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9 Top Website Builders in 2021: Affordable and Free Website Builders Reviewed and Ranked

9 Top Website Builders in 2021: Affordable and Free Website Builders Reviewed and Ranked

9 Top Website Builders in 2021: Affordable and Free Website Builders Reviewed and Ranked

As the internet has grown, so have the options for building a website. No longer do you have to be a developer to build an amazing website. Still, knowing where to find the best website builders on the market is no easy task. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to creating, designing, and publishing a website. 

Luckily, we’ve done all the hard work for you and researched the top website makers available. If you want to build your own website but aren’t sure which option is right for you, our top picks are a great place to start. 

Best Website Creators: First Look

  1. Best 100% free website builder – Weebly
  2. Best website builder overall – Wix
  3. Best website builder for artists – Squarespace
  4. Best website creator for professional websites – Duda
  5. Best free website builder and hosting site – GoDaddy
  6. Best open source drag and drop website builder – WordPress
  7. Best ecommerce site builder – Shopify
  8. Best website builder for designers – Webflow
  9. Best simple website builder – Carrd

1. Weebly – Best Free Website Builder for Beginners


  • Simple, powerful drag and drop tool
  • Custom fonts
  • Advanced page animation effects
  • Video backgrounds
  • Image editor


  • Customer service is unresponsive

Weebly’s claim to fame is their advanced feature set that allows you to incorporate responsive animation effects on your site with their standard builder. They also offer powerful tools to make your site really pop and stand out from the competition.

Like most of the entries in this list, Weebly allows for custom HTML, CSS, and Javascript to be embedded into your pages.

Weebly’s negative reviews are almost unanimous about how unresponsive customer support can be. Positive experiences are mostly centered around how easy the builder is to use and how beautiful the multimedia effects are.

2. Wix – Best Website Builder Overall


  • Over 500 designer-made templates
  • Drag-and-drop editor
  • Mobile friendly
  • Great pricing


  • Lacks some high-end design features
  • No phone support

Wix strikes a strong balance between letting you get up and running quickly while also providing options for advanced users. Wix is at its most powerful when you go through them to get your domain and hosting as well. In fact, when you pay for a premium plan, they include a free domain and web hosting along with it.

Wix is compatible with a number of hosting providers for those who already have a preferred host. If you’re hosting your website locally, you should check out our review of the Best Antivirus Software.

While Wix’s reviews on Trustpilot are not great, this is actually true of most sites, even ones that have great reputations and are generally well-regarded. 

Negative reviews are mostly about difficulties canceling and other administrative issues with customer support. While positive reviews say that the software works great, and many mention that they use Wix for multiple sites.

3. Squarespace – Best Website Builder for Artists


  • Award-winning web designs
  • Set of templates for portfolios
  • Built-in blogging tools
  • Built-in SEO tools and analytics


  • Lacks advanced functionality
  • Confusing cancellation policies

Squarespace is well-known in the industry for its beautifully designed templates. The design of their builder and business model is perfect for artists or anyone looking to create a website for an online portfolio. Squarespace can be adapted for other uses, but most users start and stick with Squarespace because of the design strengths.

Reviews for Squarespace are in a similar range to Wix and for similar reasons. Support is only available by chat and email, and there are a number of features missing for users who want to build a more robust site on the platform. Positive reviews are more about how good the sites look and how easy it was to get them there.

4. Duda – Best Website Creator for Professional Websites


  • Fast and frequent updates
  • Included marketing materials
  • Included strategy guides
  • Ideal for agencies and resellers
  • Duda University web design course


  • Steeper learning curve
  • Not aimed at single websites

Duda is making a name for itself as the go-to platform for digital marketing agencies looking to add website building to their services. Duda focuses on building flashy websites quickly and efficiently to maximize profits for agencies who are selling via the Duda platform.

Duda offers a number of resources that agencies and resellers might want, and it’s a fantastic option for anyone looking to build a web design agency.

Duda doesn’t have nearly as many reviews online as most of the other services, which largely has to do with their business model, but negative reviews point out that they wanted better technical support. Positive reviews come from advanced users who are looking to get things done quickly and easily.

