Lake Michigan Surf Kayaking Evangelism

John Fleming breaking out to surf Lake Michigan in his Surf Kayak
I’ve been ineffectually proselytizing surf kayaking for the Great Lakes since the inception of this blog. I’ve probably made over 100 posts about surf kayaking Lake Michigan. I talk about it with strangers, sea kayakers’, at symposiums. I always have friendly people ask me about it at the WMCKA Symposium who have seen the blog. A couple people tried to throw together a surf class at the Great Lakes Symposium. However I have been completely unsuccessful at converting anyone to the idea that taking an 8 foot kayak on Lake Michigan, that is otherwise useless out into a storm is a good idea. In search marketing terms we call that a 0% conversion rate. Otherwise known as a giant FAIL!

Yesterday John Fleming braved the tail end of the epic storm. Monday was peaking at 50 knot winds. Force 10 conditions. We waited per my earlier post, for the tail end of that storm. Predicted conditions were 8-12 foot waves with winds out of the Northwest at 30 knots. It was every bit of that for most of the evening. Though the waves actually began glassing off and becoming more regular as the sun went down. John and I launched over a storm swelled beach into somewhat lumpy water on the south side of the pier. We paddled out among the boardies near the end of the pier. I immediately went for it on a good looking nine foot face, dropped in, and got a beautiful carving ride with a nice bottom turn. I had several more like this over the course of the hour. I even managed to pull out one nice ride where I got extra sauce on take off, dropped in, carved left, hit a nice bottom turn, and then carved back up the face to nail my first ever top turn on the Great Lakes, and then dropped back in for another bottom turn. Usually waves close out before you can pull these sorts of maneuvers on Lake Michigan.

John worked up his courage on the inside of the break, thought it seemed like he quickly realized that the outside of the break was a no-sweat situation. So he was soon in the lineup with everyone else. We had a mutual nerd wipe out where I was trying to get a picture of John on takeoff, as I got closer I realized he also had his camera out and was looking for a picture of me. A really steep beautiful looking wave came along and knocked both of us over. Luckily I just dropped my camera and paddled for it, I wiped out anyway and rolled upright and then saw another wave, so I paddled hard, dropped in and kept surfing.

John and I surfed in warm water for almost three hours. There are really few, despite my evangelism who have the stones to go out in that tiny boat, when the sky turns gunmetal gray, cold spray blows from the lake, and the wind howls in your ears. Perhaps converting one is an achievement in and of itself.

This fall storm made my month. It really makes living in this part of the world worthwhile to have these few weeks with good waves. John caught a couple of really nice looking rides for his first time out. Hopefully he will post his own account here soon.


  1. Hi,

    I recently moved to St. Louis MO from Connecticut. I have done a lot of surfing in my 16 foot sea kayak and 8 foot whitewater kayak on ocean swell waves in Rhode Island. I actually made it up to New Buffalo MI at the end of the summer for that freakish big wave weekend. I had a blast surfing those moving mountains of water. I also managed to unintentionally throw my second ever endo in my sea kayak. I have been trying to get my whitewater buds to make the trip up with me but thought I might have better luck hooking up with some local kayak surfers. I have the ACA level 2 and 3 certification and have completed a level 3 swift water rescue course. Look forward to meeting some MI surfers this fall and winter. Mike Leininger

  2. Alec, you are welcome to use the mega any time.

  3. Okay Keith, watching some of the video you have posted in combination with the fun I've had in my sea kayak…. may convert me yet…. at least I'm interested. Do you have an extra boat?

    • I don't have one now. I would love to have a plastic mega maverick to loan out!!! But you're welcome to borrow mine sometime when we're together.

  4. Would love to surf a surf kayak, but what we get here on Lake Erie by the Cleveland can't justify it. The three rides I'd manage during the whole year would leave me pining for the West Coast…

    Anyways, had a bit of fun yesterday in a sea kayak. First ever 360 – stand the kayak on the bow, and do a full rotation. Didn't even need a brace at the end.

    Also had the USCG encounter – apparently some good Samaritan decided that stupid a.. kayaker was fighting for survival and called coasties on me. They were kind enough to inform me that there was SCA issued. Who knew?

    • Marius,

      That's happened twice to me. Once on an inland lake, another time in St. Joe Michigan. It's always nice when people are watching and care about what happens to you. Ironically the two times I had nasty swims, there was no one in sight! I