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The Corona Dairyland Surf Classic
source <a href="" target="_blank" title="TeamWorks Media">TeamWorks Media</a>
by Alexandra M. Ionides
posted 2006-08-29

Back in 1988, Larry and Lee Williams, both lifelong residents of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, set out to give people something to talk about or at least swim toward. The surfing brothers along with twenty or so fellow residents of the "Malibu of the Midwest" were in pursuit of sharing their lifestyle with the rest of the world. While Sheboygan may be best known for its brats, the Williams' brothers, both 40-year veterans of freshwater surfing, are putting the town on the world's surfing map. What resulted was the Corona Dairyland Surf Classic and since its humble beginnings the event has grown to a global, celebrated, freshwater surfing affair.

photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic
photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic

The Corona Dairyland Surf Classic takes place on Labor Day weekend, September 2-4th, in the heart of the Midwest along the shores of Lake Michigan, which cofounder Larry "Longboard" Williams often classifies as an Inland Ocean. Roughly 100 of the world's top freshwater surfers come together to participate, and in addition to the surfing, there are concerts, cookouts, surf movies and the occasional jam session to entertain guests. According to Williams, "Saturday is the best day to go because it's full of color; other more serious surfers might leave to continue around the rest of the Great Lakes."

Larry adds that the paddling contest, which takes place on Saturday, was created to make the Dairyland Surf Classic more exciting. Because waves are created only when winds are 15-25 miles per hour out of the South/South East direction, there is a chance that there could be no surfable waves at the event. According to Larry, Lake Michigan actually has the potential to create 24-foot waves five miles out, whether it does or not, is another issue. Still, the biggest wave that Williams has caught was 12 feet and he swears, "To even the best surfers they seem bigger when they are being rode."

photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic
photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic

Not only is Larry Williams a co-founder of the Corona Dairyland Surf Classic, but a minor celebrity within the surf community, and often gets recognized on annual surf trips he takes to Southern California. Williams has been featured in two surf documentaries, Unsalted and Step Into Liquid. "While filming Unsalted, we had this huge front come in and overnight, pro-surfers were flown in. These well known, pro-surfers were surfing and snapping boards, and said it was scary. We had a blast with those guys though, they had never surfed freshwater in their lives and they were shocked."

To some, the reality of surfing in the Midwest or even on one of the Great Lakes is simply not feasible. However, come Labor Day and the months that follow, the excitement is undeniable to those familiar with freshwater surfing, and even those not. "The reason we have it Labor Day weekend, is because it's the end of summer. Everybody wants to go some place, and this is the last hoorah for summer," says Williams.

photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic
photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic

Despite getting "razzed," as Williams says, about their thick Sheboygan accents, the Surf Classic welcomes all. There is no surprise in knowing that Midwesterners would be excited for an event as foreign as surfing to take place in the heartland of America and among the plains, cows and corn. However, there's also no denying the pull that the Corona Dairyland Surf Classic has on notorious surf locations such as Hawaii, California, and even as far away as Australia. Kenny Ashburn, a surfer from Hawaii who attends the Dairyland Surf Classic, has been known to say that when the waves are breaking like this in Hawaii, it is packed and everyone fights for waves and that out in Sheboygan, everyone is willing to share. According to Williams, "Kenny Ashburn brings that island spirit to the Great Lakes. 'Ohana' means extended family in Hawaiian, and everyone here is willing to share their spot and their gear."

The cry of the Dairyland Surf Classic has even gone so far as to reach Hollywood. If one were to ask for the "bible" of surfing, Surfer Magazine would be the one. So while Bruce Brown (who made Endless Summer) and his son Dana were scouting for Step Into Liquid they went to the editor of Surfer Magazine, Sam George. Brown informed George of the Williams brothers and their freshwater surfing, and he replied with a disbelieving, "WHAT! Lake Michigan, Sheboygan, Wisconsin?!" publicly on NPR. Nevertheless, the magazine writes about the Dairyland Surf Classic with equal respect and admirations as it does for its more exotic surfing locations.

Labor Day weekend and the Corona Dairyland Surf Classic is just a kick-off for people like Larry Williams though. The end of summer is only the beginning of a Midwesterner's freshwater surf season. Come September, October, and November, there are more new, bigger gales. The water can get to as low as 33 degrees Fahrenheit and there will still be dedicated surfers perusing the waves of the Midwest. Williams claims that under the harsh weather conditions, "it's no longer for beginners, you better be a big idiot, or an advanced surfer."

photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic
photo courtesy of Dairyland Surf Classic

Unlike the temperature, one perk that Williams is quick to brag about is that obviously there are no sharks and therefore allowing for no shark attacks. Instead surfers are battling the blatant fact that freshwater is 20% less buoyant and therefore there is more weight to be held up on board. Williams was asked about fatal accidents and he says that in the past 45 years there has not been one death. Possibly even more frightening though is the chance of catching hypothermia or hitting floating ice, which has the capability of snapping one's neck or surf board in two. So although it won't be that viciously cold on Labor Day weekend, those who continue to surf throughout the winter, should do so with caution.

It will be interesting this year, to see the turn out and the eclectic group of people that come to the Corona Dairlyand Surf Classic. One should be looking out for Larry "Longboard" Williams, but don't expect to catch him on a short-board, because that "rip and slash style" is just not for him. You might find Larry hanging with the other free spirits who are captivated by the sheer exhilaration that surfing brings to life. Larry concludes that "It's one, big, happy family that is easily welcoming to other people. One of the reasons that we do the Dairyland Surf Classic is to share information, that there really is surf in the Midwest."

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