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The Reflection

Surfing the Great Lakes: Welcome to the Third Coast

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With the nearest access to the ocean in Maryland ten hours away, surfing as a summer pastime in Kalamazoo Michigan is a rarity. However, surfers are now surfing “the Third Coast” or The Great Lakes.

Small three foot waves crash against the sand dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan during the Summer of 2017. Photo taken by Lainie Scott

While Lake Michigan or Lake Superior can not reach wave heights of ten foot like Oahu, Hawaii, the waves can still reach up to six feet tall on a good day. Based on wind speed, wind direction, time, and weather, waves are able to change and form rapidly. Surfline takes these factors into account and offers surfers around the globe accurate surf condition predictions. Including in Michigan.

Growing with the increase of Michigan is surfing is Third Coast Surf Shop. In 2005 the owner Ryan Gerald opened the Michigan surf shop and has grown to two locations, one in St. Joe and the other in New Buffalo, Michigan.

Their mission is “to spread the joy and surfing lifestyle to the Great Lakes and beyond.” said Gerald. “Surfing is more than just a sport. Ask Kelly Slater.”

“We have a couple distinct markets; surfers and tourists,” said Gerald. “Surfers order through us (phone and web) and buy directly in store through the entire year, whereas tourists really only shop here on weekends in the spring and fall and throughout the summer.”

Compared to previous surf shops, Third Coast Surf Shop has more products and a wider selection.

Different boards are used for different wave conditions and different skill levels. It fit every surf condition and skill level, they carry all six types of surfboards.

“The most popular is the Short Board,” said Gerald. This is a high performance board that works best on 

bigger waves and is recommended to intermediate and advance skill sets. The second most popular board is the Longboard. The Longboard “is the most traditional surfboard shape,” said Gerald. “Because of how long the board is, it is easier to catch any size wave, and is highly recommended for beginners.”

A Funboard is almost like a Longboard, but tends to be shorter, ranging from “6 to 8 feet” said Gerald. The Fish “is shorter, wider and flatter than a shortboard and works very well in small mushy surf.” The Gun surfboard is very narrow and allows the surfer to paddle faster and surf faster on waves.

Finally, there is the Hybrid.

“The Hybrid is a mix of two surfboard designed into one, allowing different features to change how you surf and what you surf.,” said Gerald.

All of these different kind of surfboards are at Third Coast Surf Shop along with leash equipment, travel bags, wax, repair kits, and wetsuits.

“We want to have everything a surfer would need, not half,” said Gerald.

Surfing in the Great Lakes is almost as dangerous as surfing the ocean according to Gerald. Your only worries are “rock bottoms, your or someone else’s surfboard, rip currents, jetties and piers, dirty water, and cold air and water,” said Gerald. “Hypothermia could be a  due to cold air and/or water is a very real concern. Hence, the importance of wearing the right wetsuit and gear! But at least we don’t have sharks.” 


Lainie Scott

This is my senior year at Gull Lake High school, and my second year apart of The Reflection staff.  This year I am the feature/entertainment editor, and I am looking forward to see where my writing can take me.


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