Chilling Facts About Surfing the Great Lakes
All photos by Henry Elholm
Unlike the ocean, waves on the great lakes are formed by localized winds. Wave height is affected by wind speed, wind direction, and fetch. There is usually a good swell every two weeks depending on your location and time of year. Most surfers monitor NOAA (national oceanic and atmospheric administration) as well as other apps to forecast wave breaks such as Windy and WindFinder. The largest wave ever recorded by NOAA was 29 feet located on Lake Superior just north of Marquette, Michigan.
Between the five great lakes, there are a combined 4,530 miles of coastline, which is greater than both the east and west coasts of the United States. The east coast has 2,165 miles along the Atlantic ocean and the east coast has 1,293 miles on the Pacific Ocean. This leaves many unexplored areas along the shores of the great lakes, and waves to be pioneered.
Clean surf lines break in a cold spring evening at Stoney Point
Surfing the great lakes is not for the faint of heart. Frozen rocky shores, floating ice chunks, and Ice beards are surprisingly common when surfing in the winter and early springs on the great lakes. Lake surfers stay protected from the frigid temperatures by wearing thick wetsuits, usually 4mm and above. Most surfers agree that with the right equipment, you stay warm when moving around in the water. The coldest part usually happens in the parking lot when changing in and out of your wetsuit.
Daniel Plys’ frozen face doesn't stop him from catching a wave on Lake Superior
Each lake has a handful of popular surfing spots along the shore. Some of them being:
Lake Huron: Grand Bend, Kincardine and Bayfield, Ontario
Lake Erie: Port Stanley and Wyldewood Beach, Ontario
Lake Ontario: Burlington Beach and Ashbridge’s Bay, Ontario
Lake Michigan: Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Lake Superior: Duluth, Minnesota. Marquette, Michigan.
Surfing on the great lakes has a long history starting in the 1960’s following the west coast surf craze that made its way to the midwest. The small surfing communities along the shores of the great lakes have been seeing a recent surge in popularity. It’s common to see 10+ surfers at a popular break like Lester River or Stoney Point when the waves are good.
Lake Surfer Jake Aldridge crosses the street in front of the Duluth Aerial Lift bridge on his way to the Park Point beach, a popular Duluth Surf spot