Chicago surfer Rex Flodstrom caught a bad break last month. It wasn’t the waves or “breaks” he was riding nor even the icy waters of a January afternoon on Lake Michigan. It was the legal hot water he found himself in.
The 40-year old Flodstrom is an experienced surfer who lives near Chicago’s Oak Street Beach. The lake rarely offers good waves for surfers there. So when he spotted 4-foot swells one day last month, he could not resist, even though it was a frigid 20 degrees that afternoon.
But when he came off the lake, Chicago police were waiting. They arrested him for surfing at a beach where surfing is illegal, confiscated his surfboard and sparked a tempest in the surfing world.
Fellow surfers, including superstar Kelly Slater, took to Twitter and other social media after Flodstrom’s arrest. Slater tweeted, “Surfing is not a crime” and told the Chicago Sun Times, “It makes no sense. … It sounds like a police state.”
Flodstrom appeared in a Chicago court Thursday, along with about a dozen other surfers who showed up to show their support. One of them, James Pribram, a surfing pro who traveled from California, told ABC affiliate WLS, “People should have the freedom of choice and be able to go surfing if they like. [The city] needs to take a closer look at opening up other beaches.”
The judge agreed to drop charges against Flodstrom if he completed 20 hours of community service before March 19. But that did not seem to satisfy the surfers, who cited Flodstrom’s arrest as an example of overprotective government.
Mitch McNeil of the Surfrider Foundation told ABC News, “Surfers take full responsibility for what happens to them on the water. They can’t fathom how a surfer is arrested for going in the water.” McNeil added, “It’s not in the police playbook for them to be policing the surfing community.”
Surfing is allowed at some of Chicago’s beaches during the winter months, but Oak Street is not one of them. In the wake of the Flodstrom case, McNeil hopes to convince the city to open all its beaches to surfers in the winter “so police don’t have to worry about people surfing in the cold or snow.”
Around the world, surfing hot spots go by menacing nicknames like “Jaws” in Maui, “Mavericks” near San Francisco and the “Wedge” at Newport Beach. Surfer haunts on Lake Michigan are decidedly less glamorously harrowing: “Stan’s Groins,” the “Horseshoe” or just plain old “57th Street.”
Flodstrom’s corner of the surfing universe doesn’t have a name yet, but he hopes his case will put it on the map: “It would be a shame,” he said after his court appearance, “if no one gets to surf there again, because I think it’s a unique spot in the world as far as surfing. I don’t think there is another place like it.”