Learn It, Love It, Live It: Surfing the Great Lakes

Jay Darling first surfed in Australia and has surfed in Hawaii—he gets around in his job as a pilot with a major airline—but he hasn’t lost his love of surfing where the waves break along the Lake Michigan beach near his home in Frankfort. Now his whole family is in on the action.

When did you first surf in the Great Lakes?

I had been surfing in Hawaii and after that trip, I came home and was thinking, we could probably surf here. That was maybe five or six years ago. It was a pretty mild day, maybe two- or three-foot waves. Pretty tame.

So, calm water doesn’t equal boring surfing?

Well, it’s fun just to be in the water, just to have the chance to get in the water and do something. And surfing is a very good exercise. You will be sore in places you didn’t even know about. Sore in places you didn’t even think you could be. For me that is good, the workout. You are using certain muscles swimming with the board, using other muscles getting up on the board, using a different set of muscles paddling the board. It’s like cross training.

What level of conditioning would you suggest for a beginner?

That’s one of the good things about surfing. It will take you from wherever you are to wherever you want it to take you. You don’t have to be Joe Surfer. In Hawaii they surf 50-foot waves. But you can surf two-foot waves your whole life and still have a lot of fun. The amount of exercise you get has a lot to do with how long you stay out there. And you don’t have to stay out for three hours; you can work up to that. I know a couple that goes out when there are no waves at all. They just paddle around.

Do you have some advice for a beginner?

One, take a lesson. Two, be patient. There’s a gradual increase in skill, but there is a point where one day you do suddenly get it.

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Talk a little more about that “suddenly get it” part, like what do you suddenly get?

I think you understand you are in a fluid environment, things are changing, and you learn how to react. And, really, you just learn a new skill. It’s almost like learning how to walk. One day you are crawling, and the next day you are walking, and that’s how this whole thing works. Suddenly you are surfing. And it’s a pretty overwhelming accomplishment.

Can you tell us why you do it, why do you surf?

Do you know that [Beach Boys] song with the line, “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world”? Well, that goes through my head all the time. You are using something that is out there, a wave, it will be there whether you are there or not. But you are there, and you are balancing on it. And you realize what’s taking place. It’s different from any sport I’ve ever done. It doesn’t always go right. You might fall and not be on the wave. Or maybe you sometimes pick a not-so-good wave. But when it all comes together, it feels like Wow! Kinda cool.

More Michigan Surfing

This MyNorth Video shows you the basics for surfing the great lakes

January is the best time for choice waves on Lake Superior.

Want to try it? Check out Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in Empire.

The Learn It, Love It, Live It Resource List

There’s a whole world of outdoor stuff to learn and it is never too late to get started. The folks at these resources are in the business of helping you get your fee on the ground in a new adventure. Find the one that fits you and go do it!

Backpacking

Flyfishing

Kayaking

Kiteboarding

Sporting clays

Recreational Tree Climbing

  • DICK FLOWERS, NORTHWESTERN MICHIGAN COLLEGE, 231-995-1700

Rock climbing

Surfing

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