Surfing in Michigan
Did you know that there is surfing in Michigan? Yes I was shocked too when I found out that the “Third Coast” produces some pretty heavy swell. How has all this time passed and I hadn’t heard a single word about great waves coming from the Great Lakes. Well shockingly enough, Michigan’s Great Lakes, produce memorable movement and we will dive deeper into where you can find some of these beauties.
One of the Upper Peninsula’s main cities and home to Northern Michigan University, Marquette has multiple options to find some solid surf. Presque Isle, the Zoo, McCartys, and anywhere else it’s breaking. Marquette is also home to one of the most infamous Great Lakes Surfers, UP Surfer Dan. You can learn more about him in this video of us searching for waves or this interview
Marquette has a few different breaks but the main spots are The Zoo and South Beach.
Home to the Great Lakes Surfing Festival, Muskegon produces some solid waves for those in need of Lake waves therapy. Muskegon is located in the south western part of the mitten on the shores of Lake Michigan. Those close to Grand Rapids can easily make their way to Pere Marquette Beach to get their sets.
Grand Haven is just north of Muskegon and is another quality place to find yourself standing atop a board. Mix in a scenic jetty complemented with a fire red lighthouse and you have yourself an ideal surf backdrop.
Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes - EMPIRE
With close proximity to Traverse City, Empire State Beach provides the swell for the north western shores of Lake Michigan. Here you will find surf along the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore. Arguably the most scenic place to surf, don’t miss out on this one. Check out Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak for rentals and swell conditions.
St. Joseph is another popular Lake Michigan surf destination and also home to one of the most recognized surf shops in Michigan, Third Coast Surf Shop. Make sure you stop by and get the local insights whenever you’re in town.
Surfing in Michigan: Things to Remember
Water Temperatures. Surfing Michigan Lakes are COLD. When I say cold, I mean VERY COLD. The Lakes tend to be in the 35-40 degrees range on the surface and can vary upon month and if a storm is in sight.
Most Surfers are wearing wet suits that begin at a 4MM and up. This is the suit me and a few other surfers in Marquette use. Booties and Gloves are also HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommended.
Wave Formations. Waves on the Lakes form from localized winds while as Ocean waves form primarily from Offshore storms. Waves form from the transfer of energy of those winds passing over the surface area of the lake and some other variables.
Wave Periods. One of the first things you will realize when surfing in these Lakes, are the condensed wave periods. Sets roll in much faster and the distance between each wave is much shorter.
Swells. Nothing is guaranteed here and swells can have a long dry spells so when the waves are good, get them while you can. The BEST time for surfing in Michigan is Fall – Spring. You can surf all year long but the Major and heavy waves come in Fall and Winter
Water. NO SALT means no sting in the eyes. The freshwater is not only very clean but incredibly refreshing. Duck diving has never been more enjoyable. There are also no sharks to worry about here in the lakes for those who fear the grand daddy of the seas.
Size. Waves can get up to 30 feet but those occassions are rare and most likely sloppy. Waves tend to be on the smaller end but don’t underestimate the force of what these lakes can create.
Ice Chunks. This might be something you initially laugh at but for those who have felt the force of a major ice chunk on the head, know its a serious matter. Stay aware of whats on and below the surface.
Best Great Lakes Surfing Spots outside of Michigan
Duluth! – Duluth, Minnesota might be the best surfing destination in all of the Great Lakes regions. There are more than a dozen breaks here and the some of the most consistent waves. Stony Point is where advanced riders should head while beginners can find their share at Park Point.
Sheboygan – Sheboygan is Wisconsin’s major surf city with more than 22 breaks along 5 miles of beach. Wisconsin probably doesn’t come to the top of your mind but this place has been named “Malibu of the Midwest”.
So the Major Question..
Can you surf in Michigan?
You can surf in Michigan! Surfing in Michigan is not only growing in popularity but has a committed and under the radar community.
Some of the main surf breaks are all along Lake Superior and Lake Michigan but there are breaks around all of the Great Lakes! Grab a board and go get some Lake waves.
Great Lakes Surf Lessons, Shops & Rentals
Popular Michigan Surf Shops include:
There are a variety of outdoor outfitters throughout the state but the main surf shops are the ones listed above.
Down Wind Sports – Multiple shops in the region and has quality gear but not specific to surf. Expect to find mittens and maybe a wet suit.
Beyond Surfing in Michigan
If you need any more advice with what to do besides surfing in Michigan, take a look at my write ups on Hiking the UP and Marquette Travel . Michigan has so much more to offer than Surfing, and if you don’t know you might just miss some of the states best.
Thanks for reading and PLEASE ASK if you have questions! See you out on the waves or anywhere else in the Mitten State.