5. GoDaddy – Best Free Website Builder and Hosting Site


  • Offers free website to start with
  • Custom email address @yourdomain
  • Robust and advanced hosting options
  • Do-it-for-you service for when you get overwhelmed


  • Included tools are clunky
  • Domain broker service is flawed

GoDaddy started out as a domain registrar and hosting provider and moved into the website building space as other services started to pop up and make it necessary. As you might expect, your hosting options are the most robust on this list, and the core tools all do what they’re supposed to do.

That said, its website building software is primitive by comparison, and many of the tools (like the webmail interface) look like they were designed in the ‘90s. GoDaddy expects that most customers will port their webmail to a service like Microsoft Outlook and use it there.

Reviews on Trustpilot are the highest in the list and indicate that most of the time, it “just works.” A lot of the negative reviews are specifically about their domain broker service.

6. WordPress – Best Open Source Drag and Drop Website Builder


  • Compatible with almost every hosting provider
  • Offers a limited free plan
  • Open-source
  • Countless plugins


  • Needs to be updated almost daily
  • New ‘block’ editor removes functionality

WordPress’s strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, being open source means there’s a huge amount of plugins that can add whatever functionality you want for your site. But on the other hand, being open source means that it has to be constantly patched to fix security flaws.

Recently WordPress made a massive update to their page builder to base everything around “blocks.” This change made it easier to get started but harder to customize meticulously.

Reviews for WordPress generally reflect that most users like the service, and, to no one’s surprise, many of the negative reviews are about the new block system.

7. Shopify – Best Ecommerce Site Builder


  • Responsive and customizable
  • Competitive pricing for e-commerce
  • Free 14-day trial
  • Complete suite of tools


  • Not designed for anything but e-commerce
  • Can block websites with no explanation

Shopify is to e-commerce what Duda is to agencies. It’s a one-trick pony that performs very well. Shopify’s tools are not only easy to use but comprehensive enough to cover everything from abandoned carts to inventory to calculating shipping and more. You can truly run your entire business on Shopify if all your sales are online.

Despite this, Shopify has gotten flack for being politically-driven in shutting down business websites without warning and without the ability to appeal.

Their Trustpilot score is quite low, but many of the negative reviews are actually about individual stores that just happen to use Shopify, so their real score may be up to a full point higher.

8. Webflow – Best Website Builder for Designers


  • “Visual Canvas” builder
  • Built-in database creation
  • Immersive interactions and animations
  • Hosts on Amazon Web Services
  • 99.9% uptime


  • Builder is complex and difficult to learn
  • SEO is not as strong as with other builders

Webflow has built an unparalleled design program for websites that will be quick to pick-up for those experienced with other professional design tools. That said, it can be frustrating and difficult to learn for the average person. Once you learn the interface, though, you can get incredible results.

Hosting is outsourced to Amazon Web Services, and while the pages are beautiful, they aren’t as optimized for search engines as some of the other options on this list.

Webflow has a mix of positive and negative reviews on Trustpilot. Negative reviews complain about lacking customer support. Positive reviews focus on how powerful the design tools are (once you learn them).

9. Carrd – Best Simple Website Builder


  • Simple and easy to get started
  • Perfect for one-page sites
  • Responsive websites that work on all devices
  • Free accounts can build three sites
  • Incredibly affordable to upgrade


  • Limited to single-page design
  • Not very much customization

Carrd is another “one-trick pony.” Carrd’s real strength is in its simplicity. One-page websites are getting more popular for people who only need a place to provide basic information along with their contact information, and Carrd is the prime choice here.

Carrd really stays in their lane, so to speak. They don’t offer support for custom fonts or any other customizations that experienced designers may be used to.

Carrd does not have a profile on Trustpilot, and reviews for their service are actually difficult to find, but ProductHunt has a number of reviews for them. With a whopping 4.6 rating on ProductHunt, Carrd seems to be doing well.

How to Choose a Website Creator: Tips and Advice

What Is Your Site For?

If you’re building ecommerce websites, you need ecommerce functionality and an online store. Building a blog is different from building a business website. Consider what you’re creating a website for and what you want to be able to achieve using a website maker tool.

