Antonio Lennert, a member of EO Canada Bridge, 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 Byezhanova interviewed Antonio about his entrepreneurial journey and contribute this post.
When Antonio Lennert left Brazil at 20 years old, he was in search of a community. Upon arrival in California, he met his partner in both business and in life, Lucas Murnaghan, and the two built a new home in Canada.
The move to Toronto meant that opportunities for surfing, his favourite pastime, appeared few and far between.
“Canada is not known to be a surfing hotspot,” said Lennert. “In my mind, I had basically said goodbye to surfing entirely.”
After pursuing a degree in graphic design from Ontario College of Art & Design, Lennert launched and scaled a successful creative design agency, which he ran for over three years. The agency was an early foray into the entrepreneurial world—but one that took its toll.
“I love the design world,” said Lennert. “But building an agency was a complex, always-on type of business. Before I knew it, I was completely burnt out.”
Lennert exited the design business. While on a sabbatical in Costa Rica dedicated to recharging his mental and physical health, which included a 10-day silent meditation retreat, something began to shift for him.
“I started surfing again during that sabbatical,” said Lennert. “Surfing not only helped to heal me, but it reminded me of something I had forgotten: Time spent surfing on the water was where I felt at my happiest.”
Lennert and his cofounding business partner, Marcello Gortana, earned their teaching certificates with the International Surfing Association. A new vision for Lennert’s life began to form—and he brought that vision back to Toronto.
As he began to explore Canadian surfing, he realized what felt like a “secret” both to surfers across the globe and to Canadians themselves: There is amazing surfing to be had in the Great Lakes in Ontario!
He saw the beginnings of how their passion could be utilized 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 contained veterans who had been riding these waves for decades; they had little interest in catering to newcomers.
“My version of the Canadian dream involved capitalizing on the inclusivity of Canadian life,” said Lennert.
He contemplated hanging up his wetsuit once again. Yet, after rescuing people who were unfamiliar with the Great Lakes’ waters, he saw an opportunity to expand and shape this community into one driven by inclusivity, education, and adventure.
Lennert’s cause initially focused on making surfing safer in the north. Launching an online store with Marcello, the two occasionally opened pop-ups to bring the community together. Ever the adventurer, Lennert soon left Toronto’s advertising scene, at which point his new venture really took off.
Lennert and Murnaghan opened a newcomer-friendly, Toronto-based surf and coffee shop in 2017, Surf the Greats. The venture quickly scaled beyond its initial vision. What began as a go-to source for surfboards, wetsuits, swimwear, and other surfing gear quickly transformed into a robust community for everyone seeking adventure on the Great Lakes and beyond.
While Lennert’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 take leave from his position as an orthopedic surgeon at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital. Lennert continued to grow the business with Murnaghan’s help.
Today, the organization is making major waves in fresh water. 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 has been to educate and create spaces for the community to come together and live this lifestyle,” Lennert noted.
With an ever-growing social media following counting 25,000+ and collaborations that have sent Canadian surfers to global surf competitions, Surf the Greats has helped elevate Canadian surfing to the international stage. What grew to become the Great Lakes’ premier surf authority has since evolved into Canada’s surf brand.
“Through a lot of work building this community and showcasing our waves, we gained international respect in the surfing world,” Lennert said.
The success, much like the rolling waves, continued for Lennert and company. A documentary, Fresh Water, chronicled his journey.
Lennert’s remarkable story of overcoming prejudice, discrimination and barriers was the showstopper. While the film’s original concept was to showcase Canada’s surf culture at large, filmmaker David Kalinauskas uncovered 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 featured by media outlets and platforms across the globe.
To this day, every so often, Lennert wakes up to a random message in his inbox from strangers thanking him for both his work and his voice for inclusivity. Aside from amassing a cascade of collective interest in the sport, Lennert’s journey pulled at the heartstrings of athletes, entrepreneurs, parents, children, and anyone who found themselves in search of their own inclusive community built on passion. “I just feel so honoured and humbled to have my story documented,” Lennert reflected. “And to have my life with my partner documented forever that way. It’s so special.”
Sadly, Lennert lost Lucas Murnaghan to cancer in 2021. It was a tragic event that continues to ripple through Lennert’s life. Yet what began to lift him from the depths to continue on his own journey was the very thing that had given Lennert a renewed zest for life years prior: community.
He was invited to an EO event in Quebec City by Julie Mitchell, a Toronto-based entrepreneur in the health and athletics space who knew Lennert from their neighborhood. Without knowing what to expect, he was thrust into the EO world—and it helped inspire him to stay on course with his business goals, his dreams, and his purpose. “I wish I had known about EO years before,” said Lennert. “It’s been instrumental for me in such a short time.”
He’s seen some challenges, to be sure—but there is plenty to look forward to in his story as well as the stories of the vibrant, passionate communities of which he remains a core pillar.
“I feel like I have such a strong support community,” Lennert said. “Not only in my chapter, but anywhere I go. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me in the last few years.”
Marina Byezhanova, is an active member-leader within EO and a member of EO Canada Bridge chapter, is an entrepreneur, global speaker and university instructor on a mission to inspire entrepreneurs stand out, speak up and be radically authentic. She is the co-founder of Brand of a Leader, the personal branding agency for entrepreneurs. Photo of Antonio Lennert surfing the Greats by Sam Moffatt.