“Paddle, paddle, paddle!”
Rod shouted behind me and shoved me forward on my board. Paddle I did, while thinking about trying to balance, pop (stand) up, and then place my feet in a proper stance, all while looking up and forward. Not easy. Then I felt the wave beneath me, lifting me, nudging me, encouraging me. So I popped up, swiftly moved forward riding my first wave in freshwater, and then, balance lost and too much to think about, I fell. Arms up around my head to protect myself, water crashing around me, breath held, board somewhere behind me. Once I safely find it I go back for more.
This story has been two years in its making—these photographs, my own surfing attempts. It began with a nudge from a good friend, a tremendously talented local artist for whom I hold much respect, Eric Daigh. He walked into my studio, looked at me, and without words, I knew his keen sense of perception had figured me out. He knew I had hit my wall, that I was questioning everything about my career and my path as a photographer. He told me I was lucky because not everyone is blessed, as we are, to be artists. Not everyone can work through their questioning via an art form. He told me I needed to pick up my camera and go shoot something for myself as if I would never make a dime off the images.
It’s scary for me to type the above words and tell an open audience, versus a handful of family and friends, how bad it had become. I had gone on autopilot with my career, able to do my job well, but no personal growth was occurring. I’ve said for years that if you ever stop growing you should get out of the business. Those words recently had been ringing loudly in my ears.
I share with you my struggle because I feel I am not alone. I believe most of us come to a point in our careers when we wake up one day and begin to question everything. Typically we don’t make our questioning public knowledge; we don’t talk about it much, if at all.
We ingest our questioning, or whisper it quietly to those we trust, because we fear if clients found out it could be detrimental. To me ingesting is legitimate, whispering acceptable, but neither route is one to take lightly or be ignored.
My roots are Northern Michigan ones. The more the years pass, the more I feel those roots beneath me. I find inspiration in the color palette and light that falls throughout the changing seasons, in the open landscapes, and in the freshwater that is so abundant. I feel most secure, most confident, and most alive when smack in the middle of a vast, natural landscape or on a body of freshwater. If I venture away, no matter the distance, these roots are with me, grounding me from afar.
Fascinated that one could surf, windsurf, stand-up paddle or kite board on a body of freshwater, and possessed with a determination to pick up my camera solely for me, I began to investigate the growing community of these outdoor adventurers gathering on the shoreline of Lake Michigan from Frankfort to Leland on windy days.
Ironically, a strong wind gusts outside my studio as I type this. I’ve learned to pay attention to wind and the storm that often accompanies it. Strong winds and storms in Northern Michigan mean waves on Lake Michigan near my home. On windy days I watch the trees blow, noting the direction they bend. I check a weather website and texts from friends who may be headed out or are already at the shore. Finally, (and probably the most responsible thing I do) I check my schedule and determine if I am able to carve out time when the conditions are right. If all of the above aligns, I pack up my car and make the drive to Lake Michigan.
I need to mention here my great fortune to have been accepted into this community over the past several months. You won’t find acceptance as an outsider in every surfing community. Maybe it’s the freshwater, but I also hope it’s that my honest intentions and purpose of being out there are being felt. My word count in this story would soar if I listed everyone I’ve met along the way, told you of their kindness and dependability, narrated the stories they’ve shared, and described their remarkable personalities and the way they approach the waves they ride. Along the way I’ve found I have a great admiration for these people and their hardcore passion for adventure on windy days despite conditions like sub-freezing temperatures and high-wind advisories. In a sense the experience is indescribable, as I am in awe every time I witness people in the surf. I’m lucky my camera was with me, as the images help convey my awe where words leave off.
In my digging deeper and picking up my camera for myself, I’ve found the journey to be the best part, no matter how difficult it ended up at times; the reward is a new understanding. I feel wiser and more confident as a photographer, and I have felt my imagery grow in aesthetics and content. I feel incredibly fortunate and am more aware of my purpose and surroundings. To be able to share this growth with my clients and the world around me is humbling, as I feel it is appreciated.
Paddle, paddle, paddle, pop up, strong stance, looking forward.
Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak
10228 W. Front St., Empire, 231.326.WAVE
Beach Nut Surf Shop
1100 Main St., Frankfort, 231.941.5322
Wet Mitten Surf Shop
101 N. Park (E. Front St. entrance) Traverse City, 231.929.3388
540 W 7th St., Traverse City, 231.357.5107
This article and additional photos are also available in the November issue of Traverse Magazine. Subscribe now!