Surf Kayaking Evangelism Received

  My first day in the surf boat was early last April, on a much ‘smaller’ day.  Everything was in the 30’s: air temp, water temp, wind speed.  It was gnarly and the boat didn’t fit at all.  But even with cramped feet, it was fun.  And then some silly little four footers trashed me until my head pressed into the sandbar and I swam, but it was still fun.  Unfortunately, the boat didn’t get back on the water until yesterday.
  Yesterday, everything started to come together.  The wind and waves had shifted NW, the water was still in the 60’s, the waves were bigger, and the boat almost fit (aaargh, my feet still hurt).  Going in, I thought that the biggest challenge was going to be mental.  I had a plan to start small and gradually work my way out to the bigger stuff where Keith and the board surfers were hanging out.  This quickly changed after the steep little four footers near shore kept working me over, again.  Every time I’d get on the step part of the wave, the bow would bury and WHAM.  I suppose one of the nice things about pitch poling is that you roll up facing away from the beach, ready to paddle back out for more.  After being a pummeled a few times, I figured I would try something different, and headed all the way out towards the outside of the break.
  Ironically, the waves which I initially thought I would be very scared of were actually the easiest to catch.  The biggest challenge for me was still accelerating at the right moment to catch them, but the big waves made it much easier.  If I timed it just right as the biggest waves surged underneath me, a precise lean forward and a couple of strokes would get me surfing down the face.  As soon as I got out to the boardies I did just that, and picked up a perfect eight footer that allowed me to link carved turns all the way back to the beach.  I felt like hot sh*t, and quickly associated “big” with “fun”.  I spent the next two hours vainly trying to replicate what turned out to be the best and longest ride of the day.  Fortunately, almost catching huge waves can be really cool.  There is a brief “top of the world” experience as you perch on the crest, riding the wave but unable to drop in, before gently dropping off the backside.
  I also eventually found my limit.  Just like countless other times, I spotted a nicely building wave, spun 180 degrees and paddled like hell while looking back over my shoulder.  Time slowed down, and this wave just kept growing, filling my peripheral vision.  I leaned forward and felt the massive wave heave up.  An instant later I was rocketing down the face of a 12’ wave.  My five seconds of carving glory ended in a white blur as the wave broke over me.  Rather than tumble me, it drove me under the water, blasting my eyelids full of water, and I surfaced still facing the beach.  As the water drained from my eyes, I noticed all the surfers were staring at me.  I’m going to pretend it was with admiration.
Keith digging in
Keith digging in

  So far, my surfing experience seems to be 90% paddling back out and waiting, 9% frantically trying to catch a wave, and 1% actually surfing.  But, that 1% is pretty scary sweet!  I can see why Keith gets all geeked out about getting proper waves.  I imagine that I will be out there waiting, too. FYI, it was a bit challenging taking any photos from the surf boat.  I still feel like I am bobbing around on a  cork, but hopefully that will improve.  After I was too trashed to go on, I took a couple of short videos of Keith out next to the pier.   The waves right up against the pier crumbled really fast (they reform nicely later), but I think the videos are cool.

The link to the flickr set is here. (I’d like to think Keith had a brief “oh sh*t” moment during the last clip)

The day before our surf session, I went out to the lake with my three year old son to witness the peak of the storm.  I didn’t know if he would like it, but he had a blast.

Quin the Superhero on the Gale of October Southhaven Michigan, Goggles were to protect his eyes from 50 knot sand blasting

The wind was blowing something like 45 knots straight out of the west.  The westerly was not a good day to be in the lake itself, and I watched the board surfers give up within an hour.  The waves rolling down the channel however were beautiful, but it was complete mayhem towards the end of the piers. I will definitely be taking the sea kayak down the channel (but not into the lake) during the next big westerly.

posted by John Fleming

peak of the storm, on Monday
Monday. Big, clean 8' - 12' waves rolling straight down the channel.