6: Surfing The Great Lakes (with Larry Larsen)

This episode of Get Out and SURF is for anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to surf on the Great Lakes. Meet Larry Larsen, a local surfer from Muskegon, Michigan who has been surfing Muskegon and the rest of the Great Lakes since 1966. Larry answers all of our questions about what it’s like to be a Great Lakes Surfer. This episode is so cool, I’m packing my bags and ready to go surf Lake Michigan (just gonna wait until it warms up a little bit!)

Sorry for any extra background noise. Our recording studio is located upstairs above the brewery and it was open while we were recording.

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Email questions or comments to getoutandsurfCR@gmail.com
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See you surfing, pura vida!
Joe Walsh

Links from the show:

Witch’s Rock Surf Camp

Great Lakes Surf Festival
https://www.greatlakessurffestival.com

Wet Mitten Surf Shop
https://www.wetmittensurfshop.com

Third Coast Surf Shop
https://www.thirdcoastsurfshop.com

Great Lakes Surfer’s Journal
https://greatlakessurfersjournal.com

Chicago Chapter of Surfrider Foundation
https://www.chicago.surfrider.org

Unsalted (surf movie)
https://amzn.to/2th5rQ1

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Edmund_Fitzgerald#Final_voyage_and_wreck

Music
Artist: Atlas Genius
Song: Trojans

Audio transcription:

