Great Lakes Surf Forecasts

This is a story about looking at the forecast and checking the lake cam.

Whenever a significant weather front moves over Lake Michigan. A bunch of midwest paddlers begin swapping emails, trying to decide where to catch waves. The Chicago folk reading the NOAA forecast looked at the wind and wave predictions and started emailing me to drive to Indiana or Chicago for waves. I looked at their forecast for Chicago and Indiana and I looked at the St. Joseph, South Haven forecast.

The Chicago forecast had way more wind on the west side of the lake. 25-30 knots of wind from the north-north east with larger predicted waves, around 8 feet. This is great weather for Chicago. What this fails to predict is the squash down effect of the wind on the wave faces, and the amount of effort required to actually get out and surf.

The South Haven forecast was looking ok, with 4-6 feet in the morning and then 4-7 in the afternoon with only 25 knots of wind out of the due northerly direction. This is always ideal, a true north wind will essentially run the whole length of the lake and allow me to use a pier to break out. The other important factor was that the forecast was for subsiding wind after a sustained blow of 24 hours. The last few hours of the storm are always the best when the wind shuts off and the waves steepen up and actually start to peel.

It would have been awesome if the Chicago folks had gotten the same waves I got. But it is hard without a look at a lake cam, and the the weather observations over time to make the call. As a result the Chicago folks got hammered and blown around. And I got steep glassy six foot faces with no wind. I paddled out and grabbed a steep ride in my leaky Rush and dropped in, hit a bottom turn, and with a feeling of astonishment, saw more wave face and used it to reattain some altitude, hit a top turn and dropped in again. I felt like I had seen a great white buffalo. This happend a couple more times. But the wind really was dying as it got closer to sunset.

I hopped in my Tiderace Xplore_S and went to surf the channel. I got some very fast controlled rides right along the pier edge and then went to explore the north side. There is usually huge clapotis on the north side in a northerly storm, (duh). I surfed about halfway in when I saw a monster double peaked wave like a pyramid break over me and wash me about halfway in to the beach. I was almost sucked out of my boat. So with a bit of relief I decided to head back in as the sun set. This was the biggest stuff I’d had the Tiderace in so far. I have to say it is really a cool boat. It is way easier to pivot this kayak in surf than my Silhouette, and way more manageable downwave. I don’t have that feeling of riding a freight train to my doom down the face. It is way more a yeehaw moment!