Storage and Bandwidth

Some sites offer more or less storage per site, and some charge per month if you want more for your website. If you’re a beginner building a simple site on a free trial or plan, you won’t have as much storage space and bandwidth as a web developer paying a premium for the best overall website builder.

Ease of Use

Free website builders can be easy to use but lack functionality. The quality of the website building software can determine which platform is the right fit. Builders that offer a domain name, ecommerce features, free SSL, and hosting can also make your life easier.

Design Control

Which is more important to you – ease of use or advanced features? The right site builder for you will strike the right balance. Many offer an intuitive drag and drop interface which makes things easier for those new to website design but still have all the control that a web designer would be used to.

Plugins and Tools

If you start using a website maker and then discover that it lacks some features (like ecommerce functionality), you may be able to find plugins to get what you need. 

WordPress has a store similar to the app store where you can get plugins for social media, features for small businesses, or generate a mobile site from your existing site.

Check Transaction Fees

Transaction fees can stack, so if you’re using an ecommerce website builder, make plans to check what the fees are and add them up with the payment processor you’re using. A free website builder might charge excessive transaction fees on your website.

Future Plans

You may want to migrate your site in the future to a different website builder. If you think this could be you, then look past the free plan or free trial, and check out verified customer reviews to see if it’s easy to move over.

Using a Website Builder: Pros and Cons


No expertise needed: Most website builders will have a drag and drop editor, so no design or coding experience is required.

Easy to set up: The best website builders will come with a custom domain name, social media integration, and a content management system all in one.

Affordable: Many site builders offer a free domain name with their service. Others offer a free trial or even a free plan with their site builder. 

Lots of options: You can pay per month or per year. If you don’t want to pay at all, there are free website builders available. If you need an online store, you can get one.


Less professional-looking: If you create a website using Weebly, google sites, or another drag and drop builder, it probably won’t have the same look as a professional with full design freedom.

Features can be limited: The more you want out of your website, the more restrictive you’ll find using a website builder. 

Might hurt your SEO score: If the plans you can afford don’t come with a free SSL certificate, conversion rate optimization, or other SEO tools, it may be harder to rank your site.

Top Website Builders: Frequently Asked Questions

Is Wix Really the Best Overall Site Builder?

Wix is our pick for the #1 overall. With a 14-day money-back guarantee and an e-commerce website builder, it works for small businesses and offers website plans at different price ranges.

What Is the Easiest Free Website Builder?

If you’re looking for free, we would recommend starting with WordPress. Their free plan has the most features with no charge per month for your website.

What Is the Most Cost-Effective Website Builder?

That really depends on your needs. Often the builders that have the most ease of use are also the ones that charge the most per month. It all comes down to your priorities.

What Is the Best Website Builder for Retail and Other Online Stores?

If you’re building an online store, our pick would be Shopify. If you don’t want to use Shopify, you can also look at BigCommerce or at third-party plugins for WordPress.

Which Is the Best Website Builder for Small Businesses?

This is a great question. Small businesses aren’t all created equal; some want to keep the per month of their website down, while others are interested in more robust plans or even affiliate commissions.

What Do Professional Website Builders Use?

A lot of professionals use WordPress, but you’ll find design agencies that can work with most of the website builders on this list, with the exception of GoDaddy. Agencies often charge a fee per month to maintain the website.

Can I Switch My Website Builder Later?

Yes! Migration can be tricky, so as you compare plans, you’ll want to find out how much they charge for migration and how complicated it will be.

Do I Need a Custom Domain Name?

Most plans will come with one, but if you’re going to use the website for anything beyond a casual blog, then you’ll definitely want your own domain name.

Best Website Builders: The Takeaway

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the perfect site to help build your website. At least now you’ve got a head start and have a good idea of where to look.  

Our #1 pick might be, but different builders cater to different markets. And if you’re looking to design and build a specific type of website, you might find that one of our other top picks suits your needs better.

It’s wise to look through the variety of options above and consider all the features and tools you need to find the right site that has everything you want.


The reviews and statements published here are those of the sponsor and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or views of Observer.

