Surfin' CLE

Forget 6-foot waves and sunny beaches. Our surf season begins this month and doesn't stop until the lake freezes over. That's because storms and cold fronts power Lake Erie's waves, and surfing them requires more than just a love of the sport. It calls for patience, guts and a good wet suit.
"It doesn't matter if it's 5 degrees outside if there are waves," says Scott Ditzenberger. "You may think it's too cold to shovel your driveway, but you'll still put on your wet suit and go surfing."
The number of Great Lakes surfers is small but growing. That's in part thanks to Ditzenberger's documentary, Out of Place, which has screened at film festivals throughout the world.

Last year, it won the Viewer's Choice Award for Best Feature at the New York Surf Film Festival. It was released on DVD last month.

Through bleak, gray images of Lake Erie in winter and sunny still portraits of it in summer, Out of Place stirs a sense of restlessness and hope that mimics the attitudes of Cleveland's surfers. "Surfers here have a rough time because we just get waves so infrequently," Ditzenberger says.

But surfing here is not hopeless. In fact, it's inspiring, and that's because of the people who do it. Just watching the film's close-knit group of wave riders trade surf wax, design boards and tirelessly hunt for waves makes you smile.

From the young 20-something living temporarily in his car near the lake to a man who has been surfing Erie his entire life, their passion makes you want to meet these surfers in person. In fact, Ditzenberger says he receives e-mails from legendary surfers around the world asking to do just that.

Because most of us will never surf the lake or have to wedge ourselves into coolers of hot water afterward to warm up, watching Out of Place is the closest we'll get to braving Lake Erie's rough waters one on one and finding serenity under gray skies.

"The backdrop of surfing in Cleveland, it's different than surfing anywhere else," Ditzenberger says. "It's a different kind of beauty."

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