MPR News / Lake Superior Surfing

Driving on a snow-covered gravel road hugging the shore of Lake Superior, MPR reporter Dan Kraker and I were heading to Stony Point to check out what some were calling the best day of the year for Lake Superior surfing.  The waves on the drive there left me a little skeptical since there were no whitecaps visible on the lake.  Some parts of the lake looked almost like glass.  It seemed the conditions were much more conducive to stand-up paddle boarding than surfing.

However, we turned a corner on the road and arrived at Stony Point.  Immediately, we saw seven to eight foot waves crashing and rolling every 20 to 30 seconds.  The 15-20 vehicles lined up along the roadway were a pretty clear indicator that we had found what some call the best surfing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Stony Point’s geology is one reason the area is primed for surfing.  Deep underwater channels just offshore slam into a steep incline that runs to the shore.  On days with northeast winds, all that water is pushed toward the shore, up the incline, which creates the frequent waves that attract surfers from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.  Every surfer I met was able to tell me the geologic reasons Stony Point is great for surfing along with the ideal meteorological conditions for good surfing.  It was like everyone was a meteorologist and geologist.

The day we went out there, it was warm.  30 degrees.  The surfers will be out there when the mercury hits zero.  Many of these guys have roots or lived in southern California so the pull of surfing is always there despite the seemingly adverse weather conditions.  Because of the relatively balmy conditions when we met them, there weren’t any icicles hanging from surfers’ eyebrows or ice-crusted wetsuits.  Maybe next time.

If you’d like to read the story by MPR’s Dan Kraker, check out the story here.   You can also listen to the story and hear from the surfers themselves by playing the audio clip below.  This was definitely one of the more fun assignments I’ve done in a long time.

Large chunks of ice mix with rocks and pebbles to form the beach at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn. where surfers descend when the waves pick up.

Large chunks of ice mix with rocks and pebbles to form the beach at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn. where surfers descend when the waves pick up.

Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. surveys Lake Superior after donning nearly 10 millimeters of neoprene.

Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. surveys Lake Superior after donning nearly 10 millimeters of neoprene.

Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. tightens his wetsuit before heading out to the waves at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. tightens his wetsuit before heading out to the waves at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

With nearly 10 millimeters of wetsuit between him and the cold, Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. grabs his surfboard from the top of his truck at Stony Point in Duluth, Minn.  "I'll be out there for an hour, hour and a half or if I ride three big waves or have three big wipeouts. Whichever comes first," Wilkie said of his Monday surfing plans.

With nearly 10 millimeters of wetsuit between him and the cold, Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. grabs his surfboard from the top of his truck at Stony Point in Duluth, Minn. “I’ll be out there for an hour, hour and a half or if I ride three big waves or have three big wipeouts. Whichever comes first,” Wilkie said of his Monday surfing plans.

Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. applies a fresh coat of wax to his surfboard before hitting the waters at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. applies a fresh coat of wax to his surfboard before hitting the waters at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A path through the woods leads Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. to his entry point at Stony Point into Lake Superior.

A path through the woods leads Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. to his entry point at Stony Point into Lake Superior.

A large wave of ice cold water crashes into Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. as he prepares to enter the waters of Lake Superior at Stony Point.

A large wave of ice cold water crashes into Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. as he prepares to enter the waters of Lake Superior at Stony Point.

Surfer Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. works his way out into Lake Superior after taking off from Stony Point.

Surfer Eric Wilkie of Webster, Wisc. works his way out into Lake Superior after taking off from Stony Point.

A surfer rides a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer rides a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

Kyle Wilson of Rice Lake, Wisc. catches a wave on the way into shore at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

Kyle Wilson of Rice Lake, Wisc. catches a wave on the way into shore at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer leaves the waters of Lake Superior after surfing at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer leaves the waters of Lake Superior after surfing at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

Waves crash near shore at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn. Surfers were drawn to Stony Point by the warm winter temperatures and waves up to eight feet.

Waves crash near shore at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn. Surfers were drawn to Stony Point by the warm winter temperatures and waves up to eight feet.

Surfers walk along an icy snow-covered path at Stony Point strewn with rocks and iced and snowed over driftwood to reach their launching point into Lake Superior.

Surfers walk along an icy snow-covered path at Stony Point strewn with rocks and iced and snowed over driftwood to reach their launching point into Lake Superior.

Bob Tema of Minneapolis, Minn. heads to the waters of Lake Superior at Stony Point to surf.

Bob Tema of Minneapolis, Minn. heads to the waters of Lake Superior at Stony Point to surf.

A surfer pauses for a second before heading into Lake Superior at Stony Point.

A surfer pauses for a second before heading into Lake Superior at Stony Point.

Mark Anderson (left) of St. Paul, Minn. and friend John Benzick (right) of Minneapolis, Minn. talk as a wave breaks around them at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

Mark Anderson (left) of St. Paul, Minn. and friend John Benzick (right) of Minneapolis, Minn. talk as a wave breaks around them at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer pauses for a second as waves from Lake Superior crash around him.

A surfer pauses for a second as waves from Lake Superior crash around him.

A surfer rides a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer rides a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer rides a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer rides a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer floats on a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

A surfer floats on a wave at Stony Point near Duluth, Minn.

Surfers often leave their boards near the edge of the water as they retreat to their cars to warm up.

Surfers often leave their boards near the edge of the water as they retreat to their cars to warm up.