Crazy die-hards encase themselves in neoprene and dodge ice floes in order to surf pathogenic, knee-high wind slop.
That’s the story, in a nutshell, and if it sounds vaguely familiar it’s probably because you watched Dana Brown and the Step into Liquid crew shake their heads at the Great Lakes surfers three whole years ago. So it’s a bit of a mystery why the New York Times would jump on the same story at this late date – unless the Swell of the Century was marching on Cleveland, its corduroy lines stacked to the horizon. Which, as the photo accompanying the article illustrates, it wasn’t.
Also surprisingly for those crack Times reporters, there was no mention of the seminal Great Lakes surf pic Unsalted. (See trailer for the rest of the nice backhand slash in the still above.) OK, so it’s more a record of a guy’s desire to film the epic waves of the Great Lakes than convincing evidence of the waves themselves. But nonetheless, like the Great Lakes lifestyle the film is a triumph of perseverance, and in its climax we do get to see a handful of SoCal pros shredding a perfect head-high freshwater A-frame in beautiful offshores. And the accompanying voiceovers are precious, since even on 80-degree days pro surfers tend to sound like they’ve been recently clocked by a chunk of ice. Imagine how they sound when they actually have.
But at the end of this article’s rehash of the Great Lakes surfing folly, reporter Christopher Maag actually latches onto some part of the truth:
“Occasionally there are days when the waves are good and the sunset falls into Lake Erie like a red fire and the Cleveland surfers bob silently in the water, alone in the city. “
It’s like that everywhere, even in the California these Midwesterners so desperately want to set themselves apart from. Rare moments when it’s finally worthwhile.
Riding waves is an exercise in heartbreak redeemed only occasionally by moments of purity. Surfing is sitting in a cold gray flatness and waiting as the sun drops out of the sky, and over the horizon it looks like God has been smoking rubies.
And then, every once in a while, a lithographed crescent wells up out of the deep and aims itself at you. Drops fly backward off the lip as it tumbles and you go, down, fast. There is ocean, a slab of it, at your cheek as you speed through a parabola and back to flat reality. The wave-riding itself is so short that, to a first approximation, it is timeless.
This post is dedicated to stalwart Scribble reader and veteran of both North Shores (Hawai’i and Cleveland) Charles Eldermire.