The secret is finally out about Leelanau County in Northern Michigan. It seems that everyone is talking up this beautiful place that I am lucky enough to call home. With recent titles like “Most Beautiful Place in America” on Good Morning America, the “Country’s Best Kept Summer Secret” in Men’s Journal, or “the Hampton’s of Michigan” in Forbes Magazine, more tourists are flocking to the sleepy beach towns of Northern Michigan each summer. This may cause worry in some of the locals who think their small town life style is at stake. This also means more people are finding out about my favorite thing to do in Northern Michigan: surf!
I first learned about Great Lakes surfing when I was 16, and the moment I tried it I was hooked. That was 11 years ago when the Great Lakes surf community was tiny. Really, really tiny. People would laugh at you when you told them you were a Great Lakes Surfer. Now the scene is exploding. But unlike a crowded surf break on the ocean, where you hear of people being not so friendly about sharing their secret spots, the vibes here on the Lakes are always amazing. The laid back attitude in the line up mirrors the laid back energy of our local surf populous. Everyone is always amped to share the freshwater stoke. When waves only arrive with the luck of the wind there is no time for negativity. Just get stoked and get in!
The size and strength of the waves on the Great Lakes are dependent on the speed, wind direction and duration, as well as the contour of the bottom over which the waves are breaking. We were finally blessed with a strong SouthWest wind this week. I headed south on the legendary county road M-22, only having to slow down to pass through two amazing small town back destinations, Glen Arbor and Empire. As the evening sun broke through the clouds I arrived at the most popular surf break for SW winds, Frankfort. As it goes with fresh water surf, the waves were no where near as big as forecasted and the surf was crowded (20 people in the water). The power of fresh water waves is much different than that of the ocean’s waves. I had a hell of a time trying to catch them on my surfboard, but luckily I brought my Glide Retro along. The waves were clean and breaking despite their small size so it was perfect for an intro play session on my Glide SUP. It was so much fun! I’ve never been much of a SUP surfer before, but after playing on my Retro I am totally hooked. With the Retro I was able to catch so many small waves that would have been impossible on my longboard. I love this board and now I am praying for more windy forecasts to advance my SUP surfing skills.
Northern Michigan is also the perfect place for a downwinder adventure on the Retro SUP. A few weeks back, on the Fourth of July to be exact, a group of friends and I took a 6 mile downwinder cruise. We paddled to one of my favorite shipwrecks off the coast of Leelanau County, not far from the house. The Glide Retro was the perfect board for a day of chilling on the water, drinking beers and drifting with the wind. It was so stable that I don’t think I even spilled my beer once. 😉 Hooray for freedom!
The shipwrecks are still what I consider the hidden treasures of Leelanau County. Even with the massive influx of summer tourists, tenderly coined, ” Fudgies”, the wrecks remain a secret. Hidden beneath the crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan and scattered throughout the shipping channel of the Manitou Passage, the wrecks are a perfect day trip on paddle board. Bring a snorkel and you can really escape the crowds gathering along the coastline.
Along with big lake access, calling Leelanau County my home has many other benefits. There are a large number of inland lakes and flowing rivers to explore. I can find a secluded lake to paddle without a house or boat in sight. If feeling laid-back; there is alway time to find a river to carry you into the vast expanse of Lake Michigan.
With the recent media coverage that home has been receiving, locals worry that the “Up North” lifestyle may change (a phrase coined by the media). Despite the fear of rampant fudge infiltration, I know the peacefulness and solitude of this place will remain. Being geographically isolated in a peninsular state hours from any major urban hub, ensures that only the brave will venture North. Within our happy isolation, we boast a vast amount of protected national forest and coastline helping the landscape remain untouched. Our miserably cold and harsh winters preserve the slow, small town pace of life that truly defines this area. I believe it will always remain a gem, even afloat a sea of fudge.