Stoked that the Chicago Park District recently repealed a longtime ban on surfing at some city beaches? Here's what to know before you hang ten, dude.
Jackie Butzen (pictured below), owner of Chicago’s lone surf shop, Windward Sports (3317 N Clark St, 773-472-6868) is prepping for an influx of new customers, beefing up her stock of necessities: boards ($329–$1,000) and wet suits ($79–$400). For a wider selection—and to avoid the 10.25 percent sales tax—take the 75-mile trek southeast to Third Coast Surf Shop (22 S Smith St, New Buffalo, MI, 269-932-4575). “Beginners should learn on a long board that’s nine feet long,” advises Third Coast owner and Great Lakes surf vet Ryan Gerard. “It gives you more volume, stability and surface area to learn to pop up and ride a wave.” Aside from wet suits of varying thicknesses (for different temps), Third Coast also carries surf gloves, mittens and booties—all of which are highly recommended for hitting the 40-degree water in fall and winter, which are Chicago’s most popular surf seasons because the area’s turbulent weather systems mean more wind and better waves.
Surfing, despite what the Beach Boys would have you think, is not as easy as catching a wave and sitting on top of the world. (Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who could surf, anyway, so what did they know?) Luckily, newbies without gear can rent a board and wet suit for as little as $25 from Third Coast and attend an hour-long “Surfing 101” group or private lesson ($50–$70). Students learn the basics: paddling out, popping up, predicting good surf weather, rip-current awareness and basic surf etiquette—like waiting your turn for a breaking wave to avoid angering aggro surf Nazis.
Surfing, like real estate, is all about location, location, location; every beach has different wave qualities. Since mid-June—when the Park District, in response to formal complaints from a group of outspoken surfers fed up with paying $500 tickets, lifted the ban— Montrose Beach and 57th Street Beach have been open to surfing. (In the post–Labor Day off-season, Osterman and Rainbow also will allow surfing.) Attorney Todd Haugh, one of the local surfers who led the fight against the Park District, vouches for 57th Street. “At Montrose, the water is shallow, which translates to waves that are choppy and soupy—inconsistent,” he says. “The waves at 57th roll in cleaner. They don’t break down as fast, so you can ride them a lot longer.”
Talk the talk
You’re from Chicago, not Malibu. Still, a grasp of surf-speak can come in handy. First off, no self-respecting surfer uses expressions like “cowabunga” or “radical”—terms diluted by their association with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, says Scott Matthews, founder and “lead surfologist” of Riptionary.com, surfing’s Urban Dictionary. Learning the lingo, from oceanic jargon (“line,” the visible waves appearing on the horizon) to technique slang (“duck dive,” jumping under a wave at its base to avoid getting bowled over), is a quick way for beginners to immerse themselves. In no time, you’ll go from being a Barney, barnyard, hodad, kook (all derogatory names for beginners) to tossing off some classic Spicoli: “All I need are some tasty waves and a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”