Updated: Jun 10
Breaking News: You can surf in a freshwater lake! I know, I know, it sounds pretty crazy and impossible without the help of some man made force, but the Great Lakes really can get waves.
The first surfers of this area emerged in the 60s, and have continued to grow to this day.
Now, surfers in these communities have been found to be more consistently expanding and improving in their surfing skills.
Although the waves here still aren’t exactly like the ones you would experience from the ocean, strong winds produce impressive waves that can be spectacularly similar to those you may see in California or Florida.
In this article we will take a look at some of the best lakes to surf at, and a few of the popular spots within them.
What’s So Special About Surfing in the Great Lakes?
Waves in the Great Lakes
You’ll find the majority of waves during the wintertime.
During this time, rideable waves will range from 3-6ft, meaning they can be surfed by all kinds of skill levels of surfers.
Since the summer has less prevalent wind swells, and wind swells are required for the formation of these waves, the warmer months tend to be a little slower.
The Surf Culture in the Great Lakes
Although surfing the Great Lakes is becoming more and more popular each year, the crowds still tend to be minimal.
This means there is a pretty tight knit crew that paddles out when the surf is good. So, as you test out a few of these spots, don’t be scared to paddle out, but make sure you give the local crew their first pick of waves.
Equipment Needed to Surf in the Great Lakes
Only surf The Great Lakes if you are prepared to bear the cold.
Many surfers here experience something known as the iconic ice beard.
Here, the water gets cold enough to freeze any exposed hair and turn into an ice block.
Having a hot bucket of water ready in your car as you change out of your wetsuit is another hack many surfers use to warm up after a surf.
The Best Surf Spots in Great Lakes
The two best spots within Lake Superior are Marquette and Grand Marais.
Marquette gained much of its traction because it was the home break of one of the most well known Great Lake surfers, Surfer Dan. Many people also enjoy this spot because of its different breaks.
The two main breaks here are The Zoo and South Beach, which are both relatively close together so you can go in between breaks to find which wave you prefer.
Grand Marais is the next best spot when it comes to surfing on Lake Superior.
Here, many of the waves you will find break right out front of a line of rocks.
So, take precautions to ensure the waves are breaking far enough out and you and your board aren’t headed for a collision.
Lake Michigan has the most options when it comes to choosing where to surf, but the two most notable are Check Seol Choix Point and Sheboygan.
Check Seol Choix Point is located right next to a lighthouse and is said to draw in crowds of surfers from all over Michigan and even from Canada.
Even still, locals note that the busiest days include only 10 cars parked in the lot. This means, you really have a chance to catch your pick of waves while there is an empty lineup.
Another great break on Lake Michigan is NorthPoint / The Elbow, which is located in Wisconsin. This wave was given the name “Malibu of the Midwest”, so the presence of waves here is pretty undeniable.
So, if there is a wind swell coming in, drive on down to either of these spots to see what they have to offer.
The best waves on Lake Huron can be narrowed down to Burchville and Lexington.
Both these spots get waves solely on strong northwest winds.
All things considered, surfing on the Great Lakes can be exhausting.
Be prepared to paddle against the currents and against the direction of the wind.
Besides traditional surfing, Lake Huron is known to attract paddleboarders, kitesurfers, and windsurfers. While most surfers would see these waves as too windy or choppy, these alternative options allow surfers to catch waves no matter the conditions.
Instead of their nose diving under every ripple, the kite will catch the wind and allow the board to easily glide above the water.
Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes and is known to actually completely freeze during the wintertime.
This means, you will undoubtedly be a little cold while surfing here. If you are up to the challenge of facing the cold, there are a stretch of beach breaks from Buffalo to Dunkirk.
During strong southwest winds, large waves will hit New York and bring some waves down to Lake Erie.
Another option if you are looking for a little more power or size, is Pleasant Point.
Pleasant Point is more popular amongst shortboarders because it has more critical and challenging sections that are more suitable for boards that are easily maneuverable.
Unlike many of the other lakes, Lake Ontario works best directly after a swell once the wind has already died down a bit.
If you are looking for waves on Lake Ontario, you should first check Stony Point and Prince Edward County.
Stony Point receives some of the biggest waves in this area. It provides both rights and lefts that crash over a rocky bottom.
Because of this, you should surf with caution to ensure you don’t hit the bottom by accident. Prince Edward County reacts best to strong southwest and west swell.
With this, the waves are able to hold their shape and are rideable by both shortboarders and longboarders.
What To Do In Great Lakes When the Waves Are Flat
Surfing the Great Lakes haven’t always been very popular or known to be even possible.
So, if the waves are flat, which they may be for a good portion of the year, there are still dozens of things to do.
If you know someone who lives near here, a great opportunity would be to go out on the boat for a day.
If the water is calm, it could be perfect for wakeboarding, waterskiing, and even wakesurfing.
Although the lakes may not naturally produce waves to surf all throughout the year, you can surf on the wake of a boat just as easily.
Beyond this, there are tons of rental shops where you could get a kayak or paddleboard to go out on the lake for the day.
The Great Lakes really can look and act like any other ocean, so in the summer don’t be afraid to visit one of these lakes and enjoy a typical beach day in the sun.
Great Lakes Surf Guide
It seems pretty shocking to find out that a lake can produce the same type of waves that can come from the ocean, but the rumor is true!
So, take a trip to the Great Lakes and find out what all the hype is about.