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Surfing Movement Swells on Lake Michigan

S Bence
Tammy Bockhorst and Eric Gietzen at Atwater Beach.

A day long festival Saturday at Atwater Beach in Shorewood celebrates surfing and the importance of Lake Michigan.

Surf @Water kicks off with a sunrise paddle and ends with a surf film festival at sunset.

It’s the third annual Surf @Water and Eric Gietzen says the event has attracted more people each year. Gietzen chairs Surfrider Foundation Milwaukee – a chapter of a national group, which describes itself a coalition of surf-centric environmentalists.

“We are sitting on the edge of the most valuable resource on the planet. Let’s enjoy it, let’s love it, so that we have no problem making decisions to keep it clean, so that we have no problem handing it on to the next generation so they can do the same thing,” Gietzen says.

Tammy Bockhorst said she never realized people were surfing on the Great Lakes, until she learned the first Surf @Water was being organized a few years ago.

Eric Gietzen and others encouraged her to give it a try. Finally, earlier this summer, Bockhorst gave it a whirl.

“It was June 20 – international surfing day – and we paddled out to the weather station. It was quite a workout. It was about 5 in the morning, so it was beautiful. So it felt wonderful and free just to be out on the water. It’s also very interesting because you can make a community rather quickly with other people,” Bockhorst.

Eric Gietzen is thrilled Bockhorst has joined in, for more than one reason. She serves on Shorewood’s village board.

“I think especially for a local representative to understand that the boundary of her community extend into this lake. It’s important if you represent a community like Shorewood, which is really special, it’s important for everybody to understand what a resource this is,” Gietzen says.

He says Surfrider Foundation Milwaukee has carried out a few beach clean ups, but says the group hopes to do more.

Credit S Bence
Early morning yoga class above Atwater Beach.

“I mean a beach cleanup is great, but it only does so much. So next we want to initiative at least two new modes of activism, and one is legislative,” Gietzen says.

He says questions are emerging around beach access.

“I think as people realize how important this is, that zone between water and land has the potential of becoming very contentious. So we want to get people together primarily surfers and kayakers, but also fisher people interested in water access and have someone who really knows the law how to stay out of the right side of the law when it comes to that,” Gietzen says.

He says Surfrider also hopes to help install rain gardens to improve water quality. “So we would do rain garden education and then we can muster the crew, we would design and then install gardens in the neighborhood,” Gietzen says.

Unless, he says with a laugh, it happens to be perfect surfing weather.

Gietzen applauds environmental groups already working to protect the Great Lakes. “We just want a sit at the table. We bring, I think, a unique perspective, and certainly a lot of passion,” he says.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.