Winter surfing in Grand Haven: “You’re crazy!”

Posted at 6:55 PM, Dec 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-20 22:51:37-05

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. -- A group of surfer's called the Rockpile Gang are taking advantage of winter's most churning weather on the lakeshore, which is now getting an onslaught of attention from photographers and onlookers alike.

Matt Smolenski and his group of friends in the Rockpile Gang have been called crazy, and they don't disagree. It takes a certain amount of grit to jump into sub-freezing waters just for fun.

"For most of us in the Rockpile Gang, surfing was definitely our first love and you do crazy things for love right?" Smolenski said.

Each member has matching tattoos with surfboards and the acronym R.P.G., telling the story of Grand Haven's Pier, otherwise known as the Rockpile.

"I'm probably more comfortable out there on the lake then out there driving on the road this time of year, that's for sure," said Smolenski.

Winter winds have turned Lake Michigan into somewhat of a washing machine. Smolenski says prime surfing off the pier happens between August and January, telling FOX 17 the waves get even better when the wind kicks up and the temperatures drop.

"I'd say the water is mid-30's to low-40's which is cold, but not as cold as it gets," said Smolenski. "The coldest part is definitely taking off your suit in the parking lot afterwards."

Rockpile member Aaron Morton says the group is more of a brotherhood that brings surfers together. However, winter surfing in West Michigan is not for the faint of heart.

"It gets pretty dangerous, pretty quick," said Morton. "The rip currents will kind of just pull you down along the bottom, and out away from shore, which is pretty scary."

But they say for those who know what they're doing, the Rockpile offers a unique surfing experience for those both in the water and on the shore. Instead of paddling out to catch a wave, surfers use the pier to access deeper water.

"We call it 'doing laps,'" said Morton."We'll catch one, ride it to the beach, and hop up on the pier and kind of walk around the hard part."

And for those willing to brave the bitter cold, it's surf's up in Grand Haven.

"We're kind of racing time until the end of the season and the ice forms, and we can't go out there anymore," Smolenski said.