Joe Walsh:
Hey, hey, this is Joe Walsh, coming to you from Tamarindo, Costa Rica with the Get Out and SURF podcast. This week, we’re talking all about surfing in the Great Lakes. Sitting here with special guest, Larry Larsen. Welcome to the show, Larry.
Larry Larsen:
Thanks for having me, Joe.
Joe Walsh:
Super stoked to have you on the show, and we’ve got Niki Hurren.
Niki Hurren:
Good afternoon gentlemen, very happy to be here.
Joe Walsh:
Very happy to have you as well, Niki. So, surfing in the Great Lakes. We have a lot of questions. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions, and before we start digging into the details of the surf, I want to get a little bit of a background. Well, actually I should start by saying that we’re recording on a brew day, upstairs at the Volcano Brewing Company brewery, and you might hear a glycol chiller or a pressure washer. I think we’re transferring some of our IPA right now into a fermentor.
Niki Hurren:
Yeah, we are on our brew day of our IPA. We sell a lot of it, so we have to make a lot of it. But that’s what we are, a period production facility at the brewery.
Joe Walsh:
I don’t think we actually ever mentioned that we put the recording studio, if you want to call it a recording … I mean, it is recording studio. It’s basically just an office with a bunch of foam mats taped to the wall to get the echo down, but it’s right above brewery and that’s I think the most important part.
Larry Larsen:
It smells great in here.
Niki Hurren:
It smells good in here, and I’ve got a nice IPA right beside me, so that’s good.
Joe Walsh:
Maybe we should start getting bands to come down here and record, that’d be pretty sweet. Ever thought about that?
Niki Hurren:
Yeah, we will, but maybe not while we’re recording.
Joe Walsh:
Of course. And when there’s no wave either. Okay. We’re talking about the Great Lakes. Larry Larsen, first off, where are you from?
Larry Larsen:
Muskegon, Michigan.
Joe Walsh:
And is that where you surf?
Larry Larsen:
Yes, most of the time.
Joe Walsh:
I know you quite well because we’ve been surfing together for years, you come down to Costa Rica. You’ve been coming down for 20 years?
Larry Larsen:
20 years, yes.
Joe Walsh:
All right. Yeah, just like that. How long have you been surfing? When did you start?
Larry Larsen:
I started 53 years ago.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. So that’s 1966?
Larry Larsen:
Correct.
Joe Walsh:
See, that’s fast math.
Larry Larsen:
I taught myself.
Joe Walsh:
Really? Well, tell us about it. How did you get into surfing? That’s what really I want to know.
Larry Larsen:
Well, actually it’s an interesting story. Back in the 60s, the beach boys were popular, there were a few magazines around, so I happened to pick up a copy of Surfer magazine, and I literally wore the ink right off the pages. I mean, I was mesmerized by it, and I knew that that was going to be my passion. So, I saved up a few dollars and I contacted [inaudible 00:02:30] Surf in Hollywood, California, and bought a foam surfboard. I think it cost about as much to ship it as it did to buy it. Anyway, that came in the mail and it was literally in two pieces. That’s how I figured I got it so cheap.
Joe Walsh:
It had been destroyed in shipment or-
Larry Larsen:
No, that’s the way it was. There was a pipe running through it like you’d use for plumbing.
Joe Walsh:
Oh, like one of those old pop bisect boards?
Larry Larsen:
Well, no, that was well before that, this is just a piece of foam with a pipe in it, that was cracked in half. So, we taped it together and brought it down to the beach, and started paling around on it. So, we figured out how to catch a wave-
Niki Hurren:
And it had fins and everything or-
Larry Larsen:
It had a fin, yeah.
Niki Hurren:
Had a fin, yeah.
Joe Walsh:
So, kind of like a foam, like a soft board material?
Larry Larsen:
Yup, and it was a little beaded foam. So, if you tried to put any [inaudible 00:03:16] or anything like that then it ate it up. Although we ended up [crosstalk 00:03:20] afford duck tape.
Niki Hurren:
That is literally bolstering.
Larry Larsen:
Anyway, I drag her down to the beach and figured out how to ride it, and then saved up a little more money and got a real surfboard, a Dowie Webber.
Joe Walsh:
And this is in Muskegon?
Larry Larsen:
This in in Muskegon, which is on the west coast of Muskegon.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. So, you as a kid, were reading all the surf mags and there was an ad for this surfboard that you then bought through a mail order form or something?
Larry Larsen:
No, I saw the ad in Surfer magazine, and I called them up and said, “I’ve got 50 bucks, can I get a board?” And they said, “Sure, kid.”
Joe Walsh:
That’s awesome.
Larry Larsen:
So they sent it and we got it, got through one season with it and then saved some more money and bought a Dowie Webber.
Niki Hurren:
Was there a group of you guys or was it just you? Or do you and your friends share that one board?
Larry Larsen:
Initially, I shared it with several of my friends until we figured it out, but at the same time, I was 16 at the time, there were several five or six other guys that were a little older than me that surfed at the next beach breakdown, and they probably started a year ahead of me. [inaudible 00:04:26] jump, and then as soon as I figured it out, then I went down to the public beach and started hanging around with those guys.
Joe Walsh:
What’s the main surf spot there in Muskegon?
