Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 2, 2011

Chills, thrills riding the waves in Frankfort

Surfing on the Big Lake is a great feeling

By TJ Darling
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — While sitting in class the afternoon of Nov. 30, 2010, I received a text from my dad that Lake Michigan was producing waves. I got really excited; the rest of the school day seemed to be a blur. The next thing I remember was going home, grabbing my board, hopping in my dad's truck, and heading off to the Frankfort pier.

When we got there, a few guys were already surfing. There was a cool autumn breeze coming out of the east. The air was a chilly 45 degrees; the water was about the same.

I slipped into my cold, thick wet suit and slipped on my booties, gloves and face protector. I finished zipping on my wet suit and helped my dad and brother with theirs.

I started with a jog and, when I caught first sight of a big set, I began to run in the hopes that I would be on the next one. The wind whipped at my face, the sand pelted my wet suit.

I reached the pier as one of my friends was getting out of the water. "Pretty amazing" were his exact words. I replied, "Looks great" and rushed out on the pier to the second ladder. Gingerly, I made my way down the ladder to the water's edge.

As soon as my toes hit the ice cold water, they cringed. I jumped in, and instantly the water felt like small needles penetrating my skin.

The waves at Frankfort on a good day break past the elbow of the pier. Today was one of those days. On a flat day the paddle would take only a couple minutes, but today there were massive walls of icy cold white water (that is what happens after the wave breaks into white foam). When the white water hit my face and body, it sent a shock wave up my spine and made my teeth chatter.

When I finally made it out to the lineup, where surfers sit and wait for waves to come, the waves were huge, peaking at about 8 feet.

As I sat there on my board, I began to think about how amazing this was that I was surfing in November in one of the Great Lakes. I looked to my left and saw the waves crashing and washing over the pier. The smell of fish and cold autumn were lurking in the air. I looked to my right and there was a seagull trying to stay in the air.

Suddenly there was a slight sucking feeling at my feet; behind me was a huge wave heading directly for me. I turned and paddled as hard I could, rose to my feet and made a big turn down the face of the wave. It felt like I was flying.

The spray from the wave filled the air around me like an early morning mist. Another turn now, I walked toward the front of the board and began to go faster. The best feeling in the world trickled up my spine. The wave eventually got smaller and then died at the beach where I hopped off my board.

I walked over to my dad and some of his friends who had just watched my ride. I got a couple high fives and a "that was sick, man" from one friend. But none of that mattered to me; all I knew was that I had just ridden the greatest wave of my surfing career.

TJ Darling won second place in the Bruce Catton Historical Essay Contest for this essay.