Surfing the Great Lakes: An insider's guide to monster waves along North America's fresh coast (P. L. Strazz, Big Lauter Tun Books, Chicago, 2000), seemed, at first glance, to be the most ridiculous book I had seen in recent memory. I found it sitting there on my father's desk, and guessed it to just be some sort of joke. Like many people, especially those who know little about surfing, I thought surfing required huge waves - I thought it was only possible on the ocean, and then only at few special, select beaches. I have since learned otherwise.
Good surfing does not require huge waves. Most surfers do not even want big waves - for all but the best, it really isn't safe to surf anything bigger than a five or six foot high wave. Really. Five or six foot waves. Surfers on the lakes may dream of larger waves, but a five or six foot wave is good surfing. And waves that size are common enough.
The real advantage of surfing on the Great Lakes is that there just aren't that many other surfers - Strazz estimates that there are probably 750 at the most. This means that unlike some of the more popular surf places, the waves are not crowded - not in the slightest. The beginnner can surf all day without having to deal with intimidation from surfers who have been there longer.
Strazz begins the book by discussing the basics of surfing on the Great Lakes. He has been surfing on the Lakes for years, and has written this book to provide a way for those who just became interested in surfing to begin without the difficulties he had. The history of surfing on the Lakes is described, beginning in 1945, with a G.I. bringing surfboard from Hawaii home to Grand Haven, Michigan. The geologic history of the region is described, as is the weather and other basic background information. The earliest known photographs of Great Lakes surfing are printed, from Wyldewood Beach, Ontario, in 1966. After the first chapter, the reader believes that surfing the Great Lakes is not only possible, but perhaps even fun.
Then Strazz explains the different weather systems that affect surfing on the Lakes, why they come about, and when the best times of the year to surf are. He provides arguments for surfing at each time of year, as well as listing all the National Weather Service stations for the Great Lakes region. It become appearent that surfing on the Lakes involves either a very short season or a wetsuit.
In the third chapter, Strazz explains the wind conditions that make the best waves. There are lots of photographs of waves on different lakes, as well as weather charts showing what sort of weather systems provide for the best surfing waves. Sandbars and reefs can be important in the creation of waves.
The author addresses safety next. A wetsuit is an absolute necessity. Lake Superior is cold, year round, and the rest of the lakes are cold, except in summer. There are a lot of hazzards in the lakes - trash, your surfboard, and pollutants in the water - if a beach is closed because of pollution, which is likely, especially after a storm, don't go surfing. And be careful - really careful, around ice - it hurts.
Strazz provides maps of all the best surfing spots on the Great Lakes. The best are on Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario, though there are good beaches within reasonable distance of all the major cities on the Great Lakes. He also indicates the winds that will provide the best surfing on each beach. The maps are good, and will save the beginning surfer a lot of time finding the perfect spot.
Chapter Six deals with the technique of surfing. Strazz provides all of the basics about how to surf, technique, and what sort of waves to look for. He provides anecdotes from people who have learned to surf on the Great Lakes and have then moved to " real" surfing beaches, as well as people who started out surfing in California and Hawaii and moved to the midwest. Strazz also deals with how to buy a surfboard for the Great Lakes (you want a longboard) and how to make one if you cannot buy one.
Strazz next addresses other surfing-like activities, like body boarding, windsurfing, and sea kayaking. He provides the basic information on these activities, as well as sources for more information.
The book concludes with a collection of stories about surfing the Great Lakes. Some recent stories, some of the history of surfing on the lakes. Some tales of weather, some of geology - overall, a nice way to wrap up the book.
I started reading this book, thinking that it was something silly - who writes a book for an audience of 750? Having reached the end of the book, I see things differently. Surfing on the Great Lakes sounds fun - the excitement and romance that is surfing is possible here, in my own back yard. I am not going to go out and buy a surfboard, but given the chance, I would definitely try surfing.
Surfing the Great Lakes gives an excellent introduction for anyone intererested in surfing who happens to be located in the midwest instead of on the ocean. The book is profusely illlustrated - many photographs of waves, locations, even people surfing on the lakes. Strazz provides all the basic technical information anyone might want, and all the contacts one might need. Surfing on the Great Lakes is real. It may not be the best surfing out there, it may require planning, more care, and paying more attention to the weather. It may require travel to the location of the best waves. But it is real.
Unlike the song, there is surf in Cleveland.
Update: October 11, 2004: a second edition of the book has been published (publication date: May 14, 2004), ISBN: 0964631075. It is 240 pages, 16 pages longer than the first edition. More will be added once I have seen a copy.