By NATE THOMPSON
There’s no excuse to remain inactive during the late spring and early summer in the Tri-Cities, because the area’s abundance of waterways provides several fun activities that cap a leisurely evening with the family or even complete an intense core-body workout.
Standing up on a surf board and paddling to propel yourself across the water may sound difficult to an outsider, but once the activity is mastered, it’s a blast, says Grand Haven’s Kim Evans, who instructed hundreds of first-timers on the board last summer.
Evans said a key to enjoying the activity is to find a board that fits your body size. There’s a wide-variety to choose from at MacKite Surf Shop (106 Washington Ave., Grand Haven). A typical paddleboard is made of fiberglass or carbon fiber, is wider than a traditional surfboard, and ranges in length from 8 to 21 feet. For balance and to move the board through the water, a double-headed paddle is used.
Evans, who paddles on the water all year long, said the best time for newcomers to attempt the activity is early morning or late at night, when the wind typically dies down and creates calmer water conditions.
If newcomers are intimidated by venturing out on Lake Michigan, Evans also recommends Pidgeon Lake in West Olive, or on Pottawattomie Bayou in Grand Haven Township, or any of the area bayous, where sheltered waters create ideal paddling conditions.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than being on Lake Michigan on the board right before a sunset,” she said.
Evans will be offering her instructional class again throughout the summer for residents or visitors to the area. For more information, visit MACkite’s web site at mackite.com.
Surfing isn’t confined to the beaches of southern California. It’s becoming more and more popular on Lake Michigan, according to Ben McNeil, the co-owner of Wet Mitten Surf Shop (301 N. Harbor Ave., Grand Haven).
“It seems to have taken off a little more in the last five to 10 years as a totally viable, attainable board sport to participate in around here,” he said. “It’s no different than skateboarding or snowboarding.”
For those attempting surfing for the first time on Lake Michigan, McNeil suggests using a longer and wider surfboard, which are much easier to learn on.
“Depending on the size of the rider, you’ll want to be looking for something in the 7-6 to 9-6 range,” he said.
McNeil also suggests taking a lesson through a local shop or a friend who knows how to surf. He also suggests becoming familiar with the different currents and conditions on the lake before venturing out.
“A surf session can go south in a short amount of time if you haven’t obtained the necessary knowledge to do it safely,” he said.
Once a surfer gains experience, has the proper equipment, and the waves cooperate, Lake Michigan is ideal, McNeil said.
“I like freshwater more than saltwater. No sharks,” he said. “There’s easier access, and most surf areas aren’t as crowded as they are in the ocean.”
Every Wednesday evening during the summer, the Grand Haven south pier head transforms into an ideal viewing spot for the fleet of yachts involved in the Grand River Sailing Club’s racing series.
The races typically begin around 6:45 p.m., and last about an hour and a half, says club Cruising Chairman John Campbell.
The club has four racing series throughout the summer.
For visitors to the area interested in sailing on their own, or with a member of the club, Campbell recommends visiting the club’s web site at grandriversailing.com.
Grand Haven’s Billy Bellinger enjoys kayak racing in his spare time, but for the novice to the sport, he has a list of recommendations and ideal spots in the area to try.
“My favorite places to launch are Pigeon Lake at the boat ramp, Lake Macatawa (a quarter mile before the Holland State Park) and about 200 feet east of Chinook Pier in Grand Haven,” he said.
“All of these spots allow you to stay in the calmer waters or venture out into Lake Michigan depending upon your skill level and the water.”
Bellinger also recommends a sit-on-top kayak made out of polyethylene, a type of plastic that is durable and flexible. They can be found at Earth’s Edge (510 Miller Drive, Grand Haven) or Lakeshore Kayak Rental (14023 Green St., Grand Haven). For women, he recommends lighter crafts such as the 40-pound Ocean Kayaks Venus 11.
“You do not want a wide kayak,” he said. “Wide kayaks are hard to paddle and not much fun. 29 inches is about the maximum width for a fun kayak.
“Do not buy a $400 kayak. You get what you pay for and good kayaks like the Venus 11 start at $650. It will last you your entire life. Also, make sure you get a good paddle. Good paddles start at about $120.”
For beginners, Bellinger said it’s smart to study some kayak lessons on YouTube or other web sites and also start out in shallow water.
“It’s nice to learn from someone with experience about what your limits are and the limits of your equipment, so you don’t get into a bad situation.”
But in the summer months, bad situations in a kayak are few and far between.
“Kayaking is all fun and no hassle,” he said. “I have a 200 HP power boat that I haven’t used in two years. I’d rather kayak. No gas, no maintenance, no trailer, no insurance and a great workout on the water.”