Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Surf's Up On Lake Erie in Cleveland

You've probably heard of the Dirty Brown Towel. It's dirty. It's brown. It's ugly. It's from Cleveland. OK, you have the picture. Cleveland Browns fans are supposed to wave the things when the Browns do something special, like not fumble.

But now there's a good use for the Dirty Brown Towel. You can use it to dry off after you've been surfing on Lake Erie off the coast of Cleveland!

Surf? Lake Erie? Cleveland? Yes, you're reading right and I'm not making it up. According to the New York Times, which has all the news that's fit to print (and then some), winter's winds provide prime surfing conditions on Lake Erie.


The strongest winds and waves come in winter, just before Lake Erie freezes. Waves up to 10 feet have been surfed, but the largest swells are usually chest-high. Surfers learn to avoid ice chunks the size of bowling balls. Some wear goggles to surf through freezing rain, which can sting their eyes like needles. This can be a bad idea, though, because the goggles freeze to the surfers' faces.

Surfers watch their friends for signs of hypothermia, urging them to leave the water when their eyes glaze over and their words slur. Ear infections are a common affliction.

“Surfing Lake Erie is basically disgusting,” said Bill Weeber, known as Mongo, 44. “But then I catch that wave and I forget about it, and I feel high all day.”

Scott Ditzenberger hoped to experience the same feeling when he heard that the first blizzard of the winter was pounding across the Midwest.

“I was so excited I could barely sleep last night,” said Mr. Ditzenberger, 35, who quit his job as a lawyer in August to spend more time surfing and to film a documentary about Cleveland’s surf community.

The most popular surf spot is Edgewater State Park. It is nicknamed Sewer Pipe because, after heavy rains, a nearby water treatment plant regularly discharges untreated waste into Lake Erie.

This, I tell you, is Dirty Brown Towel country.

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