Learn to catch a wave on the Great Lakes—close to home and jellyfish sting-free.

Waves crash against the shore as distant surfers bob beneath the tangerine sun, strategizing the morning's sets. Maui? Nope. This scene's straight out of Cleveland, one of several surf communities along the Midwest's Third Coast. Under the right conditions, swells here can reach 5 to 10 feet, yet they draw a fraction of the East and West Coast crowds.

Sunset Beach Surfing
Credit: Stephanie Vermillion

Strong localized wind generates Great Lakes waves, with fall and winter seeing the most action. Summer's moderate climate does produce surf, but it's milder—perfect for first-timers. "When we have overcast weather or a cold front, you know there are waves out," says Michelle Carandang, founder of Cleveland nonprofit Keep the Lakes Great.

Carandang, a longtime Lake Erie surfer, launched the organization in 2021 to clean debris from her notoriously polluted home waters while simultaneously making surfing more accessible for beginners. She offers free lessons in exchange for helping with beach cleanups. Playing in the water and volunteering onshore make people more conscious about their day-to-day choices—and about the lake, Carandang says. "The more people we have involved, the more we can take care of it." 

Great Midwest Surfing Communities

Keep the Lakes Great, Cleveland

Michelle Carandang hosts monthly beach cleanups with Keep the Lakes Great. Join one, and she'll give you a spot in a group surf lesson.

EOS Surf Shop, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

On Wisconsin's Lake Michigan shore, the state's first surf and paddleboard shop offers two-hour small-group lessons with all equipment included.

Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak, Empire, Michigan

Go from sand (dunes) to surf with this Lake Michigan outfitter that offers group lessons June 30–September 8 (2023); private lessons available on request.