Photo Credit/Source: Will Wall/Surfline.com
It's one of the coldest places in the United States to surf, and it's not in the ocean. For a frigid session unlike any other, surfers travel to the wintry white that is Minnesota for some chilly freshwater barrels in the great lakes.
In late December last year, a nasty polar vortex brought nature's wrath to the midwestern United States. That didn't stop surfers like Burton Hathaway and Will Wall from charging into the freezing freshwater at Stoney Point, Minnesota on the northern shore of Lake Superior, the largest of the great lakes.
"It was around -12 degrees," Hathaway said in an interview with GrindTV. "But if you factor in the wind chill it was like 50 degrees below zero."
Despite the deep freeze, Lake Superior's water temperature remains in the crisp mid to upper 30s. Since it's the deepest of the great lakes, Lake Superior is the last of the lakes to freeze, as it retains a larger portion of its heat in the winter. Stoney Point is especially revered in the great lakes surfing community, as "it's a well-known spot that's been in the magazines and is basically the Mecca of Great Lakes surfing," Hathaway said in an interview with Surfline.
Photo Credit: Eric Wilkie
The chill factor isn't the only difference surfers experience when they shred here. Riding your board in fresh water is an entirely different animal because a surfer's body is drastically less buoyant than it is in salt water. Since this means that it's more work to catch and ride waves in the great lakes, general fitness is essential.
"You feel like you're surfing in slow motion on some of these waves. You've gotta be in good condition, too, because as cold as you are, you're actually better off being in the water, because it's warmer," Hathaway told Surfline. "We ride thicker and wider boards to get us into the waves faster, because at a fast freshwater pointbreak like this, you've gotta be on your tippy toes."
With more coastline than both the East and West Coast combined, the great lakes are freshwater goldmines brimming with potential for a bodysurfer's, surfer's and handboarder's ultimate dream: Unlimited space to find that perfect wave. If you're brave enough to withstand the wind chill, strap on your booties, gloves, hoodie and your thickest wetsuit. Doesn't sound like anybody's been pitted there riding a handboard yet! Photo Credit: Burton Hathaway