Larry Larsen:
Right at the public part, Pure Marquette Park.
Joe Walsh:
Oh, where the Jedi is?
Larry Larsen:
Well, actually, Muskegon is a deep harbor facility, and there is a channel that goes from Lake Michigan into Muskegon Lake, that ocean freighters come in, cold boats come in, it can handle up to 1000 foot freighter. Anyway, because of the channel, then on both sides of the channel going into Muskegon Lake, there is a dog legged arm that goes out in each side, a big break wall. So if the waves, and they typically would come when they’re good, either from the north northwest or south southwest, so you get this wrap around the dog leg brick wall, and it cuts the wind off and it cleans the swell up, so you can get some pretty decent waves on the inside, there on in the second, third sandbar.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. So, you started surfing on literally foam with a pipe?
Larry Larsen:
Correct.
Joe Walsh:
And then you got your first hardboard in about 1966, ’67, something like that?
Larry Larsen:
Yeah.
Joe Walsh:
And you’ve been living in Muskegon this whole time surfing for the last 53 years?
Larry Larsen:
Pretty much, with the exception of coming down here for the last 20 years. I spent 15 years prior to coming to Costa Rica in Aruba, and started doing some wind surfing there, and then surfing started catching on there, and the guys that were instructors in the wind surfing side had a couple of surf board, so we started taking those out there. And now surfing’s popular there as well as kiting and windsurfing.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. I guess that brings us into talking about the surfing, ’cause really that’s all the questions that I’ve got lined up. Now, I want to know about the waves. The pictures I see, I mean, there’s some shots with beautiful backgrounds, just beautiful trees. It looks like maybe it’s autumn time. I see a lot of photos of the winter, see pictures of people with just giant icicles coming off their face. I drove cross country up north once, I went to New Buffalo, and there was waves and I was there, I couldn’t get a board. It was like a Sunday, and the local shop was closed. I mean, it was like chest high, but the periods, it was pretty fast. And then, I also heard there’s waves down in Indiana. So, from Minnesota to Wisconsin, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Indiana, what’s going on up there? What’s it like to be a Great Lake surfer? That’s what I want to know.
Larry Larsen:
Well, if you’re hardcore, and you want to bear the cold conditions and end up with ice in your hair, ice in your beard, you’ll find waves and the periods will be longer than … water’s colder.
Joe Walsh:
So the winter months?
Larry Larsen:
Yeah.
Joe Walsh:
That would be the best time of the year?
Larry Larsen:
Well, some people say it is. Personally, that’s why I’m here in Costa Rica.
Joe Walsh:
So, what’s your favorite time of year to surf the Great Lakes area-
Larry Larsen:
My favorite time of the year is in the fall. The water is still relatively warm, we get these big lows that come out of Canada that generate … with a low pressure, it generates more wave than it does in the spring when the water’s cold with a high pressure. Typically, high pressures, you rarely get waves out of them. But the lows, when that barometer starts dropping and you see the models coming out of Canada, thanks to the coast guard and Noah, they’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen. So, then guys say, “Okay, it’s going to be a big northerly.” And they’ll start to head south on the lake to the Indiana, New Buffalo, South Haven, St. Joe area, or the reverse of that [crosstalk 00:08:17] south westerly, they’ll go up to Frankfurt or even up to the Upper Peninsula.
Joe Walsh:
Got It. So basically, the sides of the lake where you would want to go to surf depends on which way the wind front is coming from?
Larry Larsen:
Correct. The longer the fetch, the bigger the wave and the bigger period.
Joe Walsh:
How much of a heads up do you have before the waves hit when you can have a pretty fair certainty that you’re going to get some surf?
Larry Larsen:
Well, sometimes it’s a couple of days, depending on the size of the storm and the direction. Sometimes it’ll happen overnight. Now, with electronics availability of Lake Boise, so you can watch the Boise, and figure out the wind direction, the swell size, the spacing between, the fetch between the swells, et cetera. Lake surfers are watching that constantly and communicating with each other via text or emails or whatever. So, there’s a hotline where people will say, tomorrow it’s going to be here or we think it’s going to be here, and they all show up.
Niki Hurren:
But how did you do it back in the day before the internet and before everything else? Was it just hit and hope, or what was your formula?
Larry Larsen:
Well, you hope to blue like hell, and when it did, and you hoped it was from the north or the south and then you went down to the beach and hope for the best.
Joe Walsh:
What kind of wave forecasting tools do you use? What are the best tools for the Great Lakes as far as telling you when there’s going to be swell?
Larry Larsen:
Well, probably watching the NOAA Boise, it’s the most accurate, I mean, Magic Seaweed is even forecasting up in the Great Lakes now, and you can watch that as well. But I’m old school, I get up, here’s the wind blowing, I look out my window and if there’s waves, it’s like here, I go.
