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Trail Stories

“You don’t want some pot of gold at the end of your rainbow, you want Lake Superior water.”

“A Yooper is someone from the U.P.—someone who lives above the Mackinac bridge,” explains Surfer Dan. Defined most simply, Daniel Schetter, AKA Surfer Dan, is right. The five-mile long Mackinac Bridge separates Michigan’s Lower Peninsula—home to 97% of the state’s population—from the Upper Peninsula. The 3% that call the U.P. home are a hardy bunch who live close to the land, no matter how gnarly the weather.

If all Yoopers are rugged, Surfer Dan may just be their mascot. “The other surfers call me ‘Hardcore Dan’,” he says with a sideways smile, sitting by the woodstove in the Marquette trailer (“My trailer park lake view property,” he calls his home.) that he shares with his pit bull, Dozer, and mini schnauzer, Smokie. It’s a rare breed who surf the inland Great Lakes, where waves are generated by unpredictable winds instead of forecastable tides. Rarer still are those who are willing to don the 8-mm wetsuits needed to surf the U.P. in the winter. And then, there’s Dan.

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“Surfing up here in the winter is crazy dangerous,” he grins. All around the shoreline, the surface of the lake freezes into a sheet of ice. Powerful winter winds push the ice sheet at high velocity toward the land, where it breaks apart into heavy blocks, which explode against each other. Unlike ocean waves, Lake Superior waves often form one right after the other, giving surfers little time to catch their breath between frigid duck dives. And Surfer Dan is amped about all of it.

“Where’s the ice!? Is there an opening!? You can’t tell that from reading some forecast. You have to go to the water and see it,” shouts Dan. He knows it’s time to surf by watching the plume from the power plant smokestack across the street. The unwillingness to take an outsider’s word on something, the urge to go see for yourself is 100% pure Yooper.

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People in the U.P. know how to take care of themselves, but they also know how to take care of each other. And that sense of community is what Dan loves most about being a Yooper. Even more than he loves the waves. “In the U.P. everyone tries to hold each other up. Everybody helps me along my journey. We’re all so close, we really have to take care of each other here.”

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