While most of us prepare for a snow storm by stopping by the gas station or grocery store, one Northern Michigan native is waxing her surf board. Her surf board? Yes, and a few adventurous souls like Ella Skrocki, 21, catch waves on the Great Lakes year-round.
A student at Northern Michigan University majoring in environmental studies, Ella grew up in the small coastal town of Empire where her parents own Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak Shop. Brought up with the heart of a surfer, Ella attended surf camps in California where fellow students found the idea of surfing the Great Lakes far-fetched.
But there’s nothing improbable about it, and many seasoned Great Lakes surfers prefer the winter waves because of their size and frequency. Ella caught a few 30 footers during a recent storm, describing the experience as “very rewarding.” Put in perspective, the waves on Lake Superior that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 reached heights of up to 35 feet.
Waves big enough to sink a freighter present additional challenges including frostbite, dirtier water, and shorter wave periods (7 seconds between crests versus an average of 20 seconds on the ocean). So, why does Ella do it? “When I find the motivation to get out there during a blizzard and catch that one wave, it’s so empowering!”
Sure, winter surfing can be brutal but Ella has the proper gear to stay warm and though she admits her “face will get a little numb” on occasion, a touch of grease on her cheeks takes the sting out of winter’s icy chill.
If surfing the Great Lakes sounds like an activity worth exploring, Michigan’s surfing community is a great place to start. A tight-knit group, they are happy to offer encouragement, tips and lessons. And while we’re grumbling during the next winter storm warning, a small contingent of extreme sports enthusiasts will be gearing up for a wave even the most seasoned ocean surfer would be stoked to catch.
Visit Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak Shop at sbsurfandkayak.com.