Joe Walsh:
Turn on the weather radio.
Larry Larsen:
They still have those?
Joe Walsh:
I don’t know. I had a roommate in college that had one and it was old then. So, I’m not sure. Maybe if we were stranded on an island we might have one, that’d be our only connection. But that would be really bad actually, stranded on an island with great ways and having no surfboard. I’d be getting a piece of foam from something, whether it would wash up, and be like you.
Larry Larsen:
Chopping trees down.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, whatever. Definitely, I’d be log surfing, I’d be palm tree surfing. You explained that there’s some brick walls, so I can understand that probably shelters wind inside of the Jedi’s, you’ve got more manageable surf during windy or stormier conditions. Is the bottom … it all sand? Is it mud? What’s the bottom? Are there rocks? Is there any points? What’s the topography of … I mean, the Great Lake has something like 10,000 miles of coastline?
Larry Larsen:
Correct?
Joe Walsh:
And when I heard that, well, I got excited really, ’cause it seems like there’s a lot of potential for waves.
Larry Larsen:
When you’re talking about the Great Lake, it’s a freshwater sea, when you look at all five Great Lakes. It’s an inland sea when you put them all together, and it is the largest freshwater body in the world when you combine the lakes, and as you mentioned, was the shoreline. But the topography of the bottom, particularly along the west shore of Lake Michigan is primarily sand, beautiful beach sand and white beach sand. You get into some areas in northern Michigan, particularly in the Upper Peninsula, where you’ll start to get into rock bottom shelves, stuff like that. Over on the Wisconsin side, they weren’t as blessed, they ended up with all of the rock and we got all the sand. So, their breaks are different over there. There’s a more of a point break, but one thing that’s interesting about the Great Lakes particularly when you get into Northern Michigan, is there’s a number of bays that if you get the right swell direction, you can get some really a sweet swell breaking in those areas.
Joe Walsh:
Wow. And so, I imagine that underwater, the rock structure causes the waves to break in different way. I mean, I’m only used to surf in the ocean, so I’ve never surfed in a lake. But as you know, we get these sandbars and sometimes they’ll move a little bit. Does that happen in the Great Lakes or-
Larry Larsen:
It definitely does.
Joe Walsh:
So, you have sandbars that shift.
Larry Larsen:
Our sandbar shift seasonally, because typically, the sandbars are created by the icebergs. So when the icebergs form, then as the waves wash up against the icebergs, it’ll drop the sand, so you’ll have the first sandbar, second sandbar, third sandbar in some areas, and some areas where there’s not as much sand moving, and maybe there’s a little more clay, you will have more of a consistent bottom with the ups and downs.
Joe Walsh:
I mean, you said iceberg, and so now I’m thinking about the pictures I saw of the guys with the icebergs on their face on their icicles. How cold does it get in the winter? I mean, is it really that … are icebergs floating around?
Larry Larsen:
Of course.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. I thought that was a silly question, but I guess it’s true.
Niki Hurren:
No, of course, it’s true. I mean, I think technically it’s called fucking cold. It’s pretty much like … I grew up on the east coast of England in the south, but it does get cold. And the thing, it’s a small sea. The North Sea is a small city, so it does get cold, but it doesn’t get that cold and we don’t have anything. Our sandbars are not formed by icebergs.
Joe Walsh:
So there’s icebergs floating in the Great Lakes in the winter?
Larry Larsen:
Yes. And then occasionally, if you’ve got an extremely cold winter, a sustained cold winter or the water cools off enough and Lake Michigan, it’ll completely freeze over. But that’s only happened a handful of times.
Joe Walsh:
And for not very long?
Larry Larsen:
Yeah. There’s just too much water moving-
Joe Walsh:
Okay, so that’s very cold. I looked at the water temp today, and it was 36 degrees. And People are surfing maybe today up there?
Larry Larsen:
Could be.
Joe Walsh:
I guess that’s a five mill, six mil. I don’t even know. I don’t even know how many mil latitudes to make after that.
Niki Hurren:
That obviously, just told me you’re talking hooded wetsuit, boots and gloves.
Larry Larsen:
Oh, definitely.
Niki Hurren:
That whole, and trying not as duck dive as little as you possibly can.
Larry Larsen:
Well, yeah. I mean, it’s like having somebody throw a bucket of ice into your face.
Niki Hurren:
Oh, that sounds-
Larry Larsen:
Time, after time, after time.
Niki Hurren:
And you have to call it fun.
Larry Larsen:
Yeah. Well I actually, I had a friend in Grand Haven, we were up surfing back in the 60s together, and he was one of the first guys to start surfing in the winter. He’d walk out and jump off the icebergs, and he was out there surfing and there were chunks of ice floating around the size of [Volkswagens 00:15:02]. That’s all great, until you went, how do you get out? Who throws you the rope?
Joe Walsh:
Sounds like Shiverpool in the movie Surf’s Up. So, is it … because I just drove to New Buffalo, it’s literally the only time I went and saw the surf on the Great Lakes. But there’s 10,000 miles … more than 10,000 miles of coastline. Is the beach access pretty easy? Link to the route of the road networks, follow the lakes? Is there a lot of private property that you can’t get through to get to spots? What’s the deal?