9 Best Website Builders in 2021: Blogs, Single Page Sites, Businesses & More!

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New Report On Art and Technology Finds Collectors Crave Communication

New Report On Art and Technology Finds Collectors Crave Communication

New Report On Art and Technology Finds Collectors Crave Communication

Art on display at the Frieze Los Angeles 2020 art fair in Los Angeles, California. MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Over the past calendar year, as the pandemic raged and denizens of the art world retreated into their homes, online auctions and remote collecting became both the norm and a genuinely lucrative pastime. Although many in the art world are craving the energy of large fairs, the frisson of a gallery opening and the charge of haggling over an exquisite canvas in person, it has come to pass that digital art world innovations are also here to say. A new report by the ART+TECH Collector’s Edition found that 80% of its responding collectors had bought art online at least once, and that 9 out of 10 collectors prefer to see prices displayed while buying art online.

This, of course, makes a great deal of sense. In a world in which many are used to the seamless efficiency of services like Amazon Prime, the art world’s often opaque attitude towards pricing transparency can feel outdated and out of place. Similarly, collector respondents to the ART+TECH survey said that galleries should streamline their websites to make them more compatible with the age of digital browsing and shopping. If people fall in love with something, they want to make it theirs fast.

Interestingly, 78% of respondents to the survey who had purchased art online had not physically seen the work before going through with the purchase, but this seems in keeping with the way other commodities are bought and sold these days; even pets can be purchased online.

However, as successful as digital innovations in the art world have doubtlessly been 2/3 of users in all the sales formats surveyed by ART+TECH said that they would enjoy a form of personal, real-time communication during the art buying process. After all, no matter how well-designed a website is, it’s no match for a well-informed gallery employee with a winning smile and time to kill.

New Report On Art and Technology Finds Collectors Crave Personal Communication

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Frustrating supermarket problem sparks idea

Frustrating supermarket problem sparks idea

We have all been there – you’re on your way to see a loved one for a special occasion when you suddenly realise you don’t have a card for them.

That’s exactly what happened to Leah Dezsery, but when her visit to the supermarket proved futile it sparked an idea for her now business.

“We were going to a birthday party and we were rushing and we didn’t have a card so we went to Woolworths,” the Adelaide woman told

“They were so overpriced … I was looking at all the cards going, ‘Look at all the plastic on them and they’re huge and so expensive and don’t look that nice either.’”

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Annoyed, Ms Dezery didn’t buy one as she didn’t see the point in spending money on any of them.

“We actually ended up going without because I disliked all of them and I thought, you know what I’ll just make do,” she said.

“I think I just got a piece of paper and wrote something nice on it.”

But the experience got her thinking — just how many of us are buying expensive cards we don’t like, but feel like we have to give, only to have them go in the bin afterwards?

Ms Dezsery, now 26, began thinking about whether there was a way to make gift cards more sustainable for the environment — and remembered learning about seeded paper while studying visual communications at university.

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Feeling unsatisfied creatively by her work at a marketing agency, the graphic designer decided to make her own gift cards that not only would be made from recycled materials but also contained seeds, which meant they could be planted and later bloom into native Swan River daisies.

“That’s where I came up with the idea of doing plantable gift cards because it’s not just a gift card, it’s also a gift in itself, it grows flowers,” Ms Dezsery said.

After six months of designing her cards and sourcing materials Ms Dezsery launched Nurturing Nature Cards online, also making an Instagram account to promote her work.

“(The idea) was not intentionally to have a business, it was really just to create something that I love and put it out there,” she said.

“Instantly I got two sales from the first (Instagram) post and I was like woah, that’s crazy, I didn’t think I would get any notice at all. And then from there it just kind of rolled on.”

In the beginning Ms Dezsery would get two to three orders a week but as her cards began being stocked in local shops, word about Nurturing Nature Cards spread.

At the beginning of 2020 business was booming enough that Ms Dezsery decided to take a “leap of faith” and go full time with the business — only to have the coronavirus pandemic strike just weeks later.

Concerned because her shop stockists, which accounted for roughly 50 per cent of her income, were having to close their doors, Ms Dezsery had to make a quick business decision.

“It did affect me in the first couple of months because of COVID, but then as time progressed I decided to pivot and focus on my retail clientele and give them something extra,” she said.

“I offered a free handwritten service where I would write in their cards for them so they didn’t have to purchase the card and then the card get to them, then send it to a friend. I could send it to a friend on their behalf.”

