Lake Superior Surfing

Updated: 04/30/2014 11:06 PM
Created: 04/29/2014 3:34 PM
By: Laura Kennedy

There's a bit of mystery swirling around those brave enough to surf Lake Superior. There is no water too cold, no waves too small.

"The coldest I've probably surfed, I think it was ten below, 17-below windchill in 33 degree water," said Jon Kirkeide. "There was like six or seven of us."

For them, a stormy spring is the best kind.

"We're elusive because it's so rare that the conditions come up like this. It's so infrequent," said Erik Wilkie.

Wilkie grew up on the West Coast. Surfing the waters here offers a touch of home, with a little more bite.

"While it looks similar to California surfing, it's a unique sport all its own up here," he said. "The Great Lakes are different."

"All that little bit of danger factor makes it so much fun here," Wilkie said. "The icy cold water that gives you hypothermia, the chunks of ice all floating around, the mud you sink into knee deep."

Surfers pay close attention to both the wind and the direction of the waves. One spot may be a little too intense for surfing, but just a half mile down the road conditions could be much better.

"This particular storm here we're been watching for about four or five days," Wilkie said.

When the waves beckon, Kirkeide answers the call.

"You try to keep it open, you try to watch the weather," Kirkeide said. "There's been times where I've pulled the work pin and driven 900 miles to Marquette."

They say surfing keeps them young, and it's a good reason to stay in shape.

"We range in age from our early 20s to our mid 50s or so," Wilkie said. "But when we get out there in the water, we're all 15, having a good time."

"It's a trying experience because you have to know the currents and you have to have paddle power, be a good swimmer," Kirkeide said.

They sit patiently, watching for the perfect wave. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn't. But the thrill of it all is worth waiting for.

"Trying to be in the right spot at the right time with the right gear in the right shape, everything doesn't always come together but when it does it's a sweet moment and you always remember it," Kirkeide said.

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