Surfers Looking To Change The Laws Regarding Surfing In Chicago

As reported by Maurice Possley for The Chicago Sun-Times.

As the shroud of winter envelopes Chicago, and many residents are hunkering down at home to watch football, read a book or make a pot of chili, a small, hardy band of enthusiasts is looking toward Lake Michigan with a shout of “surf’s up!”

While the idea of surfing on Lake Michigan may seem counterintuitive, there is a thriving community of boarders who “shred” the waves along the shore — except in Chicago.

That’s because surfboards are covered by a Chicago Park District ban on flotation devices at its beaches.

That may be about to change, though.

A group of surfers led by Vince Deur, who founded the Surfrider Foundation’s Lake Michigan chapter last year, is scheduled to meet today with Park District Supt. Timothy Mitchell to propose allowing surfing at certain Chicago beach locations.

“Surfers have been surfing the lake for years and years without a problem,” said Deur, 41, of Grand Rapids, Mich. “We feel really strongly that it’s good for the city — it sells the city.”

A native of Grand Haven, Mich., Deur was among a group of youngsters who learned to surf there. One of his boyhood pals, David Vanderveen, later attended Wheaton College and, while there, occasionally headed to Chicago beaches to surf covertly.

“We used to go surfing in Chicago, and it was safe,” said Vanderveen, an entrepreneur who founded XS Energy Drinks and now lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., where he surfs daily. “Surfers make the water safer for others. They make many rescues. Chicago should look at this as a positive thing that can enhance the city.”

A documentary filmmaker and surfer whose most recent film, “Unsalted,” is about surfing the Great Lakes, Deur said, “A city that wants the Olympics should embrace all of its water sport athletes.”

Deur will be accompanied by James Pribram, a professional surfer from Laguna Beach who has worked with many West Coast communities to open areas for surfers and who operates a surfing school.

Deur said they will ask the Park District to designate special surfing areas.

“We are not suggesting opening up the busiest beaches at the busiest times,” he said. “The fact is, the best surfing on Lake Michigan is during the off-season between Labor Day and Memorial Day.”