Larry Larsen:
Well, there’s a good amount of public access through city parks, state parks, federal parks, county parks, and certainly, there’s a lot of privatized areas. One in particular, we used to surf, it was called Port Sheldon, which was between Grand Haven, Michigan in Holland, Michigan, and the best break was a private area.
Joe Walsh:
What made it more ideal to surf there?
Larry Larsen:
Well, it had a small break wall and the bottom had a little bit of clay mixed into it, and so it was more of a consistent sloping bottom. So, when the waves break, they break all the way in instead of this up and down stuff with [inaudible 00:16:30] sandbars.
Joe Walsh:
So can you hike along the shoreline or is it private?
Larry Larsen:
Well, there were private homes along there. We’d find a spot to park our car up on the main road and then we’d just walk along with our surfboards and say, “Well, it doesn’t look anybody’s home here.” And take a flying run through their yard, because it wasn’t so bad going … If we made it to the beach, we were there. We don’t worry about getting back.
Joe Walsh:
It sounds like us, Niki and I, had a recent surf trip.
Niki Hurren:
Yeah. We had to get find some beach access pretty much.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, that happens. And then, is most of the coastline developed or is it mostly open along the Great Lakes? Is that a hard question to answer?
Larry Larsen:
There’s not a lot of property for sale, let me put it that way, that I’m aware of. It’s either developed for residential or there is large blocks of land that would be owned by the state or the national park system.
Joe Walsh:
Got It. It’s Waterfront real estate, so it’s inside. Unless it’s government owned, it’s going to be developed.
Larry Larsen:
Right.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. Is there any wildlife that you have to worry about when you’re surfing?
Larry Larsen:
Besides Niki?
Joe Walsh:
No.
Niki Hurren:
Well, I’m not going to [inaudible 00:17:48]. You have to pardon me around here. [inaudible 00:17:49]
Larry Larsen:
Oh, you’ve been described as wildlife.
Joe Walsh:
Like polar bears or reindeers, or arctic fox.
Larry Larsen:
Actually, if you were surfing in the Upper Peninsula, there’s a point break that sticks out directly down the lake to the south, and guys go up there and camp. If there’s a swell coming, then they’ll spend two, three days up there. You need to make sure you … where you put your food because there’s bears up there, so you go on surfing and come back to your camp and all your food’s go on, or your trunk’s ripped apart because of beer, your honey or whatever.
Joe Walsh:
You’re going to be wearing trunks. You’re not going to be wearing trunks. Okay, so you got some bears.
Larry Larsen:
Yeah. So, there’s a little bit of wildlife, but nothing threatening.
Joe Walsh:
Nothing in the water.
Larry Larsen:
The Zebra mussels, but other than that, that’s it.
Joe Walsh:
Zebra mussels, what are those?
Larry Larsen:
They’re a little tiny clams, maybe the size of your thumbnail. They were brought in by several of the ocean freighters up through the St. Lawrence Seaway, and they cling to rocks or wood or metal or anything, and their shells are like razor blades. So, if you have to get up on some rocks or something, you get in and out of the water or across sea, paddle across the channel and get up onto the rocks, you could walk on these little things, and you don’t realize it. It’s like walking on razor blades. They’ve purified the water, and they’re not quite as prevalent as they were a few years ago, but there’s still something to be dealt with.
Niki Hurren:
Well, you say they purified the zebra clams … zebra, sorry. Zebra, not Zebra. Sorry, my English coming out of there. Zebra clams, purifying the water. Obviously, it’s a big difference between … well, I imagine there’s a big difference between surfing in freshwater and also seawater. I mean, what are the main differences, if any?
Larry Larsen:
The biggest difference, that’s obvious to me, particularly where I surf, is I can drink the water when I’m surfing.
Niki Hurren:
I thought you were joking.
Larry Larsen:
No, I’m not.
Niki Hurren:
So, you can be surfing and then just drink the water?
Larry Larsen:
Yeah.
Niki Hurren:
Really? Do you pee in the water when you surf?
Larry Larsen:
Pee in my wetsuit.
Niki Hurren:
And then you drink it?
Larry Larsen:
Not out of the wetsuit.
Joe Walsh:
My swimming pool’s got plenty of water. It’s pretty dilute.
Niki Hurren:
Well, not with the Great Lake, they’ve got huge amount of water.
Joe Walsh:
You’ve peed in my pool?
Niki Hurren:
Yeah, man.
Joe Walsh:
What’s up with that dude?
Niki Hurren:
Well, I needed to go.
Joe Walsh:
There’s a bathroom right there in the pool house.
Niki Hurren:
I know, but you’ve peed in your pool.
Joe Walsh:
I’ve never peed in my pool.
Niki Hurren:
Get out of here, you’ve got your-
Joe Walsh:
I don’t pee in my pool.
Niki Hurren:
Oh well.
Larry Larsen:
Did he pee in your pool?
Niki Hurren:
I don’t have a pool so …
Larry Larsen:
You’re sure?
Niki Hurren:
100% sure.
Larry Larsen:
Great.
Niki Hurren:
I don’t even have a bathtub.
Larry Larsen:
Now, there are certain times where you wouldn’t want to drink the water, but other times you can drink it. It’s fresh water.
Joe Walsh:
Wow. Okay. Tell me about the localism there. Is there localism? Is there surfers that don’t want this podcast coming out, that don’t want people showing up at their local brick? I mean, there’s gotta be some spots that are maybe little less friendly than others. What’s the scene like there?
Larry Larsen:
I think the overall vibe is real friendly, because there really aren’t that many of us, and it’s still more of a brotherhood. There are days when you get the younger kids, and the short boarders are on the inside of the break, and you get a little funky with them. But everybody tries to get along for the most part. Where I live over in Muskegon, people come up from Toledo, come over from Ann Arbor, Detroit, just for the daytime surf. I mean, they’ll drive all night to get over there and sometimes you think, well, what the fuck are they doing here? This is my beach. But as time goes on, and you realize how popular our sport is worldwide, it’s like, hey, why fight? We’ve got to figure out how to get along, and there’s a wave for everybody.
Joe Walsh:
If I was going to take a trip to the Great Lakes, where would you suggest that I go? Is there a more consistent … I guess probably depends on what the weather forecast is looking like.
Larry Larsen:
Yes. My suggestion would be, you’ve really got to watch the weather and be ready to travel. There’s been some really cool a YouTube videos that have been out, a friend of mine did a video … actually, a movie unsalted a number of years ago, and I mean, they were from St. Joe, New Buffalo, all the way up to Lake Superior chasing waves in the snow. So, it’s just a matter of trying to pick, I would say, your best odds are in the fall, again, lows come through and just to have somebody watching them, the weather and the barometer and the Boise, and then say, okay, probably next week, it looks like we’re going to get a big storm and show up.
Joe Walsh:
So if you’re flying from the west coast or the east coast, you got to wait and see what the weather’s doing because maybe you fly into Chicago, maybe flying to Milwaukee, maybe you’re going to Duluth?
Larry Larsen:
Yup. It’d be like when the guys started surfing mavericks, I mean, it’s flat as could be, all of a sudden, [inaudible 00:23:22] hits, everybody’s on a plane to get there. Well, [inaudible 00:23:24] was on a plane to get to Michigan or to the Great Lakes, but it’s the same, somewhat same phenomena where you just have to pay attention to the weather and hope.
Joe Walsh:
I was on Instagram checking out this Great Lakes Surfer’s journal, and there was these really awesome photos. Definitely check it out. I mean, it looked too good to be true, but I know that every spot has its moments. It looks really captivating, makes me want to go check it out. I know probably is pretty cool, the winter, so maybe I won’t go right now, but in the fall … I mean, obviously you need a wetsuit. I got that figured out. But what’s the best board for the conditions? It’s fresh water, the periods are probably not as buoyant, ’cause it’s fresh water-
Larry Larsen:
It’s not as buoyant, correct.
Joe Walsh:
So, I’m gonna need a board with a little more volume, and then are the waves top to bottom or they really mushy? Do I need a longer board?
Larry Larsen:
Well, I would say probably a mid sized board is a safe bet if you’re coming in. Again, it depends on where you’re going to surf, and what swell comes in. I’ve seen some Moroccan stuff where you’d want to be on a short board.
Joe Walsh:
I’ve seen some pictures where I’d want to be on a big wave gun. It looks like it can get really big in the Great Lakes, people don’t realize that.
Larry Larsen:
It can get 20 feet.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. That’s incredible. I would have never thought that. So, we’re talking-
Larry Larsen:
Sorry.
Joe Walsh:
Sorry.
Niki Hurren:
20 feet?
Larry Larsen:
Yeah.
Niki Hurren:
20 feet?
Larry Larsen:
Yeah. Actually 30 if you read the book. You wouldn’t want to be out there, Niki?
Niki Hurren:
No, no.
Larry Larsen:
There’s a period probably about six seconds [crosstalk 00:25:07] like that.
Joe Walsh:
It’s just a gale blow.
Niki Hurren:
Yeah, that’s what I mean, because-
Larry Larsen:
That’s the stuff that sinks ships.
Joe Walsh:
Those are called purple days, when the swell forecast is purple.
Larry Larsen:
But to get back to your question about places to surf, and some of the pictures that you’ve seen spanning over 50 years on the Great Lakes, I can’t count the days that are photographical that I’ve surf probably on one or maybe two hands. Sure, you mentioned to me years ago, but you always get your best surf in your backyard.
Joe Walsh:
True.
Larry Larsen:
And that’s true. I mean, I’ve always remembered that if you pay attention to where you live, you’ll end up getting some of the best waves you’ll ever get.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. You get to know your home break the best, the intimate details, and you come to understand your wife or your-
Niki Hurren:
No, I never understand my wife, that was a bad example. But it’s like home, it’s where you call your home. It’s like home, you know it.
Larry Larsen:
