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I grew up in La Porte, IN about 12 miles south of the lake. I try to mix in a little kayaking or scuba diving during my numerous visits to the family homestead.
Growing up in the late '50's and early '60's, I remember the family trips to the beach, picnics, the clean - clear water and the endless fun playing in the surf.
I also have memories of the lake's darker side…rip currents, huge killer waves that knock people off the jetties, and very unforgiving water to the ill prepared and uninitiated.
National, State and Local officials have done a lot to clean up the lake since the late '60's. No longer are there tons of alewives lying dead on the beach. The Coho are back and keeping the lamprey eels in check. About the only problem are the Zebra Mussels. Once these critters are introduced to a waterway they'll quickly kill off the native mussels and carpet everything. So, rinse and dry out your boats before hitting another body of water.
We enjoy the water, period - especially in the summer when people watching is at its peak. So, whether it's gentle swells or 5 ft surf we have fun. Even with smaller waves the surf can be challenge as both of my sons can attest. If I told them once I told them a hundred times…"brace into the wave & moon the shore". Invariably they don't brace hard enough or lean far enough and end up being tumbled and thrashed in the shallow water. They come up laughing, full of sand and head out for more punishment.
One thing ceases to amaze me though, is that I can be the only kayaker in sight and then suddenly kayaks appear from nowhere. Many of the local residents posses sit-on-tops and will venture out past the surf to chat or watch us play.
My quiver consists of a Loon 100, Dagger Cyprus, and a New Wave Cruise control. My wife uses the Loon exclusively as she is just out to float. My choice of boats depends on my mood and how intense I want to be…touring or play…or maybe both?
The best conditions for surfing are waves in the 3 to 6 ft. range. Less than that the ride is shorter. For this area, northerly winds will help to push in bigger waves.
The bigger the waves the more pronounced the rip currents also. If caught in a rip current, stay with your boat! The rip will subside eventually so don't panic and wear yourself out by swimming against it. If the current is taking you away from shore and you do try to swim, swim parallel with the beach until you're out of the rip and then swim to shore. There can also be strong currents that carry you parallel to the shore and strong wind-blown currents pushed by the wind. So wear your life jackets!!
One can call the local Coast Guard at 219-637-5179. Ask for the current and predicted lake conditions.
The most convenient parking is in Washington Park. The obvious parking gets you close to a life-guarded beach but if that's full or you want to be away from crowds drive a little further down, park in the shade and walk in along a tree-lined trail. Either way you'll have a 50 to 150 yard portage.
You'll have to pay but you'll also pay if you try to park along Long Beach and get ticketed or towed. 99% of the parking there is private (or so I've been told) even though it's not marked as such. If you do want to put in at Long Beach…drop the boats off at one of the public accesses, park in town and walk back. On weekends in the summer parking close is impossible unless you get there early.
As more people find out about play boating on the Great Lakes, we'll start to hear about the best surfing beaches. If you know of any please email me or feel free to tell me how your kayaking trip to southern Lake Michigan turned out.
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