Like all great surfing stories, before you can score, first you need the perfect storm. Back in mid-January the North Shore of Lake Superior was set to receive a strong Southwest wind overnight, followed by a morning flip to light offshore North winds. A couple of things can be taken from this. Firstly, those strong winds whipping across the lake are being joined by one of the biggest snowstorms of the year, which always makes the search a little more challenging, although the swell that is being promised to come with it will undoubtedly be worth it. Next is that offshore flip. On Lake Superior, offshore winds are a bit of a double-edged sword; it means we are going to get an awesome clean up after the storm, but with it, extremely cold temperatures coming down from the arctic.
With this deadly combination you know the crew is stoked. Everyone tries to figure out work and school schedules so that they can get in on some of the action. Lucky for me, my schedule lined up so I could head to the spot the night before, prior to the arrival of the snow. Others were not so lucky. People arriving just a few hours later experienced undoubtedly the worst driving conditions they have ever faced, and people arriving in the morning did not get it any better. One of my compatriots, Avi, got stuck in a ditch on the way, dug himself out, only to get stuck again on the now snow-covered access trail. We got him out for the second time as the last of the crew arrived and we went on our way to check the spot. It added a little more difficulty to our day, but when we arrived at the spot, I have to say that we were truly rewarded.
You can never go in with too high expectations because you can never really be sure with the lakes, or surfing in general, but it’s safe to say we were blown away. After our walk from the parking spot through the knee-deep snow, the opening to the beach revealed a perfect empty peak set before us.
With the temperatures dropping by the minute, we had to get out there as fast as we could. Everyone suited up, all while not being able to peel our eyes away from the unreal scene unfolding in front of us. I filled my booties and mitts with hot water, pulled them on, and was the first one in the water, taking icy flushes on the way. The first dunk is always a shock to the nervous system as you fight your body’s natural instincts to panic. After what seemed like a never-ending battle of both mental and physical nature to get out past the break line, the whole crew made it out and the water in our suits started to warm from the heat of our bodies. The first set rolled through and the waves were just as good, if not better, than how they appeared from the shore. The first wave of the session was caught, and it was on.
Peaks were split, carves were ripped, lips were smacked and the whole crew was stoked beyond belief. Ripping a clean, head high open face with only your crew out is something that can’t be achieved in many places around the world, but lucky for us, this is the common reward for those brave enough to take on Lake Superior in the depths of winter solely because not many are willing to sacrifice their warmth for the icy flushing that has to be endured.
As time went on and ice began to form on everyone’s suits, it was clear that the temperatures were really starting to drop. Toes and fingers started to numb, and one by one everyone started to call “one more good one and I’m heading in.” The crew started to disperse with thoughts of warm cars but there was one more dreadful task ahead of us. With the new offshore winds, the trail back to the cars turned into a brutal wind tunnel.
With soaking wet bodies, temperatures now 30 below and howling winds ripping straight through us, patches of white formed on all of our cheeks. We finished the trek, desperately turned on the cars and cranked the heat. Getting the suits off wasn’t even an option at this point due to the masses of ice around our zippers and hoods. We just sat there, defrosting and reflecting on the insanity that just went down.
Once we were able to break through the ice holding us in our suits, we changed back into our dry warm clothes. The drive back to Thunder Bay greeted us with freshly plowed roads, and although we were thoroughly exhausted, it was a much easier drive for everyone. That night we gathered around our living room and looked at all the incredible photos and videos captured by Teigan and Sam, who braved the cold and wind on the exposed, rocky shore. We joked, hollered, and told stories as each image brought back beautiful visions of open faces and blue skies.
Though many obstacles had to be overcome to get there, all in attendance could agree that it was all worth it in the end. As the night came to an end and we all parted our separate ways, we couldn’t help but dream of the next session that would bring us back together on the lake.
Adam Breedon is a student at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay campus, and is Co-founder of the Lakehead University Great Lakes Surfing Club. He is studying Outdoor Recreation and Concurrent Education. Originally from Markdale Ontario, he didn't learn to surf until moving to Thunder Bay and getting out on Lake Superior. He coaches freestyle skiing all winter, plants trees in the summer and surfs whenever there's waves in between. Future plans include becoming a highschool teacher and starting his own outdoor based school. Find him on Instagram.