While other regions of the country may boast year-round surfing, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula adds a twist to the sport. Frigid waters, crazy currents, and, oh yeah, did we mention surfers go out during the winter? Great Lakes surfing has picked up in recent years as visitors flock to our region to give our waves a go. But you don’t have to ride the waves to get your thrills in the U.P. Stand on shore and watch these daredevils conquer the wildly surging waters of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Here are tips on when and where to catch the action:
on Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron
- Surfing in the U.P. primarily happens in the colder months
The surfable waves kick up from 6 to 12 feet between late fall and early spring.
- Where to watch the best surfing action in the U.P.
The cleanest break in Marquette is Presque Isle Park, known as The Zoo among surfers, on Lake Superior. To see the action at this renowned site, stand on the beach looking out into Middle Bay. Want to know when to show up? Keep track of The Zoo’s surf conditions and forecasts here. Other good Lake Superior rides can be seen at:
- McCarty’s Cove, Marquette
- Trowbridge Park, Marquette: Little Presque Isle Beach and Big Bay
- Hot Pond Beach and Shiras Park, Marquette
- Laughing Fish Point Beach and Gitche Gumee RV Park east of Harvey
- Grand Marais Beach, Grand Marais
- Munising: Twelve Mile Beach, Grand Sable Dunes, Au Train Bay and Shelter Bay
- Sand Bay, Baraga
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Bessemer
- McLain State Park near Houghton
- Great Sand Bay between Eagle River and Eagle Harbor
- Bete Grise Bay, Bete Grise
- Whitefish Bay, Sault Ste. Marie
When you are near Lake Michigan, watch surfers conquer the waves at:
- Seul Choix Pointe Lighthouse near Gulliver
- Delta County: Garden Peninsula and Rock Island near Escanaba
You can catch some surfing on Lake Huron, too, at Horseshoe Bay near St. Ignace.
- Dress warmly, VERY warmly. Surfers need winds blowing consistently at 18+ miles per hour for three to four hours to create a decent swell. That means air temperatures can range from -13 to -41 degrees Fahrenheit along the shore. So if you’re viewing surfers from the beach, wear layers, thermal socks, boots and gloves, a hat and face covering. As mesmerizing as watching surfing can be, limit your exposure to the cold.
Here’s what it takes
to do this extreme winter sport
Great Lakes winter surfing is not for the faint of heart — and it is NEVER for beginners. Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron are inland, freshwater oceans. They may not have sharks, but these waters can be dangerous — they have swallowed hundreds of massive ships over several centuries.
The currents here are no joke, an employee from Down Wind Sports, a Marquette-based outdoor gear store, said. Experienced surfers should always go out the first few times with someone who knows how unpredictable these lakes can be and is willing to teach them how to master the shorter, but high-risk rides.
A contributing challenge is that the fresh water in the Great Lakes is less buoyant than salt water. The biting chill also means any surfer with facial hair comes back with an ice beard. That’s why Great Lakes surfers wear thick, hooded, full-body wetsuits to reduce their chances of hypothermia or full-on frostbite. For more information about surfing in the Upper Peninsula, visit Down Wind Sports’ website.
The window to watch this amazing sport is only a few months. Make plans soon to stay for a few days to see these gutsy surfers take to our big waves. It’s exhilarating!