End of Summer Kayak Surfing

Each Summer there are weeks and weeks of flat water on the Great Lakes, to the point where the kayak surfing junkies are ready to start sacrificing puppies to the weather god for a 3 foot wave.

Puppies on the altar of the weather god!

September has given up her jewels like an oyster with a hiccup.

I managed to get out three times in four days.

Day one was big, but very windy and hard to break out. Six to eight foot waves caught just near the outside of the pier in South Haven, cutting towards the pier at breakneck pace, and then cutting away at the last minute. Breaking back out became an exercise in futility with the wind. I became more and more exhausted on each return trip to deep water until I was rolling more than paddling. A friend of the family who is now a South Haven Police officer came out to the pier and told me that he couldn’t stop me from going back out, but that he would feel better if I got away from the pier because of the rip current. I told him I was ready to bag it. Storm surge was flattening out the waves as the wind built to new crescendos in the 40 knot range. For a day with 35 knot wind veering Northwest, I managed four or five really good rides where I caught solid bottom turns, a few cutbacks off of the foam pile.

Day two The wind and waves had died down but there was still a strong swell moving out of the south west. I sea kayaked down to the dunes near Van Buren State Park into the wind for an hour our two, and then rode the swells back to the beach, playing in the small 1-2 foot waves near the beach. I have increasingly been trying to surf my sea kayak backwards ala Scott Fairty when the challenge of the wave itself is not that great. It’s been good fun to try to learn to surf in reverse. Bow ruddering for directional control when headed downwave is whacky stuff.

Day three
The wind was peaking at 40 knots, but had actually veered almost completely NW by the time I made it out to the beach. I paddled out on nearly flat water to catch steep easy to catch waves as the sun set across a stormy sky. Each time I paddled out, I basically sunk the tail, then leaned forward and dropped in on a seven foot wave. I would typically cut right along the wave face until it started to close out, and then I would try a cutback off the foam towards the pier, by then the first wave had typically fizzled out, and then I was climbing over the top of the next set on the inside right towards the pier at high speed, only to cut away at the last second to turn around and paddle back out. I could have kept going all night. The knowledge that the air temps and the water temps will not stay so warm for very long fueled the desire to keep surfing in the dark. I kept catching rides like this right up until the sun was gone.

Many of my posts have waxed prophetic on surfing. Suffice it to say each time I have a day like I did yesterday on Lake Michigan, I feel a lot better about my life. No thoughts about work, home projects, problems exist. Just lean forward and paddle like hell.


  1. I drove up to New Buffalo from St. Louis for those end of summer waves. I had a blast surfing my sea kayak. I thought my days of that kind of fun were over after leaving the east coast. I have been trying to get my whitewater buds to head up there with me, but thought I would see who else might be doing this up there. I am ACA level 2 and 3 costal kayak certified and have completed a level 3 swift water rescue class. Look forward to hearing from you, mtlein71@yahoo.com. Mike

  2. I’m with you on the backwards surfing. I enjoy it more than the conventional method, at least until the waves get hairy big.

    Our water temp (South China Sea)is dropping also. Like last year it will probably get down to 80 degrees. Brrrr.

    I brought my wetsuits with me when I moved here, but obviously will never use them. I’m thinking of cutting them up for padding.

    Thanks for the post. Good story.


  3. You are making me very jealous. You know how very very close I live to Very Big Water, but I never go do anything. Please come kick my ass.