The Williams brothers
The Midwest's surfing ambassadors
Some Like It Cold: A Sheboygan Surfin' Safari by William Povletich, Clerisy Press, clersypress.com, 2010, 198 pages, $14.95
As adolescents, Lee and Larry Williams knew what it was like to be on the outside, desperate to get in. They emulated the older kids in their hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, who displayed skills at a sport largely unheard of in the Midwest.
No, they weren't wannabe skateboarders, BMX bike riders or snowboarders. They were longboard surfers, 2,000 miles from the nearest ocean. Lake Michigan was probably no warmer in the late 1960s than it is today. But to avoid frostbite in the 35-degree water back then, the fraternal twins, and the cool kids who came before them, had to wear wetsuits they customized themselves. And they first caught waves, blown in from nearly every direction, on skimboards they cut out of discarded plywood.
The Williams brothers' story is detailed in Some Like It Cold: A Sheboygan Surfin' Safari by William Povletich. The author paints intimate portraits of the two, starting with vivid anecdotes from their youth. From the very beginning, their Great Lakes Surf Club was more inclusive than their elders' Lake Shore Surf Club, which barred entry to Lee and Larry. Fortunately there were enough waves, created by 22 surf breaks along the Sheboygan shore, for everyone.
Over the intervening decades, the brothers found love, lost it and found it again, and raised families through dysfunction and tragedy. The book describes truly heart stopping, life changing and heroic moments in the lives of these men. Through it all, they managed to remain surfers.
The Williams' egalitarian approach, inherent to surfing culture everywhere, was further infused with an evangelistic zeal to see Sheboygan become accepted as a surfing destination - the "Malibu of the Midwest."
To that end, the Williams brothers organized the first Dairyland Surf Classic in 1988. Twenty-some surfers showed up Larry's house on that "first of many wave-challenged Labor Day weekends." Although Lake Michigan repeatedly failed to deliver the right conditions, a surfing tradition was born. By 2008, the 20th anniversary of Dairyland Surf Classic, the event had grown exponentially and the vibe had changed.
"As each kid signed up for his or her first paddleboard competition or was helped onto a longboard in time to ride his first Sheboygan wave, the weekend was becoming less about swapping beer-soaked surfing stories and more about becoming a part of a close-knit group of Great Lakes surfing tribes," Povletich writes.
The Williams brothers took a star turn in the 2003 film Step Into Liquid. Surfing fans have since recognized them on California beaches and in airports - more so for that, fortunately, than for the caricature of Larry included in the 2008 animated movie Surf's Up.
Povletich, who describes himself as "a documentary filmmaker at heart," thought the Williams' story would best be told in book form, and he was right. Povletich, a native Wisconsinite, is also the author of Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak in 2009 and Green Bay Packers: Legend in Green and Gold in 2005.
In Some Like It Cold, Povletich celebrates, through the lives of a couple big-hearted men, a sport not for the faint hearted, certainly not in this part of the world. And you need not be a surfer to get sucked in to this story of two brothers with a shared life-long passion.
Surfing The Great Lakes by P.L. Strazz, Big Lauter Tun Books, bltbooks.com, 2004, 240 pages, $16.95
This compact, photo-rich little book is dedicated to surfing on the Great Lakes of Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario - even though "no more than 750 people are estimated to actively surf on all the lakes," the author asserts up front.
he idea for the book followed P.L. Strazz's first frustrating attempt at surfing off Montrose Beach in Chicago. "While the experience was kind of cool, I exited the water knowing it was too much effort for too little award. There had to be a better way," he wrote. So he went about collecting all the information he figured new and veteran freshwater surfers needed.
That includes a concise history of Great Lakes surfing, primers on weather conditions, average wind speeds, water temperatures, ice coverage, wave formation and equipment. The book includes several entertaining first-person perspectives, too.
Chapters on windsurfing and sea kayaking round out the book's coverage of water- and wind-born recreation on the big lakes.