Muskegon Chronicle  August 11, 1994


Surf’s Up

 And when it is, Beaton is off for Lake Michigan

                                                                            Chronicle/DAVE CARLSON

Fruitport’s Bob Beaton sits in front of his favorite surfing painting done by a friend. 



Chronicle staff writer


   Bob Beaton will never forget the absolute best surfing day in Lake Michigan history.


   Most of us remember it as the day the Edmund Fitzgerald, one of the largest iron ore freighters on the Great Lakes, sunk in a violent storm on Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.


   “I’ll never forget that day, because the wind was so bad it ripped off part of the roof on my house,” said Beaton — a.k.a. “Doc”, the 47-year-old avid surfer and owner of Aquadoc Waterbeds in Fruitport.


   “My friend called me up later in the day and said, ‘The waves are huge, we’ve gotta go surfing.’  He was right.  The waves were about 14 feet and going over the Grand Haven pier like it wasn’t even there.”


   Indeed, the surf was up.


   But it didn’t have to be a life-threatening storm for the surf to be up on Lake Michigan.


   In fact, the biggest difference between Lake Michigan and the more well-known surfing on the ocean is consistency.  People living in Mexico and California can get out for some tubular action almost every day.  West Michigan residents have to watch the weather forecasts and be ready to drop everything when the “surf’s up” with 3-6 foot waves and a strong southwest wind.


   “Craig (James) tells me on the news,” said Beaton, who lives in a beach house in Grand Haven.  “When the conditions are right, I’m out there.  I just put up my ‘Gone surfing’ sign, close the shop, and take off.” 


   Other local surfers show the same kind of devotion/obsession to the sport.


   Mike Osborn said his girlfriend is adjusting to his “drop everything and go surfing” mentality when the conditions are right.


   “She’s a planner,” said Osborn, a 23-year-old supervisor at Rafferty’s Restaurant.  “She operates on a set schedule and she gets mad when there’s waves and I just have to go surfing.”


   Surfing is a relatively inexpensive sport to undertake, with the major expense being a board (with leash) and a good wetsuit, as Lake Michigan is rarely warm enough to surf unprotected.  It can also be difficult, with normally choppy wave conditions.  A good idea is to hook up with a veteran surfer and learn how to catch a wave.


   Osborn believes Lake Michigan surfing is still a well-kept secret, with just a handful of local die-hards competing with ever-growing legions of belly-boarders, jet-skiers and swimmers.


   “But once you catch your first wave, you’re hooked — it’s the greatest thing,” said Osborn, who can be found most wavy days in Lake Michigan near North Muskegon at the pierhead or the water filtration plant.


   And in the winter months?


   Time to load up the woody and go on safari.


   Both Beaton and Osborne have gone on their share of “surfing safaris” to Florida, North Carolina, California and Mexico in the winter months.


   Beaton rambles on for hours about low-budget trips to Mexico, where long and steady waves roll in off the Pacific Ocean and surfers rule the water from dawn until dusk.


   “You get spoiled after riding those kind of waves for awhile.” Beaton said.  “I come back here and wonder what I’m doing on these little waves.  But after awhile you adjust, good days come up, and you’re just as happy here.”


   The surfing story Beaton is most proud of occurred on the day the Edmund Fitzgerald sank.


   Beaton received a Congressional Medal from the Untied States Coast Guard for saving a boy who was washed off the Grand Haven pier.  He estimates that experienced local surfers, who feel at home in heavy waves, have saved more than a dozen lives in the past 20 years.


   “Sometimes the only people who can reach people drowning are surfers,” Beaton said.




WHAT:  Surfing on Lake Michigan.


WHERE:  Hot spots include pierheads near North Muskegon, Grand Haven, Pere Marquette in Muskegon and Port Sheldon.  Piers change the break of the waves for better surfing.


WHEN:  Die-hard surfers don wetsuits and take to the waves anytime there’s not ice in the lake.  The best surfing days on Lake Michigan would be considered average days in the surf “meccas.”


QUOTE:  “Surfing is a well-kept secret around here.  We have some surfing days around here that are as good as you’ll find anywhere.” —Bob Beaton, and avid Lake Michigan surfer for 32 years.