Today Ms Dezsery’s business has made a full recovery, with sales already up 127 per cent on last year.

She’s incredibly proud of the success of her business and her cards are now stocked in 150 stores across Australia and New Zealand.

However Ms Dezsery has no plans to see her cards, which she still makes by hand, stocked in a big supermarket.

“Because it’s handmade it would be hard to make it accessible to a supermarket because that’s the nature of sustainability — if it gets too big it’s almost not sustainable anymore,” she said.

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Richard Branson Dumps $650 Million Virgin Galactic Stock in a Year

Richard Branson Dumps 0 Million Virgin Galactic Stock in a Year

Richard Branson Dumps 0 Million Virgin Galactic Stock in a Year

Sir Richard Branson gives a thumbs up from a seat during the unveiling of a scale model of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2 at a news conference 28 September, 2006 in New York. DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Galactic’s space tourism business is struggling to take off as the pandemic and testing setbacks keep pushing back the start date of its commercial service. And its founder Sir Richard Branson’s aggressive stock selloff is hurting investors’ confidence in the company.

Last year, Branson cashed out $500 million worth of Virgin Galactic shares as the pandemic took a toll on Virgin Group’s other travel and leisure businesses. This week, the billionaire dumped another $150 million of Virgin Galactic stock, a Wednesday SEC filing revealed.

Branson, and four entities under his control (including Virgin Group), sold 5,584,000 shares of Virgin Galactic at prices between $26.85 and $28.73. Its share price tumbled 14 percent on Thursday.

Virgin Group intends to use the cash from this sale to “support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that continue to be affected by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement. Virgin Group remains the largest shareholder in Virgin Galactic, owning a quarter of the company.

Last month, another key shareholder, Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya, who helped take the company public in 2019, sold all of his personal stake in the company, worth about $213 million. Palihapitiya said he plans to redirect the money “into a large investment towards fighting climate change.”

The news adds to the already mounting uncertainty among investors over Virgin Galactic’s future. Analyst ratings are slipping. Six months ago, eight out of eight analysts covering the stock rated shares “buy,” per Barrons. This month, only four out of 10 analysts covering the stock have a “buy” rating.

In May, the company is going to test fly its SpaceShipTwo vehicle again after the first attempt failed last December. 

“Valuation is complicated by long-term uncertainty,” Bernstein analyst Douglas Harned wrote in a note Tuesday. “A catastrophic failure by any provider could have a crushing effect on demand for all. We expect risk per flight to be low. But, as activity ramps, chances of an accident would increase.”

On the operational side, Virgin Galactic has also lost several key executives in recent months. Its chief financial officer Jon Campagna left the company in March. (He was replaced by Doug Ahrens, an outside hire.) Longtime CEO George Whitesides, who switched to a new role called chief space officer last July, left the same month to pursue unspecified opportunities in public service.

Late last year, Virgin Galactic’s chief operating officer Enrico Palermo, who was in charge of the manufacturing of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle, left to return to his native Australia as the new head of the Australian Space Agency

Virgin Galactic is currently headed by Michael Colglazier, a former Disney executive, who joined in July to replace Whitesides.

Is Richard Branson Abandoning Virgin Galactic?

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Chef Jock Zonfrillo: ‘Dieting isn’t my thing’

Chef Jock Zonfrillo: ‘Dieting isn’t my thing’

It already seems like a lifetime ago — and hopefully it will be another lifetime before it happens again — but remember when rumours of an impending lockdown started rumbling in Australia, and people started going bananas over bananas at the supermarket?

I can tell you one person who wasn’t worried: MasterChef Australia host and acclaimed chef, Jock Zonfrillo.

It’s the benefit of cooking for a living — food is something that’s never in short supply at the Zonfrillo household.

“We always have so much food in our house that even if they closed supermarkets we could survive for weeks,” the Scotland-bred, Melbourne-based celebrity chef, says.

“Dieting isn’t my thing, I love food too much and also have such a fast metabolism I always seem hungry.

“The five key things that are always in my kitchen are pancetta, HP sauce, parmesan, pasta and lemons. With those up my sleeve I can make a lot of different dishes.”

