BY MONICA DIX —
Local surfers create event for conservation, learning and fun
Surf@water returned to Atwater Beach this summer on August 22. The Wisconsin chapter of the Surfrider Foundation runs this event and created it not only as a fun event for the surfing community, but also to forge a connection to the lakes and foster a desire to protect them.
Surf@water was the brainchild of four surfers, including Ken Cole, Ryan Bigelow and Eric Gietzen, English teacher.
“The reason we wanted to start the event was because we wanted to find a way to really get people to respect and want to protect the great lakes,” said Cole, founder and Surfrider Foundation Vice-Chairman.
Cole is trying to follow in the footsteps of the founder of Surfrider Foundation, following a simple but effective philosophy to try to get people to respect the lakes. He feels that he and the people that he surfs with have a greater appreciation of the lake and are more passionate about protecting it.
“If you want people to protect something, they have to really love it,” Cole said.
In Wisconsin, it is easy for people to take Lake Michigan for granted, so a goal for the event was to get people in the water and experience the lake, instead of just noticing it. To accomplish that goal, the event boasts a sunrise ceremony, surf and paddleboard lessons, a sand sculpture contest and surfing movies on the beach.
“People can experience the lake in a whole different way than they may be used to,” Cole said.
Once the people come to the event, Cole hopes that they will gain a new perspective on the lake.
“We want to immerse people literally through surfing, and after that we hope they will step up and do what they can to protect it,” Cole said.
Surfer Jake Bresette is one of the people that have truly grown to love the lake. He is part of Wisconsin’s small surfing community and has volunteered for the event in the past.
“Surfing is definitely a culture and a way to escape from society and just embrace the lake when you are out there,” Bresette said.
Bresette drives all the way out to Atwater Beach from his home in Madison, sometimes leaving as early as 4 a.m. to catch the good waves before he goes to work.
“Being with nature in the morning when you surf is definitely addictive,” Bresette said.
Cole believes that, besides having great proximity, Atwater is also one of the best beaches for surfing in Wisconsin.
“It also has these two jetties that just stick straight out and I find that visually compelling. It’s beautiful,” Cole said. Bresette agrees.
“Atwater beach is a really great place and it is very unique how you can see everything from the bluff,” Bresette said.
This year, the event focused on the diversity of surfing and surfers. The movies that were shown in the evening went beyond the great lakes and spoke to the great diversity within surfing.
“We don’t want people to say that surfing is just for blond haired, blue eyed men. Rather it is for women, people of color, rich and poor,” Cole said.
Besides the movies, there were many other activities to encourage people to embrace surfing and love the beach itself.
The first event was the sunrise ceremony at six o’clock in the morning, and consisted of a group of surfers that paddled out into the lake and sat, talked and appreciated the sunrise. The intended purpose of this was to help everyone relax and realize why they’re at the event, no matter how busy the day becomes.
Later in the afternoon, Surfrider Foundation partnered with different organizations for a variety of activities. A member of Ocean Rush gave ukulele lessons and MIAD helped create a sand sculpture contest. All afternoon, there were surf and paddleboard lessons.
“The lessons were a huge success, the waves were absolutely perfect,” said Cole.
To finish the evening on the beach, the event switched gears and raffled off surfboards and gear and played the movies to bring the event full circle.
Lilli Musto, freshman, attended the event for the first time this year. She did not have many expectations and just took some lessons and spent time in the water.
“Overall it was pretty fun,” Musto said.
She also picked up on the message that Surfrider Foundation was trying to send. To her, the event was more than just being in the water.
“It shows that the lake is more beneficial to us than just water,” Musto said.
Like most events, Cole wants Surf@water to be known about all over Southeastern Wisconsin.
“Here you have a day at the beach that is free where you can learn how to surf and watch movies under the stars, and it’s just a great experience,” Cole said. Surfers agree that the event is unique.
“People come from all over the Great Lakes Region to connect and reconnect,” Bresette said.
Right now Surfrider Foundation has no other events around the great lakes but the foundation hopes that the success of Surf@water will springboard the beginnings of events around the great lakes.
“We will try to add others but the anchor will always be Surf @water,” Cole said.