Surf’s Up – on Lake Michigan

By Caitlin Kavanaugh

Ready to ride the waves but don’t live anywhere near California?  Visit the next best thing – Sheboygan – Wisconsin’s very own Malibu.

Don’t miss the kick-off of the biggest surfing event to hit the Great Lakes; the largest gathering of freshwater surfers in the world, Dairyland Surf Classic. Eager surfers from all over the world will travel to Sheboygan to participate in paddle relays, competitions, and of course, plenty of freshwater surfing in Lake Michigan.

In addition to the competition on Saturday, an award ceremony and celebratory banquet will follow the festivities. Sunday will offer another chance to compete with your board starting at noon.

Since its inception in 1988, founders Larry “Longboard” Williams and his twin brother Lee “Waterflea” Williams, have devoted themselves to making the Dairyland Surf Classic all about their passion for surfing and people.

“The main focus has always been the gathering of surfers from all the Great Lakes to share stories, photos and celebrate the passion we all share and love,” says Lee on the event’s website. “Most of us have surfed many breaks around the world but this, the Great Lakes, is what we call home.”

It was this sentiment that fueled the initial fire and helped transform the affair into a roaring, worldwide phenomenon. Currently, the event is the largest freshwater surfing competition in the world.

It’s hard to believe it all started with a surfing contest back in Grand Haven, Michigan. It was here that Oscar Wolfbrandt, director of the Eastern Surfing Association, suggested that Lee and Larry hold a contest in their hometown of Sheboygan, located on the west coast of Lake Michigan.

Without any hesitation, Lee and Larry decided they would host the competition on Labor Day weekend – a perfect surfing time, sandwiched between the end of summer and the start of freshwater surfing season in the fall.

As the years passed, the Dairyland Classic grew as word of Sheboygan’s “good vibes” spread to more and more freshwater surfers.

What makes Sheboygan so special? First, there’s the added challenge of freshwater, which is significantly less buoyant than saltwater. And secondly, Sheboygan offers 22 “breaks” (coastal terrain where waves break) along a 5-mile stretch of Lake Michigan. Finally, lake waves are created by the wind rather than the tides of an ocean, they provide a technical challenge due to their size and spontaneity. One break in Sheboygan is so difficult it’s been called “the Mount Everest of freshwater surfing” by locals.

Wind speed needs to be between 15-25 mph before Lake Michigan becomes surfable. But when the wind do pick up, 24-foot waves are possible, according to Larry.

Sheboygan’s challenges, mixed with the tight freshwater surfing community, drew roughly 100 competitors in 2006, along with thousands of spectators.

With the combination of friendly Sheboygan, a tight-knit community of comrades, and a chance to say you surfed in the Midwest, why would any surfer pass on this extraordinary opportunity? The Williams brothers invite everyone to the Dairyland Classic – either on the waves or on the shore.

Caitlin Kavanaugh is the editorial intern for Wisconsin Trails. She is a journalism student at Marquette University.

This entry was posted in Things to Do, Sports, Spectator Sports, Outdoor Fun, Water Activities and tagged Features and Profiles