“𝐈 𝐥𝐨𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐫𝐚𝐩𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝 𝐦𝐞, 𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐦𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐜𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐛𝐨𝐝𝐲.”

Zach Manon first surfed Lake Michigan in 2015 at a place lake surfers sometimes refer to as, “the Malibu of the Midwest.”

Back in the late ’80s, Zach’s mother was stoked on windsurfing the lake. So stoked that she very well may have been chasing icy wind-swells on her sailboard with her eldest child in her belly. This stoke was transferred via the womb to Zach’s older sister Gabe who caught the surfing bug early, eventually migrating to Oahu with her husband Chad.

At 13, Zach flew out to visit his surfing sister’s Hawaiian nest. As a pre-pubescent, he loved board sports: skateboarding, snowboarding, skimboarding. Young Zach landed in Oahu determined to cut his teeth at surfing. So big Sis Gabe and bro-by-law Chad put Zach on a 9-foot board, setting him loose to fend for himself at a break on the south side of the island called, Rock Piles.

“I sustained a pretty bad concussion once, surfing on Oahu. A gust of wind blew my board and I off the top of a wave. I was swimming around in the whitewash looking for my board. It found me, as another wave propelled the nose of the board directly into my right temple,” says Zach Manon.

Hard-headed Zach wasn’t going to let his surf dreams be derailed by a hard rail to the head. He would return to Hawaii a few years later with a wooden surfboard that he built in a workshop with Grain Surfboards.

Determined to cut his teeth surfing. Zach Manon and his Quad Fish from Grain Surfboards.

“Paddling, timing my movement, and popping-up with the wave were a big challenge for me. Being comfortable in the water and waves wasn’t much of a problem. I grew up playing in the waves of Lake Michigan, so I was used to turbulent water,” says Zach Manon about learning to surf in Oahu.

After leaving his wooden surfboard on the island for years, Zach eventually brought it home. “I got to ride it plenty on Oahu. Even got to use it a few times on the North Shore, but it was still a sweet rush to glide down some three-footers my first time surfing Lake Michigan in Sheboygan, Wisconsin,” says Manon.

Lake Michigan has nearly 1,400 miles of coastline. California has just 840 miles of coastline. The lake gets its namesake from an Ojibwa Indian word “mishigami‘, which literally means “large lake.”

“Surfing is therapy, physical and mental, where the body of water that you’re in and your own will to express yourself and brave the elements, is your therapist,” says Zach. “It is a great release and escape from the everyday problems and not so everyday problems.”

The largest wave ever recorded on Lake Michigan was 23 feet. It came in September 2011. On average waves in the winter are 4 to 8 feet; in the summer the average wave height is half that.

“I surf because I love the adrenaline rush I get dropping down the face of a big wave,” says Zach.

Hill Valley Dairy. That’s the name of the small cheese company where Zach Manon works. He is studying to get his cheese-making license (cheese is a serious business in Wisconsin—the only state in the U.S. that requires a cheesemaker to have a license before they become a cheesemonger: an expert cheese seller). In addition, Zac helps with the family business, Sweet Memories: a farmers market stand providing made-to-order crepes and baked goods.

His fiance´, Katie also has a bun in the oven.

Mr. Manon is a busy man. He surfs when he can. Time with family and friends sometimes takes a backseat to his surfing. “When others are partying or relaxing during their off time if there’s swell I’m scoping the forecast and preparing for an often lonely dawn patrol,” says Manon.

The average water temperature of Lake Michigan in winter is 36°-39°F. During the summer months, the average temperature is 75°F.

Surfing to Zach means a pure connection to nature. That is why for the past few years he has been researching, building, and riding wooden or sustainable surf craft. His current surfboard project involves repurposed skateboard decks and an old whiskey barrel from Great Northern Distillery that his boss at the farm gifted him. “I love the way wooden boards ride and the process of building them,” says Zach. “This planet we’re living on is alive. We have a responsibility to take care of it—and each other—the best that we can.”

With his little girl on the way, Zach Manon is planning for the future. His dream is to build his own workshop. Build surfboards for himself and other Great Lakes surfers. He also hopes to teach classes on making sustainable surf craft using repurposed lumber or other natural, eco-friendly materials. “I hope to be able to offer jobs to my family members someday—especially my little sisters and nieces (when they’re old enough)—doing things like board design/artwork, teaching, and surfboard building,” says Zach. “Maybe even have room for a cafe/crepe shop?”

And some cheese mongering.

It seems a fair chance that Zach and Katie’s daughter won’t have to worry about a surfboard sponsor.

“MALIBU OF THE MIDWEST?” What do you think?
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