennert said.
Success, like Rolling Waves, continued for Lennert & Co. A documentary, Freshwater, chronicles their journey.
Lennert’s remarkable story of overcoming prejudice, discrimination and obstacles was the showstopper. While the original concept of the film was to showcase Canada’s surf culture at large, filmmaker David Kalinauskas was intrigued by Lennert’s story—and knew it was one that needed to be told. The media world agreed: The documentary is now live on Crave in Canada, and continues to be screened by media outlets and platforms around the world.
To this day, every so often, Lennert wakes up to a random message from strangers in her inbox thanking her for both her work and her voice for inclusivity. In addition to gathering a deluge of collective interest in the sport, Lennert’s journey pulled at the heartstrings of athletes, entrepreneurs, parents, kids, and anyone looking for their own inclusive community built on passion. “I am so honored and humbled to have my story documented,” Lennert reflected. “And to document my life with my partner forever. This is very special.
Sadly, Lennart lost Lucas Murnaghan to cancer in 2021. It was a sad event that continues in Lennert’s life. Yet it lifted him deeply to continue on his journey that had given Lennert a new passion for life years earlier: community.
He was invited to an EO event in Quebec City by Julie Michel, a Toronto-based entrepreneur in the health and athletics sector, who knew Lennert from their neighbourhood. He was thrust into the world of EO without knowing what to expect – and it inspired him to persevere with his business goals, his dreams and his purpose. Lennert said, “I wish I had known about EO years ago.” “It’s been helpful to me in such a short amount of time.”
He has seen some challenges, to be sure—but there is much more to look forward to in his story as well as the stories of the vibrant, passionate communities of which he remains a mainstay.
“I love that I have such a strong support community,” Lennert said. “Not only in my chapter, but anywhere I go. This is the best thing that has happened to me in the last few years.”
Marina Byzanova, an active member-leader within EO and member of the EO Canada Bridge Chapter, is an entrepreneur, global speaker and university instructor on a mission to inspire entrepreneurs to stand out, speak up and be fundamentally authentic . She is the co-founder of Brand of a Leader, a personal branding agency for entrepreneurs. Photo by Sam Moffett of surfing the grates by Antonio Lennert.
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