There’s something romantic and adventuresome about gliding across Lake Michigan swells with only a paddleboard between you and the moody deep. As summer fades, autumn unfolds a new backdrop for mastering northern waters and joining the community of standup paddleboard enthusiasts ensues.
The sport rides a wave of popularity, but as water recreation goes, it’s a relative newcomer on the scene — and we have Beryl and Frank Skyrocki to thank.
The couple opened the first full-service surf shop in Michigan in 2004 in Empire. Their Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak fueled the birth of the Up North surfing community. In 2007 the two attended a Surf Expo at Orlando, Florida. They came home with three of the earliest modern stand-up paddleboards produced, eager to introduce the sport to Midwest water lovers.
“We would paddle and play in the waves in front of Empire,” Beryl said. “But we could not pay someone to try them. People were intimidated.”
She said three years later influencers adopted stand-up paddleboarding and it caught on like wildfire.
The glory days of fall stage its own twists for SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) adventures “The Platte River is really fun, especially when the salmon are running,” Beryl said. “The river is chock full of them.”
Skyrocki’s shop typically offers a September Full Moon Paddle group event, weather permitting. “We make sure the moon is coming up at the right time compared to sunset,” she said. “It’s really quite magical.”
Paddle Antrim, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the water resource of the100-plus-mile Chain of Lakes Water Trail is equally onboard with promoting the thrills of autumn paddling.
“We love paddling in the fall,” said the organization’s Executive Director Deana Jerdee. “The majority of motorized boats are off the water and they’re quieter and calmer.”
An opportunity to view the Albatross shipwreck from your SUP highlights the water trail, which links 12 lakes and interconnected rivers. A DNR launch at Elk Rapids Rotary Park serves as a key Chain of Lakes trailhead. With just a few paddles from the launch it’s possible to see the sunken tug resting in shallow waters. The tug was in service between 1880 and 1916.
The annual Paddle Antrim Festival hosted by the organization celebrates all paddling sports. This year’s event takes place Sept. 15 to 17. About 200 paddlers will gather to tread routes ranging from seven to 42 miles.
“The appeal includes camaraderie, meeting new paddlers and a sense of community and safety,” Jerdee said.
Experienced paddlers gather in Frankfort Oct. 8 to 9 for the Inspiration Point Downwind Race. Hosted by the Kalamazoo-based nonprofit 4the22 — Bringing Balance to Life, the event honors the military, first responders and their families. It messages the fact that more than 22 veterans are lost to death by suicide every day.
SUPers from as far away as California and Florida compete in 10 to 14-mile races. Routes follow the Lake Michigan shoreline between Arcadia and Empire.
All paddlers are vetted before taking on the challenging autumn lake conditions. “We’re expecting three to five-foot waves,” said 4the22 founder and President Josh Flath.
Over in Williamsburg, advocacy and education is the heart of the Stand Up for Great Lakes organization. The nonprofit is best known for their Great Lakes crossings, which began in 2015 with the paddle crossing of Lake Michigan, followed by lakes Huron, Superior and Erie.
Crossing events raised a total of $39,000 supporting the Great Lakes Alliance, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research. Additionally, a fifty-mile Chain of Lakes paddle joined by 50 paddlers raised $13,000 in 2020 for Paddle Antrim’s initiatives keeping area waters pristine.
Every fall, Stand Up for Great Lakes takes its education program to Cherryland Middle School students in Elk Rapids. Students learn paddling, water safety and respect for the water
“One of our main missions at Stand Up for Great Lakes is protecting it for future generations, which means showing the beauty, but also some of the negative issues threatening the water,” said Kwin Morris, organization co-founder.
Morris isn’t one to relinquish paddling fun come autumn. “A favorite spot is Torch River/Torch Sandbar in Rapid City,” he said. “The fall colors are spectacular and the wildlife never disappoints.”
Paddling the water wonders of northern Michigan is about joy, connecting to people and nature and going the distance in responsibility and sustainability.
“In a world of social media,” Morris said, “showing the world these special places is going to be important for the longevity of the place we are lucky enough to call home.”
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