Besides, he had more important things to worry about last year than where his next roll of toilet paper was coming from, with the famously sweary chef’s family growing by one, throwing his world into happy chaos in the way only a new baby can.

“We welcomed our little daughter Isla in 2020 so even with all the bad stuff that was going on, when I look back on the year I really only remember that,” he says.

As for keeping on top of his health as we head into the colder months, Zonfrillo says he plans on being consistent — by continuing to not do a whole lot.

“I’m not really known for my health approach,” the 44-year-old laughs.

“I think being a chef for my whole working life has meant that I am used to minimal sleep, more coffee than the average person, and being on my feet a lot.

“I am always getting up well before I have to so I can be one step ahead of where I need to be. On a work day, I like to be on set before I need to be, saying hi to everyone, making endless coffees.”

MasterChef Australia premieres on Monday, April 19 at 7.30pm on Network 10.



“One of the main lessons I’ve learnt from my travels into indigenous communities is to give back more than you take, and that has become a core part of my life.”


“I find hanging out with my kids gets every muscle in my body moving. I have my son on my shoulders, rolling around on the floor, playing in the park. It’s the ultimate form of exercise.”


“It’s really only recently that I have paid attention to when things don’t feel quite right, the feelings of doubt, moments that make me more anxious than normal,” he says.

“For the last couple of decades I have been leading a team, leading a kitchen, and there’s an expectation of strength, of having thick skin, or being able to have difficult conversations and move on.

“Only in the last year or so have I questioned that and realised it’s okay to not be the most confident or in control person in the room.”


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No ocean waves? No problem. River surfing is taking off in landlocked Canada

No ocean waves? No problem. River surfing is taking off in landlocked Canada

River surfing is something you need to see, or at least YouTube, to really wrap your head around. Niche for now, it’s an adventure sport gaining traction in landlocked parts of Canada — including Alberta’s mountain-fed rivers, and Ontario and Quebec’s urban waterways — which, until recently, were probably the last places you’d think to bring your board.

“Just imagine what surfing looks like on the ocean,” suggests Neil Egsgard, a practitioner of the sport for more than 15 years. “It’s the same equipment, the same motion. Except on the ocean, the wave is moving toward the shore — and on the river, the wave stands in one place.”

It’s a bit like an aquatic halfpipe, a stationary wall of curling water, upon which a surfer can carve up and down and across, sometimes for hours on end.

“When it goes well, it’s incredibly freeing and beautiful,” says Egsgard, president of the Alberta River Surfing Association. “When you’re doing it, the only thing that exists is that moment, the way you’re moving and how it feels.”

Egsgard stumbled across the sport shortly after moving to Calgary in 2005, when he saw someone surfing the Bow River. “That was a big surprise,” he recalls. He was instantly intrigued and went down to talk to the surfer. It took him, however, two full years to successfully catch his own river wave. “Ocean surfing is much easier,” he adds, though the learning curve depends on your athleticism, your familiarity with other board sports and the wave itself.

The safety protocols are also different from its oceanic cousin sport: There’s no leash tethering you to your board, lest it traps you on the river bottom; a helmet and life-jacket are mandatory, especially for beginners. But “if you do it properly,” Egsgard notes, “the risk is very low.”

Some waves that river surfers catch are naturally occurring, created when the water drops from a high point to a lower point in the river bed. These can be seasonal, at their best during the spring thaw, for instance, and sensitive to river levels. Others are man-made, built when structures are placed in the river to mimic the natural phenomenon, and have the potential be adjusted depending on the river’s flow, meaning they can be tailored to beginners, for example, and operational all year-round.

Egsgard co-owns a consulting company, Surf Anywhere, which works with communities looking to build their own river wave, and he’s a big believer in the positive economic impact a river wave can have on the area around it.

In downtown Munich, Germany, for instance, one of the world’s most famous spots for river surfing — the fast-flowing Eisbach canal wave — attracts intrepid athletes and curious spectators alike. “Wave tourism is worth around $50 billion dollars a year,” Egsgard points out. Why shouldn’t Canada, with its abundant rivers, have a bigger piece of that?

Whether waves are purpose-built or gifted by nature, one thing unites them: Where there’s a river wave, there’s a river surfing community. Because there’s only a single wave to surf, enthusiasts must line up to take their turn, which naturally lends itself to conversation while waiting.

