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Surfing in the Dunes’ Backyard

Submitted by: Jessica Campbell

After two surfing lessons, lead by a professional drifting in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nantucket, Chuck Hurst was ready to take his new skill back home. Born and still living in Chesterton, Dr. Charles Hurst is the face of Hurst Orthodontics. He is also known as the father of two Chesterton High School graduates, who took after their father with their love of swimming and the water. A Duneland Masters competitor, the only time this guy is not in a suit, a swimsuit I mean, is at the office.

One day about seven years back, Chuck came home to find the eight-foot long box he ordered online from California waiting for him on his doorstep. Eagerly opening up his first surfboard, he began waxing it frantically while his wife Brenda Hurst stood over him, shaking her head in wonderment.

Chuck has since become one of many brave, extreme-sport enthusiasts who spend their chilly mornings out on their surfboards on Lake Michigan. One of this group includes his son Andy, an avid surfer as well.

Chuck calls himself a “mini meteorologist” and when you take a look at his laptop and cell phone, you’ll understand why. Bookmarked pages will bring up the live camera overlooking the beachfront in Michigan City, St. Joe, Portage, and many more.

“Wind stations and markers float in the middle of the lake, where they will give you wave height and direction and most important, wave period or the distance or number of seconds between each wave,” he said. He also looks at wind and water temperature and wind direction and speed.

Without exposing too many of his secrets, Chuck told me of one special place to surely get some rad waves.

The lakefront in Whiting has one of the top spots because the beachfront sticks so much out into the water. With a north wind coming right at the land, the wind refracts around the water, forcing the waves up and around the land toward the east side of the beach.

What keeps the sport of Great Lake surfing pretty minimal is the extreme conditions it entails. What makes the best waves on the lake Chuck says is the type of wind that is the most dense, which translates to cold wind and cold air.

“The best time is in the fall and winter and usually the first half of winter,” Chuck said. “Summer, you rarely have anything. That’s why you see these guys surfing in high-tech wetsuits.”

“Aren’t you freezing?” is the typical question he gets after telling people he spent the morning of Super Bowl Sunday out on the lake, but he honestly tells them “No.”

The type of wetsuit he wears is made for the near freezing water and air. The head flaps over and secures and there are gloves and boots that suction to his skin. The suit is warm enough that steam from his body rises out when he takes it off.

“You get cold once you stop moving and you’re trying to open your car with those gloves on,” Chuck said, laughing.

Much of the equipment he needs, such as multiple surfboards and new wetsuit pieces, Chuck purchases with the help of those at local surfing shops like Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo, Michigan.

“They do an awesome job in supporting the surf community,” Chuck said.

Chuck is also a member of two different Facebook groups called Lake Michigan Surfing and the Great Lakes Surfing Association. The latter is known for its emphasis on teaching water conservation and safety, whether surfing on the lake or just visiting for a swim.

“It is dangerous when you don’t know what you’re doing, but you start to grow what you need to know,” he said. “I will never tell anyone ‘Oh you never surfed before? Well, this 12-degree day is the perfect day to learn. I would never recommend anybody who isn’t comfortable with the water to learn how to surf on the Great Lakes.”

So what does surfing on Lake Michigan actually look like?

“There is a lot of churned up, jumbled shit,” Chuck said laughing. “They can be gnarly. But it’s fun and there’s some beautiful days when the sun is coming up and you’re bouncing on your surf board and there are four to five other fools out there with you… it can be really gorgeous.”

Andy and Chuck Hurst. Just a typical day after surfing on Lake Michigan!

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