In 1975, he found himself paddling out onto Lake Superior with a few local fishermen looking at him like he was insane. Isaacson went out in the middle of a storm. He wore the top half of a diving suit, which gave his arms all the flexibility and natural movement of the Michelin Man. This jerry-rigged outfit, combined with the glacial temperatures of the water, allowed him just 20 minutes of water time.
Pardon the alarmist headline. Lake Superior doesn’t really want to kill you, but you should know all bodies of water are oblivious to your tiny existence and will absolutely steal you away any time you make the slightest error in judgement. So I’m not apprehensive about issuing stern warnings as if I’m your mom.
I know how seductive that big lake can be. And I know how much fun it is to dive off various bridges, rocks, swinging ropes or whatever it is you can propel yourself from into whichever refreshing river or stream awaits. I’ve done it, and I’ve lived through it. I’ve also seen it go wrong over and over and over again.
I’ll be the first to say when it goes right it’s a thing of beauty. You can’t let danger keep you off the water; we all know water absolutely gives so much more life than it takes. Just sitting on the shore looking at it, whether it’s perfectly calm or violently raging, is the easiest way to put yourself into your place on this planet. But it’s natural to want more than that. You have to at least put your toes in. And that sets you on the path to all manner of thrill seeking. Your ability to pick which point along the way to show some self control will determine whether you have the maximum good time or utterly wreck yourself.
High-definition videos of people surfing Lake Superior have become a fairly regular thing on Perfect Duluth Day in recent years. The short and fuzzy one above lacks the quality we’re used to these days, but is featured today because it’s ten years old and might be the first Lake Superior surf video published on PDD — or maybe anywhere else. (Prove that assertion wrong and find an older one.)
Barrett Chase posted this clip on April 10, 2008. He noted winds were at 40 m.p.h.
“Check out this short video snippet of some crazies surfing on Lake Insanity near Lester River today just before the onset of the blizzard,” he wrote.
It’s almost an annual tradition. When the conditions are just right, small waves push sheets of Lake Superior surface ice to the shore, causing them to break into plates that stack and crackle in a way that’s both visually and aurally fascinating. Dawn LaPointe and Gary Fiedler of Radiant Spirit Gallery recently captured the phenomena in this video.