We talk to Larry “Longboard” and Lee “Waterflea” Williams, the Sheboygan surfers who are profiled in "Some Like It Cold: Surfing the Malibu of the Midwest."
Out this month, William Povletich’s Some Like It Cold: Surfing the Malibu of the Midwest (Wisconsin Historical Society Press) profiles 62-year-old twin brothers Larry “Longboard” and publicity-shy Lee “Waterflea” Williams, who let Larry do all the talking for this interview. They surf the waves on Sheboygan’s coast year-round, and have done so for nearly half a century. For 24 years they organized the Dairyland Surf Classic, but the duo have since traded in their hosting duties for more time on the water.
Some older boys started Lake Shore Surf Club and wore cutoff blue jeans and huarache sandals. They always had a surfboard on top of their automobile. Music from the Beach Boys was coming from their garage. We wanted to be just like them.
How big are Lake Michigan’s waves?
The Great Lakes are some of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world because of the fast-changing conditions. The biggest waves we’ll surf are about 12 feet. But the waves get so out of control you can be hit with three different waves at one time. You’re just barely surviving and not having fun anymore.
But when you are…
When you’re sitting out there in these monster storms, the sky is black and the winds are cranking, you’ll look over at the water and see three different textures and four different colors. You realize you may be as close to God as you’ll ever get.
Who’s the better surfer?
[Lee’s] always been better than me. He’ll wait for the perfect wave, and I’m the thrill-seeker. There were times we’d be out there and he’d say, ‘You’re going to die.’ He’ll take a smaller wave and ride it like nobody’s business.
How does surfing here differ from the ocean?
You can go out in 33-degree temps for up to three hours, and we’ve never had a shark attack. It’s rare to find a crowded break here, which is a surfer’s dream.