Cranking Waves: Winter Surfing on Lake Michigan

Winter surfing on Lake Michigan is the thing. Trust us on this one.

As the winter storms of December blow through, they bring heavy winds and big waves, and big waves mean serious Great Lakes surfing. Fresh water surfing is becoming popular, and the water around Northern Michigan ranks among the best of places for getting on a board. From Frankfort to Empire, there are several places to find excellent waves if the wind is right. Surfing in the winter months might not sound that appealing, but if you’re looking for a fun winter hobby that delivers both an adrenaline rush and a workout, riding the waves might be just for you.

Check out this MyNorth video of Lake Michigan surfers off Frankfort in November 2011.

The cold adds a certain element to the adrenaline rush that one can’t find while surfing the warm waters of summer. I teamed up with Jake Therrien and the folks at Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak, in Empire, to chase some winter waves. The surf shop was kind enough to supply me with all the gear needed to stay warm and comfortable on the water. We left the shop and headed south to Frankfort, where there was a favorable wind and good surf. After going over the gear and slipping into a thick wet suit, Jake and I walked the pier out past the wave break and jumped in. For several hours we enjoyed quality surf and high-fives as we would ride a wave to shore only to walk the pier back out for another round.

The Michigan coast was stunning and dunes were right with us the whole time. While waiting for a wave to ride, I could look out at the vastness of Lake Michigan and gained a new respect for it. The endless expanse of rough water tempts adventurous souls to come and taste what it has to offer. There were a few other surfers out that day. Everyone seemed to know everyone, and they all held frozen smiles as the surf was picking up.

GEAR TIPS!

To surf in the winter months it is crucial to have the proper gear. A thick wet suit will keep you warm and happy while you’re pursuing cold-water waves. I was using a 5mm wetsuit, and it kept me plenty warm in the water.

Also important is having the right wax for the temperature. Cold-water wax is a softer wax than the warm-water wax you would use in summer. Having a softer wax will allow you to grip the board better, as it doesn’t harden up and become slippery in the low temps. Jake at Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak uses Sticky Bumps Cool-Cold wax as his go-to cold-water wax.

Daniel Shepler writes and photographs from Traverse City. 

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy here!


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