Surfing Chicago

24 August 2007
I’m in Chicago for a few days, waiting for Diane to return from a “girl trip” to Colorado. I’m holed up at the Four Seasons which is a short distance from the beach on Lake Michigan. So I planned to do a lot of paddling. Turns out that you can’t launch a surfboard from the beach that’s right at the north end of Michigan Avenue. I carried my Starboard 12’6″ down the tail end of the “Magnificent Mile” past Bloomingdales and Chanel, the Hotel Drake and onto the beach. Walked across the sand, tossed the board in and jumped on. I planned to paddle out to the breakwater and perhaps the big water intake that’s way out in the lake–they looked interesting. As I paddled I heard faint noises behind me, turned around and saw a flotilla of lifeguards in rowboats chasing after me, rowing as hard as they could. Of course, I was pulling away like they were at anchor.

But I turned around and paddled back to see what all the excitement was about. I don’t really want a run in with the Chicago cops–they have a certain reputation. I figured that might be a possibility if I dusted off their lifeguards.

Informed by a breathless kid that a park about four miles away was Montrose, the only beach that allowed surfboards, I went back to the Four Seasons, got my truck and Sam the Gay Dog, and headed there. Turned out to be a good choice. It’s a good place to paddle and there’s a dog park on the beach so Sam could get a run, try to screw every dog he saw ( Sam is actually more indiscriminate than gay), roll in dead stuff and run around in the water.

Turns out people windsurf from this beach quite a bit. Next day I went back at about eleven and rigged my Superfreak 8.0 after a half hour of paddling. The wind was shifty but strong. I don’t have a wetsuit or a harness with me. Turns out Lake Michigan is pretty frickin’ cold when you descend past the top few inches. I sailed a pretty long time considering I didn’t have a harness. I was about to quit when a new bunch of windsurfers came out and started asking about my board. They were all on fat Starboard boards with big slalom sails. I sailed with them for about an hour, then the wind started picking up and a rain squall went by.

The wind shifted to straight offshore, so I had a pretty tough time getting back, with the wind climbing steadily, and big gusts occasionally stretching my arms to the limit (okay, probably past the limit, my shoulders hurt like hell today). I was wishing for a harness and gave up on trying to get where I wanted to be and just aimed for shore. As it turned out, a fortuitous shift in the wind gave me enough angle on the port tack to get back to exactly my launch point. I pulled the rig out and started stowing stuff as the wind continued to rise.

I had just got into the truck and headed out to look for lunch when the wind rose suddenly to near hurricane force. I found a restaurant, ordered a beer and some ribs. and watched the war outside. The wind came up to a level that shook the building. Trees started falling. The rain was so heavy it looked like someone was playing a firehose on the windows.

I sat there warm and dry, contemplating what my evening would have been like if I hadn’t headed in. I figured I’d have been in Michigan by midnight. Long walk back. I hope the other windsurfers did okay, they were headed out further when I decided to head in. I told the lifeguards they were still out there when I left the beach. I assume they’re okay–nothing on the news about them, and the storm is headline news in Chicago.

First Minneapolis when the bridge went down, now Chicago when a violent storm knocks down trees that have stood for fifty years. Hmmm.

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