You can look up river surfing associations or even instructors, but one of the best ways to get started in the sport is just to go down to a local wave and get chatting to people, who can connect you to lessons and gear. (Soft boards recommended, by the way, since hard boards get punished by the hard river floor.)

“River surfers are very friendly,” Egsgard says, noting that there isn’t the same territorialism you can find by the ocean. The single wave also creates a particular etiquette around the sport. “You wait your turn, and there’s usually an unwritten time limit on how long you would spend on the wave.”

In Calgary, where he surfs, it’s about a minute during busy periods, although other waves, like the big ones in Montreal and Ottawa, where you have to paddle much further to get to the wave, and it’s harder to catch them when you do, have more nuanced practices. “Those big waves? You’re not going to catch them unless you have a lot of experience,” Egsgard cautions.

But you’ll almost certainly have a great time learning.

Where you can river surf in Canada

Ottawa: Arguably Canada’s river surfing capital, the city has three notable waves — Champlain, Sewer and Desert — right on the Ottawa River. The last is surfable year-round, so pack your extra-warm wetsuit.

Montreal: If you’d like to learn, KSF offers lessons (private, group or even surf camp) on the rapids of the St. Lawrence River, part of the city’s vibrant river surfing community.



Calgary: If you’re in search of a “bunny wave,” the one found by the 10th Street Bridge is a great spot to start. The much more experienced, however, will find plenty to challenge in the nearby Kananaskis River’s Mountain Wave.

The Star understands the restrictions on travel during the coronavirus pandemic. But like you, we dream of travelling again, and we’re publishing this story with future trips in mind.

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In a new cookbook, two West Coasters write a love letter to Canada’s East Coast

In a new cookbook, two West Coasters write a love letter to Canada’s East Coast

It had all the makings of a recipe for success. Take one bestselling author (Emily Lycopolus), add an award-winning photographer (DL Acken) and combine to create a cookbook dedicated to the culinary traditions of Canada’s Atlantic provinces.

There was just one missing ingredient: Although both had an affinity for the region, neither Lycopolus nor Acken is from Atlantic Canada.

A view of shimmering water in Newfoundland.

“Before we even pitched the book, we had to ask ourselves, ‘What are two West Coast girls doing writing a definitive East Coast cookbook?’” says Acken, who is based on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

While researching their book, they travelled to the region multiple times, totalling 14 weeks on the road through four different seasons. But what they discovered was that their outsiders’ perspective allowed them to capture and translate the region in a way that may not have otherwise been possible.

“The producers and chefs we met were so immersed in their own scene. With their identity tied to one place, many told us they couldn’t write the book we were writing,” says Lycopolus, who lives in Victoria, B.C.

A lobster boil on the beach was an especially memorable experience.

Out April 27, “A Rising Tide” is part cookbook, part love letter to Atlantic Canada. Organized by province, its 336 pages are filled with rich colour photos, stories of the region’s producers and ingredients, and local recipes.

As one would expect, it’s heavy on seafood — but it’s not all lobster rolls and Jiggs’ Dinners. Instead, you’ll find scallops wrapped in smoked salmon and dipped in edamame bean purée, and foraged fiddleheads transformed into fritters. It’s a celebration of what the pair calls the region’s “food renaissance” — and ultimately, of the unexpected surprises you’ll only stumble across if you take the back-roads.

"A Rising Tide" includes recipes like One-Pot Lobster Dinner.

Here, Acken and Lycopolus recall some of their favourite memories — and meals — from the making of “A Rising Tide.”

Emily Lycopolus: “Once we hit the ground, it was planes, trains, automobiles and ferries. We didn’t spend more than four nights in the same place. Our days were long and full, starting at 5 a.m. to catch the golden hour. We’d eat breakfast at McDonald’s, but dinner was usually at places like Raymonds in St. John’s, which is ranked one of Canada’s top restaurants and serves dishes like freshly caught cod with sea urchin.”

When the capelin are rolling, the water turns black with fish.