It’s like me with the river mouth. That sandbar makes a lot of sense. Actually, when we’re talking about wave size, one of my surfing buddies that I grew up with, he and I went out to date that the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in the Upper Peninsula, which was November 10th, I think of a 1975, and we were on the south side of the Muskegon break wall riding from the outer point all the way down the beach. So, we were out about the fourth sandbar and it was well over my head. In fact, I was riding a 410 or 411 fish, single fin. And I am just praying, God, don’t break loose, break loose, because it’s a long way in and a long way down. My good surfing buddy ended up being held down for like three or four sets, and shortly after that, he moved to Golden, Colorado. It doesn’t come back anymore, and I remind him about it all the time.
Joe Walsh:
That can be scary big. I didn’t realize how big it got, I didn’t realize you had icebergs. It sounds wild. I mean, I’ve seen pictures of guys surfing really good looking waves with these rust belt factories, spewing some smoke in the background and just a completely different set up than anything I’m used to, but equally interesting actually. I mean, just because it’s so different. It’s so different than what you normally see.
Larry Larsen:
Yeah. There’s still on the south end of the lake, [inaudible 00:27:48] Indiana, New Buffalo and to Chicago, that’s really industrialized down there. And those guys have got a whole set of problems that they are doing a great job trying to deal with the pollution coming out of some of the steel factories down there.
Joe Walsh:
Water quality.
Larry Larsen:
Exactly. There’s a surf rider out of Chicago, Mitch McNeil is really doing a good job on that course.
Joe Walsh:
Great, definitely check that out. I know that you appreciate the culinary arts. I’m going to go ahead and just bring this up, because I don’t know if it would come in the show, but whenever you come down, you’re so kind, you bring me some of your Sam’s famous Jalapeno cheese and I’m addicted to it. Is that what it’s called? Is this Jalapeno cheese or cheese … what’s the official name of that cheese?
Larry Larsen:
Well, it’s Sam’s famous bar cheese.
Joe Walsh:
Sam’s famous bar cheese, and it comes in these tubs and I can eat almost entire one in a football game.
Niki Hurren:
I never get to try it, and that’s why a pee in your pool. Because he gets it, and he just sits there and eats it and eats it, and eats it.
Joe Walsh:
That’s not true, Patrick always …
Niki Hurren:
Pat doesn’t have a pool either, so if he had a pool I’d pee in there as well but there you go.
Larry Larsen:
Nikki, I’ve seen Joe eat it with a straw.
Joe Walsh:
Get it in fast enough.
Niki Hurren:
And a toothpick.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, toothpick.
Larry Larsen:
I always use my finger, it doesn’t matter.
Joe Walsh:
Well, we’d have the radio shows down at the surf camp and you’d always show up with those, and I’d be sitting there, and sooner or later you’d pop it open.
Niki Hurren:
He couldn’t wait, he could even wait to get a fork or-
Joe Walsh:
I wish you had it here, we would it at the brewery. Because it’s a perfect companion for pretzels or chips, and they’re in the grocery stores all up in the-
Larry Larsen:
West Michigan area.
Joe Walsh:
Okay. So, you got to check that out, all of you West Michigan surfers listening to the show. In Muskegon, is there a home surf shop that you always go to? Like a shout out you want to give to anyone?
Larry Larsen:
Well, there’s a couple of west Michigan shops, so, Wet Mitten and Grand Haven, and they also have a location in Trevor city. They do a great job. My good friend Ryan Gerard is down in St. Joe, Benton harbor in Buffalo with Third Coast Surf Shop, and those guys are real core.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. Actually that’s the shop I went to, and they did a great job. The design in there, the layout. Well, when I look online and I look you up, you were the head surf instructor for the Great Lakes Surfing Festival last summer.
Larry Larsen:
Correct.
Joe Walsh:
Tell us about that. What was that all about?
Larry Larsen:
That was interesting. A good friend from Muskegon, West Michigan area [inaudible 00:30:26] came up with the idea of having the first Great Lake Surf Festival, which included surfing, supping yoga, kite boarding and kayaking. We had it at our public beach at Pere Marquette Park, and as you mentioned, I was the head surfing instructor. I had six young surf working underneath me, and we had I think over 100 people-
Joe Walsh:
Learning how to surf.
Larry Larsen:
Learning how to surf in one day. The interesting thing part about it is that unfortunately, that day there were no waves. But the water was warm and the sun was out and everybody was happy. So we hired a wake surfboard power boat, where they use the water [inaudible 00:31:14] and sync the transom. And when we were ready, they’d make four or five runs past the beach and create a foot or a foot and a half, two foot wave, and then we’d push one of the surfers into these waves and everybody was happy. I mean, if you’re on Lake Michigan, you’ve really never surfed before and you can stand up on a board, it’s pretty coolest thing.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah. Well, it sounds to me like what started as nobody at all surfing in the Great Lakes sounds like over the last 50 years has blossomed into a toll underground surf scene or not even underground. You’ve got this big festival that looked like it attracted a lot of people and was a real success.
Larry Larsen:
Well, I agree with you. We’re above ground now, definitely. We had over 500 people that showed up for the one day event, and there are more and more surfers all the time in the Great Lakes area. It’s amazing how far they drive.
