by: Kevin Cullen & Christian Edie
I grew up on the shores of Lake Erie south of Buffalo, NY spending my summers in the water and on the beach. After college I spent a few years working on a trail crew in Colorado where I became immersed in the climbing world. Living out of my old truck on a winter climbing trip to California I was in Santa Barbara trying to wait out the rain to climb when I stumbled across a surf shop and rented my first board and wetsuit. I went out into head high surf at Santa Barbara, took the beating of my life, and snapped the rental board in half within 30 minutes. The next day I spent the rest of my money on a board short enough to fit in the truck and a wetsuit – I was hooked.
My last year in Colorado I booked a 6 week trip to Maui to do a work trade on a dragon fruit farm up the hill from Launiopoko before moving back to a frigid Buffalo winter. It was there I learned to actually surf and was saddened to leave after those 6 weeks flew by. Back in Buffalo in late December I was driving by a popular Lake Erie beach and spotted a mad man catching waves in 30-degree weather with sideways sleet and hail blown by the 25+ mph wind. I pulled off the road to the parking lot and this guy walks out of the water with a smile from ear to ear. I said in disbelief, “your surfing!” He just shook his head and said “yes, my name’s Carl.”
When the wind blows across the Great Lakes wind swells can kick up some solid waves under the right conditions. When the wind blows from the west across Lake Erie there is 350 miles of fetch, or the distance wind travels over water to create waves, which can create waves with over 10 ft. faces. As it turns out there has been a small and quiet surf scene in Buffalo, NY since the 1950’s when Gidget brought surfing from Hawaii and California to living rooms and TV screens across the country.
When the ice melted that spring my future wife, Christian Edie, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the water. We found an old cottage to rent right across a dead end street from the beach and were introduced to stand-up paddle boarding. Stand-Up Paddle boarding brought so much more accessibility to the dynamic lake and waterways of Western New York. With the SUP’s we could catch waves too small or mushy to traditionally surf on. We could travel further to explore more breaks and seek out new places to paddle. After getting into Whitewater SUP the lake on choppy days became the perfect training ground to hone in our whitewater paddling skills and indeed the variety of conditions are great to become all-around SUP and water athletes.
Since our introduction to SUP and SUP surfing just over 4 years ago we have learned more and more about the conditions that make the best waves and where they break. Generally, waves are best in the fall and winter where the Gales of November can sink freighters as is known in the “The Tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. But, every year and every season is different. This past year the warm dry summer brought loads of wind and we have been averaging 2 – 3 days a week of decent fresh water swell. As the temperatures drop we will be out there in wet and dry suits until the water turns to slush, then ice, and we wait for the warmth to return.