I made the after work foray to South Haven south beach yesterday. The wind was up again, 20-25 knots out of the northwest, gusting to 30 knots. I had the beginnings of a cold, now in full bloom. When I arrived at the beach the tops of the waves were being blown off into furious spray against the silhouette of an angry orange setting sun. A guy in a pickup truck got out before I was on the water. He looked at me and then at Lake Michigan, and then says, “Are you really going out there?” “Yes sir I am.” “Oh good entertainment!” he says and gets back in his truck.
With that in mind, I suited up in my short sleeve drytop and hit the water. I found a rip near the pier that looked like it was a way out. I paddled a bit and then tried to break through a steep four foot clapotis wave that had a pyramid shaped peak. A pit of dread rose in my stomach. I remembered this feeling well from last year where I couldn’t even get the surf boat to the outside of the soup. When it broke, I knew I wasn’t going to make it over. I was thrown nose over tail and then surfed upside down back towards the beach. The water was much colder than just last week. I rolled up right away and was surfing back towards the beach. I beached and then changed into a long sleeve paddle jacket and fleece.
I went back out again. This time I was much more patient when I tried to break out through the soup. I waited through larger sets, paddled through the calms in the rip and then timed my break out through the back of foam piles until I was on the outside. Once on the outside, I caught beautiful glassy rides on spilling 8-10 foot waves. I carved easily in the maverick back and forth, continually finding green water and riding all the way to shore. A mountain of hissing foam falling from the top of the wave chased me all the way down the face of each wave. The fins on the Maverick hummed when I accelerated to top speed, like the rigging of a sailing ship as it comes into the eye of the wind.
I find it interesting that after all this time in storms on Lake Michigan that the soup on the inside is still enough to intimidate me and keep my instincts honed. The water is much more textured than the rivers that I’ve paddled. It was certainly more challenging than the: easy no wind flat water paddle out to the reef in San Diego with Jeff Laxier. _(The waves were much nicer of course in San Diego too)_ Of course the open Pacific with an on shore wind would be far more intimidating.
I somehow manage to overcome that feeling of fear and get on the water to surf. Each time I do overcome that fear, I usually have one or two unbelievable rides on huge waves. Pretty soon I forget how terrifying that paddle out was. I conveniently forget how much of a struggle it was to paddle a small boat into the wind, and I only remember the joy of carving down a steep glassy face with a tumbling mountain of foam chasing me like Bukowski’s “days that run away like horses over the hills.”