Surfski Beginner And Running Fanatic Get an Introduction to Surfskis
This past week my wife’s cousin Inge and her husband Mike and two kids Cambell and Monica came from Atlanta to visit us for the first time in Northern Michigan. We had recently visited them in late March down in Atlanta on a vacation the turned out to be very instrumental in motivating me to start TC Surfski.
Around 10 years ago Mike left a great job and promising career in corporate America to venture out on his own and start a running store in Atlanta called Big Peach Running Co (BPRC or just Big Peach). Mike’s first store was on Peachtree Rd in the Buckhead district of Atlanta not far from all the big box sporting stores.
Mike’s strategy to provide a very approachable and highly educational experience for both runners and walkers has proven extremely successful. He and his business partner are now opening their 7th store in the Atlanta metro region. Mike definitely has an equally strong passion for running and retail and it comes through in his stores. With regard to running credentials, I’m not positive the total count but I think he has completed at least eight or nine 100 mile trail races including a sub 24 hour finish at Western States and lots of other very impressive results.
Running shoes and surfskis
Spending time in Atlanta with Mike in March was a huge inspiration for me in starting TC Surfski and I’m committed to continuing to implement many of the same strategies that have made BPRC so successful. Shoes and Surfskis are certainly very different purchases, but the fundamentals of educating the customer, providing a 100% positive experience and winning with service are all the same.
Time to have some fun
Needless to say, I wanted to be sure that when Mike and family visited Northern Michigan we really showed them the best time possible. I always enjoy hosting visitors and having someone like Mike is extra fun because I know that he can handle anything and everything that I could possibly throw at him. Mike, Inge, Monica and Cambell arrived on Monday evening and we promptly did a quick tour of the shop to get him psyched up about surfski paddling. I had to work Tuesday so Mike took off first thing in the morning and went for a quick 15 mile trail run on the Vasa Trail System. After work on Tues we loaded the Epic V10S and V8 and drove a mile down the road to the closest beach. It was a 90 degree day with a nice south breeze creating a little white cap action on the bay. The goal of the evening was to give Mike a quick intro to surfski paddling in preparation for a day at the beach in Empire on Wed where we would venture out into open lake Michigan.
Always working to improve technique – the camera doesn’t lie
After a quick introduction on remounting I sent Mike on his way on the Epic V8 and I hopped into the Epic V10S. When I was down in Atlanta in March I had been doing a lot of work on my running form, trying to really improve and transition to landing on the forefoot as all the research is now proving to be the optimal technique. I thought I was making pretty good progress until Mike threw me up on the treadmill at one of his running stores with a high definition slow motion camera. He quickly took all the wind out of my sails when he showed that I clearly had not made the progress I thought. I did however end up leaving with a great new pair of running shoes and the motivation to keep working at it. I had been tinkering with an idea on how I could mount my waterproof camera on a small tripod on the bow of my boat. Paddling with Mike would be the perfect opportunity to try it out and also have a chance to critique his technique. Paybacks are always very sweet!
Moving up to the V10S
Mike had some paddling background but mostly what we in the surfski world refer to as “bathtub” boats. Despite not having optimal technique, Mike managed pretty well in the V8. He did complain about the steering being off to which I responded “you just aren’t paddling correctly”. Eventually I came along side him and realized he had one of the pedals all the way down just to go straight. Okay, maybe there is a line out of adjustment. He was validated. A quick adjustment and I had it squared away. Mike was anxious to move up so I put him in the V10S and I hopped into the V8. Mike took 3 or 4 swims as he settled into the V10S and we started paddling straight into the 1 1/2 – 2 foot chop. We paddled a couple of miles and I kept asking Mike when he was ready to turn around but when weighing his options of going parallel to the waves and a potential swim versus continuing to paddle, Mike was content to just keep paddling. If I had not eventually forced Mike to turnaround I think he would have probably just kept paddling straight south another 9 miles until he reached the beach in Traverse. Mike did manage to get turned around without a swim and was feeling pretty good. Then I started coaching him on how to catch waves and yelling at him to sprint, sprint, sprint! In all the excitement of trying to catch waves he did go for another swim.
It was only later that night that Mike’s wife Inge informed us that he really, really, really hates the cold water and had no desire to paddle a surfski but was only doing it to not disappoint me. So I thought, well that is great, but I’m not giving up. Mike’s tolerance to endure pain if far beyond what any of us mere mortals can even begin to fathom, so I wasn’t about to back off and go easy on him.
Stepping Up to the Big Water
I took the next day off of work and we loaded up the Epic V8 and my Stellar SE along with some road bikes so we could bike the 35 miles home from Empire after paddling. I was super excited to see that the Southwest wind w
as blowing a solid 15 knots and we were going to have a really nice swell out in Lake Michigan. Mike and I were on kid duty for the first half of the day, but once Inge and Kim arrived back from their shopping excursion we were quick to get the boats ready for launch and some serious surfing.
The water was relatively warm and I had Mike nice and bundled up, so off we went. I can imagine it was a bit intimidating for Mike to mount the surfski in the breaking surf but I was confident he would be okay in the V8. Sure enough, Mike was off and running quickly and within no time we were doing out and back loops in the 4-5 foot swell. Mike never once went for a swim and for someone who doesn’t like water all that much, he sure seemed to be smiling a lot. I’m not sure if Mike really got any good long runs, but he definitely got the feeling of a swell rising up below you and dropping down into it. He later reported that it really felt awesome going out into the waves and being so confident that no matter how big they looked he knew he could just keep paddling up and over them with relative ease. We wrapped up our surfing session with a few nice photos and quickly dried off and transitioned into bike gear.
Leelanau County Road Ride with Tailwind
As planned, we had a tail wind for a good part of the ride home. I don’t think Mike had really been on a road bike in over 12 years, but when you do 100 mile trail runs, you can pretty much fake anything. We had a great ride through Leelanau county covering just a fraction of the many amazing road bike miles to be road in the county. We made it home just in time to prep dinner and enjoy the rest of the warm summer evening.
Not Done Yet
But the trip wasn’t over yet, Thursday was the last full day Mike and family would be with us, so I knew I had to keep the hits coming and do my best to try and wear Mike out, even if just a little bit. The best place I could think of was the single track section of North Country Trail at the Marilla trailhead. The plan was that I would mountain bike and Mike would run the 18 mile out and back. For those not familiar with this trail, it is generally recognized as one of the most grueling in Michigan. It destroys me every time I mountain bike it and I could never imagine running it. Mike thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. We had a nice morning with a bit of rain to keep things cool. For him it could not have been any better.
Safe to say that by Friday I was pretty exhausted from trying to wear Mike out. I’m quite certain I didn’t come close, but I am confident he got a really good taste of what Northern Michigan is all about. Trail running the Vasa, paddling in West Bay, padding in Empire, road biking Leelanau county, and running the North Country Trail. Friday morning Mike and family took the SS Badger across lake Michigan to Wisconsin where they were heading to a family reunion on the western side of the state. I haven’t talked to him since they left, but I would be willing to bet anything Mike was checking out the swell as they crossed Lake Michigan and wondering how it would feel to be out there in the epic V8. Knowing Mike he was probably also contemplating the feasibility of a Lake Michigan crossing and what that might feel like. Cold water isn’t all that bad if you have a surfski and the right gear