Watch Windsurfers Brave a Frigid, Snowy Lake

Think windsurfing is only for warm waters? You need to think bigger.
Windsurfer Levi Siver tearing up Lake Superior
Levi Siver tearing up Lake Superior © Ryan Taylor/Red Bull Content Pool
By Alex Herrmann

When you think about windsurfing, you think about warm weather. Maui, Costa Rica, Fiji — it's a sport for tropical climates, far from the bone-chilling waters of Lake Superior. But Levi Siver, Philip Köster and Marcillio Browne, three of the world's top windsurfers, can't help but think outside the box.

The trio left Maui and its comfortable climate and traveled to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to hit the legendary "graveyard of the Great Lakes, " famous for sinking the massive SS Edmund Fitzgerald with devastating winds and monstrous waves that peaked at 35 feet. The crew monitored Lake Superior's weather and found the ideal storm to tear up. The waves were perfect, but the temperature wasn't.

Check out footage from the freezing day, and read Siver's thoughts on the Superior shoot below. What was your first thought when you were asked to windsurf Lake Superior in nearly freezing weather?

Siver: I was interested because I've heard plenty of tall tales about freshwater waves so I wanted see the set-up for myself. I knew we were going to be punished with the cold, but my friends call me “polar bear” because I can handle it. However, this was ridiculous, it was snowing!

It looked pretty gnarly in Northern Michigan ­ what was the most intense part of your trip?

For me, putting my feet in the water with snowflakes falling. It was a bizarre feeling since we had just left Hawaii and had no time to adjust to the cold environment. I fell in during our first reach out while doing a jump and every little wave that hit me after was like an ice bucket.

The waves in lakes are different than the ones you catch in the ocean — can you break down the difference?

Salt water has more density so your boards float better then when in freshwater. So that can make the feeling of riding different. It was strange to be sailing along with the option of drinking the water. Overall, waves are created in the same manner, with strong winds from storms, and given the sheer size of Lake Superior there's enough water mass there to actually generate waves.

What part of your body felt the coldest when you were out there?

My hands were the worst. If it wasn't for our freezing hands it would've been much more pleasant. We would windsurf in 20-minute sessions then come into the car warm up the hands and head back out. We did that four times the first day. It's hard with windsurfing. You need the sensation in your hands and feet to hold the gear. Otherwise, it's pretty much hopeless to do much.

When did you first get into windsurfing and how did it become your passion?

At first, it was my parents dragging my bigger brother Luke and I to the beach to watch them. After years of watching them thoroughly enjoy themselves, we were fed up with beachcombing and decided to give it go. Haven't looked back since.

Besides your trip to Lake Superior, what is the most unique place you have windsurfed?

One moment I'll never forget was walking my gear down the almost fluorescent green fields of Ireland, with castles in the foreground and panoramic views. A sheep farmer came up to me — he had never seen windsurfing — and I could've been an alien by his facial expression. We were able to ride places never ridden before. I've done that in a few different places around the world and it's a tremendous honor and feeling to be the first to trailblaze a location.

What drives you to travel the world to find new locations to surf?

My favorite TV show is “Parts Unknown” — you mix that with riding waves and that would capture it for me. I love the whole thing with food, culture, history and the experience of bringing friends closer together by traveling. That never gets old.

Would you ever go back to the Great Lakes to surf again?

I think I would because I actually saw a little point break set-up by this lighthouse and a local windsurfer says that sometimes it gets pretty incredible there. I love leaving at least one stone unturned when I travel; it keeps the mystery alive and the desire to go back again.

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