Joe Walsh:
I got to say, I’ve got to give you mad props, you and every other Great Lake surfer, because knowing that you surf for those few days when it’s good, and surf conditions that are subpar, that in other parts of the world, people wouldn’t even paddle out in, and it’s freezing cold, and there’s snow on the ground, and there’s icebergs. That takes a true dedication to surfing, and it’s very respectable, because it’s easy to surf here in Costa Rica. You put on your trunks and some sunscreen, you get out there, boom. Even in southern California where I grew up, it’s not really that cold in the winter. You need a three, two, maybe a four, three, if you really want to be comfortable. But it’s pretty mild. The east coast surfers and really the Great Lakes surfers, that’s just a score, maybe even more because of the conditions and how rare you probably get those excellent days. So I commend you on that.
Larry Larsen:
Well, thank you.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, man, I think that’s why we wanted to have you on the show. It opens up my eyes to surfing in the Great Lakes, and-
Niki Hurren:
Well, those type of conditions, that’s what it’s about. If you happen to decide not to go on that day, and it could have been the best day that there is or has been for months, ’cause you spend a long time not going in the water. And you said you [inaudible 00:33:26] yourself in condition, but the least of these stop, and especially, all those years ago, because like I say, the [inaudible 00:33:33] all these amazing, and the thing’s much more dialed in for this type of mission surfing. But back in the day, Mike, however, I don’t know, and just to stick and stay with it, it’s just an unbelievable achievement. It shows real passion. So, it’s a real passion for surfing, it really does.
Larry Larsen:
Yeah. It makes me stoked just to see a budding surf scene in the Great Lakes, and to hear how it’s evolving and growing.
Niki Hurren:
And by the way, Larry reaps. Larry reaps.
Joe Walsh:
Yeah, we’d never know that you’re from the Great Lakes, Larry.
Larry Larsen:
Thank you.
Joe Walsh:
What’s your go to board?
Larry Larsen:
I’ve been riding a David Nueva 96 Noserider for the last 11 years. He shaped it for me, or he did the shape. It’s his design. It’s a great board. When you’re talking about the longevity of this thing, back when I started, my family … not so much, maybe my … well, my dad thought I was crazy. It was certainly all my uncles and cousins and friends, some other acquaintances, they just thought I was crazy. You can’t surf on Lake Michigan. It’s freezing, you can’t go out there, and on, and on, and on. Well, I persevered and that was over 50 years ago, and I’m still doing it. It’s my passion.
Joe Walsh:
Well, it’s a beautiful thing, and that’s what surfing does. You get infected, and the next thing you know, you paddle out in the middle of winter in the Great Lakes with icebergs, and if you’re lucky-
Larry Larsen:
Call it fun.
Joe Walsh:
Well, cool. All right. If the waves aren’t that great or if it’s flat, what else is there to do? What’s the craft beer scene like in Muskegon?
Larry Larsen:
It’s huge, the West Michigan area, I’ve been bringing publications down for Niki for the last few years, but it’s just exploding.
Joe Walsh:
All right, so you’ve got a cool craft beer scene, and sounds like there’s a couple of cool surf shops where you could pick up your local gear at Wet Mitten, and down at Third Coast at New Buffalo.
Larry Larsen:
Right. Now, there’s a good scene there. Beach volleyball is big, they have a lot of national titles or championships for that during the summer months and the local communities, sunsets are great, beer is cold. Don’t let the bears eat your food, and you’re in good shape.
Joe Walsh:
Well, right on, Larry. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Larry Larsen:
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Voiceover: Thanks for listening to the Get Out and SURF podcast, which is brought to you by Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo Costa Rica. Witch’s Rock is a surf resort located right on the beach with fun, warm waves right out in front. Go to witchsrocksurfcamp.com for everything you need for a great surfing vacation in Costa Rica. For more information about the Great Lakes Surf Festival, check out greatlakesfestival.com. If you’re in Western Michigan, make sure to stop by Wet Mitten Surf Shop in Grand Haven, and Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo. For a really cool surf publication, make sure to check out greatlakesurfersjournal.com, and for more information about the Surfrider Chapter in Chicago, go to chicago.surfrider.org. Hope you liked the show. The entire point here is to share really cool surfing stories from all over the world, and inspire you to get out there and surf some of those waves.
If you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe to the show, recommend it to anyone you know that likes to surf, and make sure to give us a review on iTunes. This way, more people find the podcast and our good surfing vibes will spread like wildfire. You could follow us on Instagram, @getoutandsurf. We’re posting some great photos of everything we’re talking about on the show and more. And Hey, that’s it. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you next Friday.

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