Danielle (DL) Acken: “We learned quickly if you see people milling on the edges of the ocean or at a food stand, you need to pull over. In Digby, Nova Scotia, we saw people digging for quahogs, which are large, delicious clams. And in Bonavista, Newfoundland, we saw families with buckets and nets, which is how we learned the capelin were ‘rolling.’ Capelin are smelts and they roll in on the waves. I didn’t really understand it until I saw it with my own eyes. The water just turns black with fish. Even toddlers were running into the ankle-deep water, reaching in and coming up with handfuls of fish.”

Lycopolus: “Atlantic Canada’s terroir is really unique. It has everything it needs to be a self-sustaining system, from the bounty of the coast to the density of the forest. We sought out game meat everywhere we travelled, especially in Newfoundland. It’s one of the only provinces that allows game to be sold in grocery stores and served in restaurants. That’s how we met Lori McCarthy, who runs foraging, curing and wild game experiences in Avondale, Newfoundland, with her company, Cod Sounds. At her cottage on the lake, I listened to her explain to a hunter how to butcher a moose to make osso buco. It’s her mission to translate these old traditional ways, make them relevant to the next generation, and preserve the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

No East Coast trip is complete without sweet, briny oysters.

Lycopolus: “The biggest surprise for me was New Brunswick. When you’re driving through, all you see is trees, but the moment you deviate off the highway it’s the most delightful province with the most incredible farmers’ markets. The Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market has more than 200 farmers, purveyors and producers, selling products loved from seed all the way to market. It’s where you’ll find dulse, a seaweed only grown on one side of the Grand Manan, an island in the Bay of Fundy. It’s traditionally used in butters and spreads. Having brown bread with a smear of dulse butter tastes like New Brunswick — the perfect combination of field and sea in one bite.”



Acken: “Sometimes a place just calls to you, and for me, Newfoundland was that place. On the day we were supposed to leave St. John’s to fly to Halifax, we were invited to a lobster boil with Mark McCrowe, a chef, restaurateur and author of “Island Kitchen: An Ode to Newfoundland.” We knew it would be amazing, but we were on a tight schedule. After our plane took off, the captain came over the intercom: One of the plane’s doors wasn’t working so we had to turn around. I have a fear of flying, so it was harrowing — but it turned out to be the happiest of serendipitous circumstances. It’s how we found ourselves on the beach eating lobsters with some of St. John’s top chefs. It was like the province was saying, ‘You can’t leave. You have to stay.’”

A sunlit Prince Edward Island beach.

Lycopolus: “My mom used to read “Anne of Green Gables” to me, and we’d bake plum pudding like Marilla, Anne’s guardian. One day, as Danielle and I were walking down the beach together on Prince Edward Island, the sun was shining on the red cliffs. Immersed in that warm sunlight, I pictured Anne and her best friend Diana on top of a cliff, the sea breeze blowing through their hair. And I thought, ‘I can’t believe we’re here.’ It was all my childhood dreams coming true. But the trips really weren’t about us. I don’t even have a single picture of Danielle and me together. Atlantic Canada is the star, the reason, the purpose — not us.”

Atlantic Canada à la carte

Acken and Lycopolus share their suggestions for a multi-province meal that showcases Atlantic Canada’s best ingredients and flavours.

Main course: “You’re going to find traditional lobster dinners every time you turn a corner. And yes, they’re fun and delicious. But instead, sidle up to a bar somewhere and get a plate of fresh Malpeque PEI oysters, like the ones from the Colville Bay Oyster Company. They’re just so sweet and briny,” says Acken.

Drink: Visit Halifax-based Compass Distillers to sample the “GiNS.” Made with ingredients “gathered in Nova Scotia,” the distillery’s gins and rye whisky can be sampled on its one-hour tour for $17.

Dessert: Raymonds in St. John’s may be known for seafood, but save room for dessert. Award-winning pastry chef Celeste Mah incorporates foraged ingredients into sweet treats in memorable ways. “She makes madeleines infused with wild pineapple weed,” says Acken. “It grows in the sidewalks, but I think it was one of the best things I ate.”

"A Rising Tide," by Emily Lycopolus and DL Acken, Appetite by Random House, 336 pages, $40

The Star understands the restrictions on travel during the coronavirus pandemic. But like you, we dream of travelling again, and we’re publishing this story with future trips in mind.

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