Great Lakes Surfing Photos

© by John Newgard newgard@phys.ocean.dal.ca


Surfing "the lakes" is quite different from ocean surfing, beyond the obvious difference in buoyancy. The real difference stems from the wave generation process. On the ocean, storms far offshore can blow over hundreds of kilometers of open water to generate long-period (13+ seconds) swells that travel faster than the storms themselves, arriving at the beach hours - even days - before the system arrives. The local weather at the beach is often independent of the storm that generated the waves, making for pleasant, often offshore conditions before the storm arrives and the waves degenerate. By virtue of the fact that the lakes are so small (fetch lengths generally 100-400 km), wave periods rarely reach 9 seconds. Waves break under the same windy conditions that generate them, making for messy, onshore conditions. It is these strong winds and rare offshore conditions that lead the devoted lake surfer to look for spots where the waves can refract (wrap) into areas sheltered from the wind.

Having the drive to find sheltered spots in uncharted territory opens the doors to over 17 000 km of shoreline. This pioneering aspect of Great Lakes surfing is its most unique quality, since, in this day and age, most of the world's ocean coastlines have already been explored for their surfing potential.

On November 10th/98, I made a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP) to surf the biggest storm to hit the lakes in a long time. The UP is by far the most surf-rich area of the Great Lakes region. Most low pressure systems pass right over the UP, bringing strong winds, quick windshifts, and offshore conditions. Because the peninsula is only 100km across, it is possible to surf three different lakes during a single storm. After a double shift at work and 3 hours of sleep, I drove 10 hours to northwestern Lake Huron. The following day I surfed Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior the next, following the winds around as they went from southeast through south to northwest. Although I didn't witness the 28-foot waves on Lake Superior, I did witness - and surf - some very nice 11 second period waves under offshore conditions.

The pictures on this page are from that trip, demonstrating the full potential of the Great Lakes. Notice that I included the names of the breaks, even a nautical chart to help locate these spots. surfing photos from the great lakes There is no risk of overcrowding or localism on the lakes, for the most part. The good waves rarely occur when the water temperature is over 10C, and it takes a keen sense of weather and wave knowledge to find the best waves in a very short "swell" window. So enjoy the photos and I hope you get the opportunity to experience Great Lakes surfing.

John


surfing photos from the great lakes
Pleasant Point
chest high, 8-9 second period
offshore!
:-))) And gee, we're the only ones out! :-)

autumn 99


surfing photos from the great lakes


surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes

Overhead Seul Choix Pt., north shore Lake Michigan


surfing photos from the great lakes

Stormy Lake Huron


surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes

Lud's Left, Beavertail Pt., Lake Huron


surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes

Manistique light
north shore Lake Michigan


surfing photos from the great lakes


surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes

Pathways, Beavertail Pt., Lake Huron


surfing photos from the great lakes

Au Sable Pt.
south shore Lake Superior


surfing photos from the great lakes


surfing photos from the great lakes

Southtown Creek, north shore Lake Michigan


surfing photos from the great lakes

Seul Choix Point


surfing photos from the great lakes


surfing photos from the great lakes

overhead and hollow at Winch's, Stony Pt., north shore Lake Michigan


surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes

surfing photos from the great lakes


surfing photos from the great lakes
Barbeque Shapes
Stony Pt - Lake Ontario.
Left photo is the inside section where it is about to get sucky and you have to race across a VERY shallow limestone shelf.
Right is the outside section, just starting to reform into the inside bit.
photos by Don Wallace

surfing photos from the great lakes

John would like some feedback on these pictures. newgard@phys.ocean.dal.ca

all John Newgard photos are Copyright © 1998-99

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