Detroit Free Press Jan 20, 1974
on Lake Michigan
Get Kicks at 20 Degrees
Surfer Bob Pushaw rides a wave in wintry Lake Michigan
BY DAVID ANDERSON
Free Press Staff Writer
In a nation where some people ride inside Laundromat dryers, jump canyons on
motorcycles and play marathon Monopoly in elevators, it should come as little
surprise that there are those who surf in Lake Michigan, in January.
“When the ice is solid we just walk out on it with our board, to the edge, then we paddle out and catch the waves. I was out one time two years ago when it was snowing so hard I couldn’t see the shore from 75 yards out,” said Bob Pushaw.
He’s 20, has been surfing the eastern shore of Lake Michigan for six years and is not the least bit astonished that he is still alive.
“The park officials used to try and stop us on days when there was a strong undercurrent, and for a while the Coast Guard tried to stop us too, but they finally gave up,” he said.
A spokesman for the enforcement division of the state Department of Natural Resources, Jay Larson, said he knew of no laws against surfing.
PUSHAW AND Jerry Kaman, 23, both of Grand Haven, and the rest of the 200 to 300 winter surfers are saved from being frozen stiff as their surfboards by wet suits, the black, rubber, long underwear-like outfits worn by skin divers.
Kaman says that the coldest weather in which he’s gone surfing was on a New Year’s day a few years back when it was about 20 degrees. “I suppose I’d go in when it is zero but I just never have.
“The cold isn’t the worst part though,” he said. “Sometimes the ice cakes tear up the surfboard and sometimes guys run into the piers. There are also rocks near shore.
“One time I jumped off the Grand Haven pier with my board, about 200 yards out and missed the wave. I jumped too soon and the wave dragged me along the edge of the pier and I got my hand and leg cut up pretty bad.”
LAKE MICHIGAN’S winter waves, though smaller, are considered to be as tricky as the huge waves off Hawaii. And sometimes they get pretty big, too, said Kaman.
“The biggest I ever surfed in the lake was during the Palm Sunday tornado in 1967—when the 20 fishermen were killed—we were surfing 16-and 17-foot waves that day.
“The big waves on the lake are almost straight up and down, you have to know what you are doing to stay on them.”
Legend has it that the first wet suit-clad winter surfer marched off the Grand Haven Pier into the lake in 1964.