Grand Haven  "Surf City"
Early History

Grand Haven’s Surfing Roots


   It would be impossible to know exactly when during the past 10,000 years since the last ice age that people began riding waves at Grand Haven.  However, it is not hard to imagine Native American boys at the mouth of the Grand River paddling a canoe onto the waves and riding them to shore much the same as ancient Hawaiians did, or as kayak surfers do today. There is a newspaper account of Grand Haven’s famous inventor N. E. Brown canoe surfing at Highland Park in 1909.  A photograph at that time also shows evidence of boys trying to stand and ride a paddle board near the old Highland Park beach pier.  Local folklore even tells of paddle board surf clubs at Grand Haven in the 1930s.  One was known as “The Frogs” and the other “The Blue Birds” a name given by sailors to large waves on the lakes.  The story is substantiated by an old board acquired in a local estate sale some time ago.  It has a frog prominently displayed on its deck.
   The first known modern day surfer at Grand Haven was Doc “Makaha Dave” Seibold.  While living in Hawaii he built boards out of balsa wood from U.S. Navy surplus life rafts and covered them with the crude fiberglass of the time.  When he moved to Grand Haven he brought one of these boards with him and took it out surfing at the Grand Haven State Park in September of 1955.  According to present research, he is the first known surfer on Lake Michigan, or for that matter, the Great Lakes.  Because of him. Grand Haven can trace her surfing roots back to Hawaii.

“One of the great surfers from the Fifties era—George Downing—has talked about putting a surfing museum together out in Honolulu and asked that I contribute my board (that old balsa wood style is rare.)   However, I think it should remain here and I will someday put it on display in our local museum for display.”  Dr. Dave Seibold  1989


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