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Michiganders Get A Late Autumn Surfing Opportunity With Lake Waves As High As 13 Feet


Gale-force winds fueled huge waves on the northern Great Lakes today. Lake Michigan waves are topping out at 13 feet. For some Michiganders, the fall storm season is the time to hunker down. But for others, it's the perfect time to jump in the lake. Dan Wanschura of Interlochen Public Radio reports.

DAN WANSCHURA, BYLINE: It's a chilly October morning in the northern Michigan city of Frankfort. It's raining, and the wind is gusting from the south around 40 miles per hour - not the kind of day most people would want to spend at the beach. But Ella Skrocki isn't most people.

ELLA SKROCKI: We're kind of a wild bunch here on the Great Lakes.

WANSCHURA: She's one of a handful of hardy Michigan surfers today braving the wild conditions, trying to catch one of the big waves rolling along the shoreline. For Great Lakes surfers, some of the best surfing happens in October and November.

Dan Cornish is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He says low pressure systems roll through the region, fueling strong winds.

DAN CORNISH: And with these stronger winds is when, across the Great Lakes, we can get the high waves that we see today.

WANSCHURA: Because waves like this on Lake Michigan are more infrequent than, say, the ocean, Skrocki calls a day like today really special.

SKROCKI: So the gnarlier (ph) day on Lake Michigan or throughout the Great Lakes, the - typically, the better surf.

WANSCHURA: In a beach parking lot, she squeezes into her full winter apparel. It's a thick neoprene wetsuit, complete with a hood, mittens and boots.


WANSCHURA: She waxes the top of her board for extra grip and then heads out toward the soggy beach.

SKROCKI: All right. Ready?

WANSCHURA: Beth Price is a local photographer, and she's here to watch.

BETH PRICE: It's not conditions for everyone. I think that sometimes we make it look easy, but it's not.

WANSCHURA: Ella Skrocki is 24 years old, and she's surfed all over the world - up and down the West Coast, Central America, South America, even India. But still, her favorite memories happen here.

SKROCKI: Great Lakes are definitely my favorite place to surf. I've been in tropical paradises in bikinis, and it's awesome and wonderful. But the days like this when it's windy and rainy and crazy - it's kind of all part of the adventure.

WANSCHURA: And with that, she walks out onto the pier, braces herself for the waves and plunges into the water - no salt in her eyes, no sharks to worry about because she's surfing in late October in a freshwater lake in the middle of the Midwest.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Wanschura in Frankfort, Mich.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE VENTURES' "PIPELINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Wanschura
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