Here's How to Surf the Great Lakes, America's Third Coast


Though it is believed that Great Lakes breakers were first surfed nearly a century ago, the first significant wave of participants arrived in the 1960s. The west coast surf craze was leaking into Middle America, and small surfing communities sprouted across the Great Lakes. Michigan was at the forefront and today, surfing on the 'Third Coast' is more popular than ever!
 
Ryan Gerard has been surfing for the better part of his entire life, and that passion led to him opening Third Coast Surf Shop in St. Joseph and New Buffalo. Go behind-the-scenes with Ryan as he spotlights Michigan's surfing lifestyle in the video below. 
 

The sheer size of the Great Lakes is what makes surfing on them possible. Containing six quadrillion gallons of water and more than 10,900 miles of shoreline (about 3,200 miles are in Michigan), the Great Lakes are one of the largest fresh water systems on earth. The lakes have more coastline than the East and West coasts combined!
 
While ocean waves are created by distant storm systems, waves on the Great Lakes are formed by localized winds. Thanks to ongoing improvements in wetsuit technology, surfers are now able to comfortably ride lake waves year-round.

Ready to try it for yourself? Here are a few tips for your first time hitting waves on the Great Lakes:
 

1. Check the Weather Conditions

The waves are typically small in the summer, which makes it the perfect time to learn to surf. The larger waves and prime surfing time is during the fall, winter and spring.
 
In the summer, stand-up paddleboarding is one of the coolest ways to get on the water and get a feel for balance. Relatively easy to do with a little practice all you need is a body of water and a paddle. While perfect for calm days on the lake, in the harbor and up the river, stand-up paddleboards can essentially double as a large surfboard when there are waves.
 

2. Get the Right Equipment

Ryan Gerard winter surfing
Ryan Gerard Winter Surfing | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Of course, no surfer can hit the beach without proper equipment. Short surfboards are best for the advanced surfers, while long boards are better for beginners because there’s more surface area to work with and it provides greater stability.
 
Wetsuits are crucial for safe surfing, especially in colder seasons. There are various types of wetsuits for surfing in different conditions. A hood, booties and gloves are needed in colder conditions as well.
 

3. Learn the Moves

Take a lesson. There is no better way to start the process than with an experienced teacher. Bring a friend and tackle the sport as a group! Learning together is not only safer, but more enjoyable. 
 
It takes time and perseverance to learn to surf the Great Lakes, but when you catch the perfect wave, it makes it all worthwhile.