By NICH WOLAK
Ben McNeil has seen the number of area surfers increase significantly since he graduated from Spring Lake High School in 2005.
The co-owner of Wet Mitten Surf Shop in Grand Haven wants you to know that the sport is not as extreme as you think it is.
“A lot of people think it’s a daredevil sport, but it’s really not,” McNeil said. “You can do it very safely. It’s more just people who really love the water, and want to stay in the water year round. That’s kind of a natural activity to go along with that.”
McNeil said that prospective surfers should make sure to consult someone who has an understanding of the currents and winds on Lake Michigan, and get a proper wetsuit. Spring should bring the waves necessary for some great surfing, but the water is always on the chilly side.
Kiteboarders want windy days with flat water, something a summer on Lake Michigan will surely provide.
“The Great Lakes are not necessarily undiscovered, but it’s still one of the lesser-known gems,” McNeil said. “You’ve got tons of wind in relatively protected water, compared to other kiteboarding areas. You get nice, windy, relatively flat-water days — which is ideal for kiteboarding.”
What McNeil said has really taken off recently, though, is paddleboarding.
“Paddling really opened up the surf market to all sorts of different people who wouldn’t have otherwise been involved. … It’s a little more laid back, (but) you can make it whatever you want,” he said. “Racing is getting pretty big. Paddlesurfing is getting pretty big.”
If surfing, kiteboarding or paddleboarding is too rich for your blood, the Tri-Cities area offers a different water sport — which has been main stream for a while now — kayaking.
“We are just absolutely surrounded by water that’s just beautiful,” said Karen Chapel, co-worker of Lakeshore Kayak Rental. “There’s so much opportunity to explore, whether it’s Lake Michigan, or the Grand River, or Crockery Creek. It’s just a great way to get away, to get in touch with nature.”
When it gets hot this summer, kayaking provides a way to enjoy the water while avoiding the crowds. Chapel recommended checking out one of the area’s many bayous.
“We are a tourist destination and everyone goes to the beach, but they don’t access all the water that we have,” she said.