Can You Surf The Great Lakes? - Green Iguana Surf Camp

Can You Surf The Great Lakes?

If you’re looking for a place to surf but you are a bit far from the ocean – or it’s the wrong time of year – you might well be feeling that you’re missing out on some fun. However, did you know that you could surf the Great Lakes?

If this is news to you then you’re going to love this article – as it will tell you everything you need to know about surfing the Great Lakes!

How Is It Possible To Surf The Great Lakes?

The main reason that the Great Lakes are possible to surf is because of their absolutely colossal size! They are by far and away some of the largest inland bodies of water on the entire planet, larger than some countries. In fact, by volume the Great Lakes feature 21% of the world’s surface freshwater.

Not just that, but the Great Lakes actually have more coastline than both the east and west coasts of the United States put together! This means that you’re never going to be short of great places to surf on the Great Lakes.

And just because the Lakes aren’t the open ocean, don’t be fooled into thinking that you can’t get pretty impressive waves on them. The lakes are so big that they’re actually a little more like seas than lakes in the traditional sense.

You have to treat surfing on the Great Lakes a little differently to surfing on the open ocean, and you’ll certainly find that the weather conditions of the Great Lakes mean that you’ll have to prepare in much different ways than you would for ocean surfing.

However, if you’re looking to try surfing in a different environment, or the journey to the ocean is just too far for you but you still want to surf – then the Great Lakes could well be a fantastic option for you!

What Sort Of Weather Conditions Can I Expect?

It’s fair to say that you won’t be guaranteed to encounter the same sort of pleasant weather that you can get in some of the more popular coastal surfing areas. The best surfing conditions on the Great Lakes are when the weather is – to say the least – on the inclement side of things!

This is because waves on the Great Lakes are actually created almost entirely by wind swells. This is different to the ocean, as ocean waves are created by ground swells.

Groundswells exist on the open ocean because of their immense size in comparison to the Great Lakes. They occur when intense winds put pressure on the ocean surface. These waves start much bigger – but of course over thousands of miles dissipate, and can provide great smooth conditions for surfing by the time they reach the coastline.

The Great Lakes are large, but they’re of course nowhere near the size of an ocean. Therefore, waves on the Great Lakes are made by much closer winds, which means that the waves can definitely be choppier than ocean surfing can often be.

It also means that the best surfing conditions happen when the weather is windy – And unfortunately this also means that the water is often extremely cold. Fall and Winter are the best times to surf the Great Lakes – but that means you’ll have to deal with air temperatures potentially as low as -41 degrees Fahrenheit!

The best weather conditions to create waves for surfing on the Great Lakes are, in fact, storms! Of course you don’t want to be in the storm yourself, but a storm on the lakes could make for fantastic surfing.

What Time Of Year Is Best To Surf The Great Lakes?

As previously mentioned the best time of year to surf the Great Lakes is actually during fall and winter. This is of course different from ocean surfing, where you will often find the best conditions take place during the warmer months of the year.

No, unfortunately for fans of summer weather, you’ll have to make sure that you’re prepared for the cold if you’re intending to surf the Great Lakes. In fact, you’ll often find surfers braving not just cold weather and wind, but even snow to make their way to the best surfing spots.

This of course means that surfing the Great Lakes isn’t going to be for everyone. If you prefer to stay indoors during the winter months then you’ll probably have a far less pleasant experience in the water of the Great Lakes!

After all, with water temperatures that are barely above freezing, you’re likely to find yourself suffering headaches in the water – and coming out of the water in your wetsuit is going to be an experience you will not relish!

Where Are The Best Places To Surf The Great Lakes?

There are actually surf spots all over the Great Lakes. You can surf on every single one of them, and indeed, surfing the Great Lakes seems to be becoming even more popular all across the region. There are even some fantastic surfing spots In some of the larger cities on the lakes – for example in both Chicago and Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.

In fact there are so many fantastic places to surf on the Great Lakes that a list of them could take this entire article! Whichever lake you want to visit, you can be sure that you’ll be able to find plenty of fantastic surfing spots!

No matter where on the Great Lakes you decide to surf, of course make sure to check local weather conditions before doing so. That’s possibly more important than even the place that you choose – after all, it’s the weather conditions that make the waves!

What’s Different About Surfing The Great Lakes?

The first thing that you’ll notice that’s different about surfing the Great Lakes is that the weather and water are obviously in most cases far colder than you would find when surfing on the ocean. In fact, is it possible for the Great Lakes to get so cold that they freeze over – so, as winter often provides the best conditions for surfing, you’re always going to be on the line between very cold water and frozen water.

The other thing that you might notice that’s different about surfing the Great Lakes is that you’re less buoyant! This is because the Great Lakes are freshwater Lakes. And of course the waves are going to feel quite a bit different from the ocean waves that you may be more used to.

This is of course because of the fact that they are generated by wind swells and not ground swells. You might therefore find that the waves are rougher than you may be accustomed to.

When surfing the Great Lakes you should probably be extremely well prepared for cold and unpleasant weather. Make sure you have changes of clothes and ideally a nice warm place to change in.

However, if the idea of surfing on the Lakes is interesting to you, don’t be put off by the cold! If you’re really serious about surfing, then doing it on the Great Lakes is going to be something that you’ll be glad you experienced!

Some people come back to the Great Lakes for surfing year on year – so there’s definitely something there that’s worth putting up with the cold for!


For a surfing experience that’s a little different, the Great Lakes could well be absolutely perfect for you. You’ll have to put up with the cold, of course – but serious surfers will find that a trade that’s more than worth making!

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