Great Lakes Surfers Get Sandy Too!

Hurricane Sandy Whips Up the Wind, the Surf, and the Hysteria

Although Hurricane Sandy's swell hasn't lived up to Great Lakes surfers' expectations, there were still some good ones to be had on Tuesday if you knew where to look. Peeling right in South Lake Michigan. Photo by Mike Killion/Great Lakes Surfer Magazine

As hurricanes approach coastlines, they are usually accompanied by the news media that aim to capitalize on the destruction. Likewise, as hurricane surf approaches, the news media is quick to whip out the hype with headlines like “Hurricane Surf Brings Brave Surfers to the Sea,” or “Surfers ride Massive Hurricane Surf.” Usually, the photos that go along with these stories are of mediocre and messy 3 foot waves that leave you thinking “really? It’s not even head high out there!”

This time, when Hurricane Sandy set it’s sights on New Jersey, the waves were actually large and life threatening. In fact, most of the Eastern Seaboard received some all time surf from this swell.

Sandy produced some epic surf for the Eastern Seaboard before it blasted New Jersey. Here Raven Lundy charges a Jersey beachbreak before the evacuation on Monday evening. Photo by Nick Denny.

But what about the Third Coast, the Great Lakes? Sandy was the largest Atlantic Tropical Storm on record. So large that it’s outstretched limbs reached all the way to the Great Lakes. Winds over 40 knots battered the lakes kicking up the surf, especially in South Lake Michigan. On Tuesday morning the Lake Michigan buoy was at 21.7 feet at 11 seconds! That’s huge!

South Lake Michigan sequence, Tuesday, October 30th. Photo by Mike Killion/Great Lakes Surfer Magazine
South Lake Michigan, Tuesday, October 30th. Photo by Mike Killion/Great Lakes Surfer Magazine

So how was it? I asked Mike Killion, the founder of Great Lakes Surfer Magazine, to give me an insiders perspective of Hurricane Sandy’s swell.

SDB – How were the waves today?

Mike K – The buoy on Lake Michigan, located just south of Milwaukee, WI at the center of the lake topped out at 21ft @11secs. With that said, the sheltered spots that were surfable got around head high at best. It was kind of an odd swell as we were hoping to get bigger waves. However, another location was blocked off for us with all the hype, and friends of mine were escorted back to their cars by police with the threat of arrest if they were to enter the water. Pretty bummed as that was our go-to spot for big swells, and it was shut down.

SDB – How big were the exposed spots and how big was it where you surfed?

Mike K – Exposed areas saw faces up to maybe 10ft plus, but where we paddled out it was only maybe 6-7ft tops. and those would drop down to a chest-waist high mush burger. Once the wind dies off and the swell still lingers we should get some better conditions.

A clean right slips by unridden. South Lake Michigan, Monday, October 29th. Photo by Mike Killion/Great Lakes Surfer Magazine.

SDB – Were there any challenges in trying to get to the surf? (police restrictions, flooding damage, road conditions?)

Mike K – See above about police. No flooding damage. They did shut down the lakefront path in Chicago as it overflows when it gets rough out here. Not safe for runners/bicyclists. There was talk of closing Lake Shore Drive for vehicles but it didn’t overflow into the streets.

SDB – What do Great Lakes Surfers think of the swell?

Mike K – We think it’s over hyped. We’ve had bigger and cleaner days out here. The wind is quite crazy today but it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before. I’ve seen better days in blizzards.

SDB – What do non-surfers think and say about you guys surfing?

Mike K – Non-surfers are confused, misunderstanding the whole thing, and think we are nuts. Most people just do what the news casters say, or are too afraid to have their own opinion. And most non-surfers around the lakes aren’t educated to know the waters like we do. We always get on the news, and in the papers each year. Typically, it’s when winter hits and there’s snow. But since Sandy came a long and we are feeling some small effects of it here, they had to push the issue and get their ratings up.

Conditions will improve as the wind backs off over the next few days, so the best is yet to come for Great Lakes Surfers. Stay tuned for post-Sandy blogs on East Coast and Great Lakes surf sessions!

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