See What It's Like to Paddleboard on Icy Lake Michigan

Today, filmmaker and videographer Seth Haley shares what it was like to film adventurous Lake Michigan paddle boarders amidst the serene frozen beauty of a Pure Michigan winter.

Photo courtesy of Seth Haley Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

As Michiganders, we all know that famous saying which goes something along these lines, “If you don’t like the weather in Michigan, wait a day or two. It will change.” And as the weather changes, the mood changes too.

I moved back to Michigan early last year and took up residence in St Joseph. The lake had captured me long ago, before I ever moved away. But now, I live close enough to see it and experience it every day if I wanted. Everything about it was a kind of homing device--its waves, its calm; the way it looked on a warm, sunny day, as quiet and bright blue as the Caribbean; its grey, threatening anger; its dynamic nature—kind of like Michigan itself, a study in contrasts.

Photo courtesy of Seth Haley Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

As a filmmaker of an adventurous sort, I make it my business to be out at the lake as often as I can. There is something immensely satisfying in experiencing the lake and capturing whatever mood it happens to offer and then showing it to as many people as care to look.

Shortly after the New Year rolled in on a Sunday afternoon, I was out at the lake with a friend, Karol (Carl) Garrisons. Karol is a reserve coast guard with many years of experience rescue swimming and dealing with cold water temperatures. Suited up in a 6/5 millimeter wetsuit, Karol was out with his surfboard, catching some of the huge waves that had developed over the course of the day. Not a particle of ice could be seen beside the icicles in his beard, but that was all about to change. A storm was brewing. Over the course of the week, the snow came down and the winds blew. Temperatures dropped into single digits. By Friday, the lake was covered with ice as far as the eye could see.

I walked out on our ice-covered pier the next day, careful of my footing. The ice over the water creaked around me. The temperatures were warming, and already the lake had begun to morph. The ice was beginning to breaking up. I looked out over the stark white ice as huge chunks almost imperceptibly swelled up and down, pulsing like a heartbeat, and an idea struck me. A lone figure out in the water juxtaposed against the freezing landscape—now that would be an image to capture.

DCIM100GOPROG0092066. Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

On my way up the bluff from the lake, I texted Karol. “Do you know anyone crazy enough to go kayaking among glaciers?” (Never mind the faulty terminology. Chalk it up to my excitement!) Turns out, he did. As we planned, the kayaking idea changed to paddle boarding since paddle boarding isn’t something you see a lot of around here in the winter.  Better and better.

The next day, Karol and I headed out to the lake with Josh Nowicki, a local photographer. Josh spends a lot of time photographing the lake and has a massive portfolio of photographs and his own wetsuit to prove it. Intrigued by our plan, he came along to hang out and take pictures. But it wasn’t long before the lake’s pull got to him, too, and he ventured out into the icebergs right along with Karol. Even as we filmed, we could see the lake changing in front of our eyes. Icebergs floated past Karol’s board as the ice opened up and slid out of our bay.

DCIM100GOPROG0112249. Photo courtesy of Seth Haley

Three hours later, we had some of the most incredible and exciting footage I have ever been privileged to shoot. I knew right then, that showing Michigan in all of its moods, all of its weather, and all of its seasons was something I had to do. Instead of hunkering down when the cold blasts in, I want to be out there in it. Instead of running for cover when thunderheads gather over the lake, I want to film them as they unfold and break over our heads. Instead of just sunbathing on the beach, I want to capture the waves breaking against the lighthouse and share them with anyone who wants to see what it is to experience Michigan.

Check out Seth's unforgettable footage below!

Seth Haley is an outdoor adventure filmmaker, always on the hunt for new ways to fully experience and capture people enjoying Michigan’s changing landscape. Say hello on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or on and maybe your adventure will be his next story.