No surfing on frozen lakes but snow kiters fly high

A winter surfer on Black Lake. Photo: Credit.

A winter surfer on Black Lake. Photo: Michigan Dawn Patrol.

By Nick Stanek
Capital News Service

Michigan’s winter surfing season is in a freeze with record-breaking lows that froze the Great Lakes.

Instead of catching some waves this year, winter surfers across the state  will have to wait a few months before catching the next swell. That is because more than 50 percent of Lake Michigan is iced over, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Surfer Ben McNeil hiked over Lake Michigan’s frozen sand bars recently. After he reached the last sand bar, he gazed over the frozen lake he was surfing on this time last year.

“As far as I could see it was frozen,” he said.

McNeil, 27, of Grand Haven has surfed most of his life. He started surfing in the winter when he opened the Wet Mitten Surf Shop in Grand Haven.

Winter surfing is a pastime for a small but vibrant community in Michigan. The waves are higher than average and fewer people are out in the water, drawing adrenaline junkies from around the state. The shops expect to be slow this time of year but with some sort of business.

This year the cold temperatures and frozen lakes could be problematic for the months to come.

“You normally get some ice coverage but you’re still able to access the water. Maybe you’ll get like a month where you can’t go out but this is going to be like a four-month-long complete ice out,” said Cameron Mammina, a surfer from Saint Joseph.

Surf shops aren’t the only businesses that are affected. Businesses that rely on boat transportation across the lakes have also taken a cold blow. Trips that normally take three days can now take up to nine days. Ice breaking equipment is having a difficult time keeping up as the lakes continue to freeze with the plummeting temperatures.

“This ice has grown miles offshore, specifically along the west coast of the state of Michigan along the east end of Lake Michigan. That ice is some five to seven miles off shore so that has defiantly affected the ability for folks that normally play offshore,” said Mark Gill, the Coast Guard director for vessel and trafficking services. “This is the most ice we’ve seen in 25 years. As we moved from December into January and our temperatures continued to plummet below historic averages, we ended up with more ice than icebreakers available and the transportation system basically came to a halt.”

While this is bad news for some businesses, it isn’t bad news for all. Surfing may not be an option this winter but the heavy snowfall over the frozen Great Lakes is good news for other recreational activities especially snow kiters. Snow kiting is the same thing as kite boarding except it’s on the snow. Boarders now have a giant open field of snow on Lake Michigan and the other frozen lakes across the state.

“Once we get about 6 to 12 inches of snow on the ground we can kite anywhere,” said Steve Negen, owner of the Mackite Surf Shop in Grand Haven. “Right now virtually every field, every lake we ever use, everything is optimal.”

Negen said he will be hosting a kiteboarding event on Grand Rapid’s frozen Reeds Lake for the first time in two years.

“There wasn’t enough ice in the lake. This year, the ice is probably 10 to 12 inches thick, I mean you can drive your car out there. You can go kiting on any frozen lake right now,” he said.

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