Winter surfing on the Great Lakes


PORT COLBORNE, ON. (WIVB) —Lake Erie is the shallowest Great Lake. That means it cools down faster, heats up quicker and freezes over first. But with the mild temperatures this year the lake is free of ice and locals are taking advantage.

When you think of surfing you think sun, sand and waves. Out on Lake Erie surfers were enjoying at least two of those things…Jeff Brooks, a frequent surfer of the Great Lakes told News 4, “There’s no feeling like being out on the waves. You are one with nature, and it’s the most amazing thing you can do.”

Among the crashing waves, dozens of surfers bobbed in the water. Some traveled great distances to come surf the swells Lake Erie was putting out.

Lucas Murnhuhan, a water photographer, ready to capture the waves, drove 2 hours. Lifelong friends Corey and Alex traveled 4 hours! And conditions have to be just right or the drive is not worth it. Murnhuhan shared exactly what is needed. He said, “We’re looking for wind to be coming across the lake for a reliable amount of time in order to build up the wind swell we need, and then we like a switch in the wind direction right when we want to surf. That kind of cleans it up a bit.”

On Lake Erie for optimal waves a westerly direction is key for cleaner waves. Even with ideal conditions, surfing on a lake is much different than doing it in the open waters of the ocean. But it’s not obvious how they are different. One of the surfers, Alex, cleared that up a bit. He said, “Ocean waves, they come in sets and they’re a little bit more predictable. This is choppy and messy out there.”

The choppiness combined with temperatures in the 30’s makes the surf that much more difficult, so they have to make the most of their time in the water. Surfers out enjoying the waves told News 4,”If you’re lucky, you can get a good two hours in before you have to get out of the water.”

In order to get the maximum amount of time out on the waves, they suit up in special gear. Brooks explained what this special wet suit is made of. He said, “This is a 6, 5, and 4. It’s made of neoprene and basically it allows your water to go into your wet suit but your body warms that water up.”

This suit is 2 to 3 times the thickness that you would see a warm water surfer in. In addition to the suit they have gloves and booties. The head to toe gear helps to take the bite out of the cold water. Even so, it’s still something that takes getting used to. Collaboratively the surfers said the wet suit keeps you relatively warm, but on freezing cod days you’re still cold.

And if you think these guys are just a bunch of crazies, you’re wrong. The extreme sport is becoming more and more popular, even earning a spot on the Discovery Channel show, “Tougher Than It Looks?” Murnhuhan said, “It’s really taking off. We came here a few years ago and there was 1 or 2 people out. Now we could be out here and there are 10, 20, 30, out on a good day and it’s just nice.”

Antonio Lennert, Owner of Surf the Greats, told News 4 about the business he’s developed because of the increase in popularity. He said, “There’s been a solid group of people surfing in Toronto and there are all these little communities all over the Great Lakes that have kind of been disconnected but now with social media these communities are actually starting to connect.”

If you want to get involved with one of the communities Lennert has started, you can find more information on the Surf the Greats Facebook page or on their webpage. The organization not only gets surfers together to catch some waves, it promotes community service around town to take care of the waters.

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