Fall Storm Season Begins for Surf Kayaking Lake Michigan

Fall Storm Season Begins for Surf Kayaking Lake Michigan

Turner\'s Slave Ship Painting
Turner's Slave Ship Painting

I really love that first autumnal drop in temperature, when the clouds roll in, and the sky turns what Patrick O’Brian called gunmetal gray. The wind begins to gust and howl like a frightened dog at a stranger. Trees are bending over and people keep saying, “ooh it’s chilly” Then you know that summer has gone. The favored season has retreated into it’s sulky corner until next year. If it really needs to be said, I love fall.
Summer is grand. Who doesn’t love warm temperatures and bright sunshine. But this beautiful and brief season comes with a price. Namely FIPS. F#cking Indiana/Illinois People on the beach. Or what the Northern Michiganders call cone-lickers. Otherwise known as people who cross the street without looking either way while licking an ice-cream cone. They litter the beaches, they clog the streets, they own the houses on the beach none of the locals can afford. And for this the proletarian in me belches and wants to toss Molotov cocktails into million dollar homes-BUT I restrain myself, because I know it will pass. And that soon enough my season will come-Autumn.

My first taste of Autumn was nothing short of spectacular. The wind began to build for three days before sizeable waves began forming in South Haven. I watched the Holland Web Cam for quite a while. And then finally I cashed in my chips with Laura to make a run for it to South Haven. I loaded the Mega Maverick on the car and made sure I had all my cold weather gear in my paddle bag.

When I arrived I found my neighbor and cycling fiend Jeff Hamilton standing in a full wetsuit, freezing his ass off waiting for his ride. I gave him the keys to the Volvo and let him warm up inside. He had been out kiteboarding since 4:00 pm. From the beach I could see a sizeable swell on the outside that was breaking as it rounded the pier. The wind was out of the Northwest at 20 knots. The outside looked good at 6-7 feet, the inside looked good too, at around 4-5 feet. I paddled out and that pit of dread locked into my belly making my body hate my brain for making me surf. But my brain knows that when the Mega Maverick begins to plane out on a steep glassy swell that enough endorphins, hormones, and blood are released to fuel a Hummer. So I tell my stomach to shut the f$ck up-I know what I’m doing.

As I paddle out, I see that that cold ash clouded sky is being back-lit by brilliant rotting pumpkin-orange, the kind of orange that made JMW Turner spend his entire painting career looking at the sea. The sun is setting and the waves look good, the air is colder than the water. It’s just me and the boardies out on the outside break. I hold onto that pit of dread, until the first seven footer comes along, and for once I am in the right place at the right time. I dig my surf paddle in like mad to get some hull-speed for take-off, the tail lifts, and I am flying down wave. The waves are for once moving slow enough to carve, I drop to the trough and carve right, and then look back towards the pier, the wave hasn’t closed out, so I carve left, paddling a bit for more hull speed and I climb back up the face a bit and then carve right again to drop into the trough, the wave finally closes out, and I scoot and hop my way along the white water until there is enough green water to carve back off the broken foamy pile and look for another ride.

As the sun retreated over the orange-streaked Lake Michigan sky line, the yellow-twinkling lights on the pier came on. The lighthouse light swiveled and pulsed at that final, if not perfect moment of twilight. Just enough detail disappeared in the growing darkness from the surface of the water so that the only detail I could make out was the spray being blown from the tops of the waves towards shore in a fine mist.

There are few moments in modern life where one’s attention is so uniformly focused. Distractions abound while doing everything. E-mail at work is everyone’s bane, Instant Messenger, Cell-Phones interrupt everything from meaningful conversations about life to sex. It is at once astonishing and blissful to be so involved in a catching a wave and nothing else. I think perhaps the only thing that comes close is when a car ahead of you suddenly stops and you impulsively slam on the brakes.

I’m glad my season is finally here.

One Comment

  1. Keith–

    You have been Fipped off:

    “I was sorry to leave, but happy to have shared a great day with the group. Turns out we were not the only one enjoying ourselves. Keith Wikle, a paddler on the other side of the lake, was having fun as well. You can read his blog post here. Please forgive his description of people from our parts as “FIPS” and “cone-lickers.” Too much water up his nostrils I guess.”