Kayak Lake Superior: ‘Think like locals’ to plan safe, fun trip
Lake Superior Lake Superior’s stunning rocks, cliffs and sandstone caves make for some of the most thrilling kayaking in the country.
Days after a kayaker died when a group paddle was ambushed by the unpredictable waves of moody Lake Superior, a concerned paddler called the DNR with this sobering soliloquy: “It seems like Lake Superior is where kayakers go to die.”
DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor Dave Oginski of Ashland, a kayaker himself who enjoys Lake Superior paddles, knew exactly what the caller meant. He understood it as a kayaker – and as a law enforcement officer who has responded to boaters in distress or worse.
So Oginski decided to offer his insight and tips for how he plans his Lake Superior kayaking trips to help other kayakers enjoy this truly great lake as much as he does.Stunning Lake Superior can surprise you
“Lake Superior is beautiful. Our shorelines and sea caves are awe-inspiring,” he says of the national scenic route that includes the Apostle Islands – a popular site for the increasingly popular sport. “The islands are uninhabited. This is wilderness at its best. You can launch anywhere. It is inexpensive and it is a great thing to do.”
Lake Superior offers exciting and exhilarating boating – no doubt about it. However, for the unprepared paddler, it can turn deadly and unmanageable for even the most experienced paddler in a matter of seconds. Still, Oginski says Lake Superior’s reputation with some as the watery grave for kayakers doesn’t have to be. But it will require preparation before tying the new kayak to the car roof and heading for the great Lake Superior.
“People develop some very good kayaking skills in other lakes and rivers. And they are confident in their abilities. But, it is a whole different world to tackle Lake Superior. You need to think about Lake Superior’s environment – it is different!” Oginski says. “I don’t know how to overemphasize this – you must respect the lake. The locals respect the lake. They understand how quickly the lake can change.”
Ever wonder why it’s uncommon to see a local resident fishing or boating at night, or even leaving their boats on the lake after sunset? “They know how Lake Superior creates its own weather – even split into two a single storm, or have one form right on the water.”
And the sad thing for Oginski, he suspects the pre-paddle steps that could avoid a tragedy may not be on the radar of kayakers drawn to the nationally-known lake.Here’s the wake-up call
The case of a June kayaker fatality that prompted the call was eerily similar to an October 2010 fatality -- same beach launch site, good equipment, experienced paddlers.
Here’s the wake-up call: the best equipment and hours of kayaking experience on rivers, inlands lakes don’t matter much when it comes to launching into Lake Superior – a stunningly beautiful lake that can unleash squalls without warning fueling winds approaching 50 miles per hour with 6- to 12-foot seas.
“Even with the best training, many people should not be trying to tackle kayaking the sea caves or the distant islands You can keep it close to shore or in the bay and still have a great time,” says Oginski, a longtime canoeist who added kayaking on Lake Superior when he assumed his warden supervisor post in 2007. “And my hunch is a lot of the kayakers are not as knowledgeable about the Lake Superior environment as they should be.”
Oginski practices the steps and mindset he believes a kayaker should adopt as the routine preparation when planning a fun paddle in the nationally known lake. (See: Oginski’s kayaking trip tips: They’re life-savers)
He strongly urges the kayakers coming to Lake Superior to visit the National Park Service Apostle Islands office to talk with the rangers about conditions and grab a water map. Other options would be to check in with the local marinas and bait shops as well as some reliable weather sites.
“Even on the best days on Lake Superior the wind can switch. And if the forecast is for a wind switch, you need to be able to place yourself accordingly to be able to handle it,” Oginski says. “It is so critical. It is life-threatening when you have a wind. Sometimes the wind forecast isn’t exactly what you see. And the waves could come from the tankers. You might be in your kayak and wonder, ‘Where did these huge rollers come from?’”
Oginski enjoys the exercise and viewing the lake from the seat in his kayak. But it’s all about safe outdoor fun. “I won’t ever put myself in a situation where I put my life at risk.”
And that may be the best advice of all.
Want more information? Contact us: www.dnr.state.wi.us/contact/