I started this post after a memorable trip to Frankfort a year and a half ago. For whatever reason, I never got around to publishing it. As warmer weather nears and after the gale force winds this weekend I find myself thinking back on the great kiteboarding sessions I’ve had over the years… and getting excited about what this year might bring.
We had a great trip to Frankfort last October(2016). Me, my dad, and Matt picked a date on the calendar for weekend kiteboarding and surfing trip and were going to go wherever the conditions looked good. It just so happened that Frankfort was setting up nicely for the weekend.
I left West Michigan on a Friday morning to meet my dad in Manistee. I was bringing a new stand up paddle board with me and my lack of experience strapping down boards to my car showed as it slapped the roof of my car as I made my way North. I met my Dad in Manistee, we consolidated our gear, and then we hit the road for Frankfort. By midafternoon the wind was light but increasing and I was anxious to get to the beach.
We arrived on Sac street and the water came into view. The sun was shining and there were a few surfers and kiters. The wind felt a little light on the beach but the water was rippling so I pumped up my 12m Razor. I was nicely powered and getting some good boosts off the crest of the waves.
After a couple hours of kiting I took a break and then got on a stand-up paddleboard. This board had recently made a trip from southern California where my sister used to live and it was the board’s maiden voyage on the fresh waters of Lake Michigan. Waves were around 3 feet which was about perfect for me. I hugged the pier to get out past the break and then turned around to catch my first and best wave of the day. I surged forward and grinned as the board took me all the way to the shore. This SUP is 11 feet long and was very stable under my 230lb frame.
Matt showed up around 5:00 pm and the wind had dropped a little by then. I rigged the 14.5 meter Flite and Matt took my 12m. I was well powered in the gusts but nearer shore a lot of holes were developing in the wind so I decided to call it a day.
We changed out of our wetsuits by our vehicles and then hit downtown Frankfort to grab a bite to eat. We put our name in at Dinghy’s and ordered Manhattan’s while waiting for a table. The amount of activity in Frankfort for this time of year is pretty amazing. Maybe it’s the close proximity to Traverse City or that it’s the jumping off point for the Sleeping Bear Dunes lakeshore but this town has a lot going on in October.
After dinner, we stopped in at Storm Cloud brewery for some beer and entertainment. We couldn’t get a table inside so we sat outside under a heater. There was live music, the beer was good, and the heater was just enough to take the edge off of the crisp autumn air. We reminisced about the surf during the day and talked politics but the conversation kept drifting back towards Stormcloud’s parmesan garlic popcorn. If you haven’t tried it they use real cloves of garlic to top the popcorn and it is weird, but it works.
We were planning to surf in Frankfort the next morning so we arranged for rooms at Chimney Corners on Crystal Lake. We stayed in the main lodge which is on the hillside overlooking the lake. It has a rustic log cabin feel with the kind of character you get from a place that has been around for a long time. We checked the wind forecast for the next day which was looking epic and then settled in for the night.
When morning came I could hear the wind whipping through the pine trees surrounding the lodge. I had that energy and excitement you feel when you know conditions are going to be good. We had donuts and coffee on the glassed-in front porch overlooking Crystal Lake and made a plan for the day. We’d go to Frankfort again but decided to drop a car at Point Betsie in case we decided to do a downwinder.
We arrived at the beach at 9:30 AM and the side street parking spots were already starting to fill up with surfers and kiteboarders. The wind didn’t feel very strong yet but the forecast was for 25 to 30 knot winds so I rigged Matt’s 10m and he rigged my 8m. Good thing I went smaller as the wind started kicking up right before we launched. I immediately noticed how much more agile the 10m Razor felt versus my 12m. The thing I like most about the Razor is it’s ability to pivot on a dime. You can really keep the kite deep into the wind window for powered turns.
The waves had gotten larger overnight and were now in the 3-4 foot range with a few nearing 5 feet. It didn’t take long before surfers had moved in on the prime wave locations. After an hour of riding, I decided to fuel up, and watch others surfing and kiting. I took some video so you can get a feel for the conditions.
After the break Matt and I decided it was time for the downwinder. The only question was whether to downsize our kites or just continue with me on the 10m and Matt on the 8m. I took a few tacks past the elbow of the pier to test the wind and felt like I had a lot of depower available so we decided to start our journey to Point Betsie.
The scenery was spectacular. Large bluffs line the secluded shoreline to the north. The water level is still really high on Lake Michigan so there is almost no beach(this became a problem at the end of our trip). What I really enjoy about downwinders is finding new surf breaks along the route. The waves can be quick and steep in some areas while long and rolling in others. It’s challenging but fun to drop in on them and the varied conditions keep you on your toes.
Forty-Five Minutes into the trip Point Betsie came into sight. The wind had increased by 5-7 knots and I had used up all my available depower on my kite. As we neared the point the wind increased even more and waves were breaking directly on shore.
Big waves on Lake Michigan brings spectators and there were quite a few at Point Betsie that day. The problem was that there was precious little beach for us to land and the little beach that was there had people on it. If you are not a kiteboarder you don’t understand how dangerous the landing process can be. Many times a kite in the sky is a good photo opportunity for tourists and attracts people to the landing zone which is what happened here too.
I came to shore and kicked off my board. The rip current was extremely strong and my board actually started floating back out to Lake Michigan. Luckily a couple of large waves pushed it back to shore and I snagged it but unfortunately, this effort caused me to go further downwind towards the crowd of people. The wind was now at least 10-12 knots greater than when we started our journey and I was way overpowered. I was trying to walk upwind to avoid people on the beach but the wind was so strong I couldn’t make any ground. I looked back and saw Matt struggling too. This was shaping up to be one of the sketchiest landings I’ve ever encountered. Small beach, overpowered to the max, people in the way, sharp jetties, and that big beautiful Point Betsie lighthouse downwind.
Before I had time to think about what to do next I had another problem. The combination of high wind and my kite being fully sheeted in caused my kite to flatten out like a pancake. To my horror, I watched as the flat kite slowly started to drift directly downwind of me into the power zone. If my kite powered up now the results would be disastrous. I knew that my only option was to pull my safety and hope for the best. I punched out and the kite fluttered to the ground, narrowly missing a spectator who had her back to the kite. I counted my blessings and walked a line up to the kite and secured it. I ran back to help Matt land who was in almost of bad shape as I was.
Upwind I noticed a couple other kites in the distance. It was local riders, Dave and Austin. We helped them land and then all drove back to the main beach. I watched my dad do his thing on the stand-up paddleboard for a while and then packed up, and grabbed a late lunch at the Cabbage Shed in Elberta. While eating the Shed’s famous Borsch we tossed around the idea of going out again, potentially stopping in Ludington on the way to Grand Haven, but I think in the back of our minds we knew we were done for the day(I couldn’t help myself and did stop at Stearns park on the way home just in time to see a surfer catch his final waves before sunset).
It was a great trip with awesome company and lots of memories. I can’t help but feel lucky to live and kite in Michigan where there are so many fun, freshwater locations to ride, with unbeatable scenery, and great people to ride with.
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