“No matter which way the wind blows, there are knee-high to waist-high waves somewhere in the county,” says Stein Erik Gabrielsen, kite surfing, wind surfing, and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) instructor extraordinaire. “Door County is a location for SUP – there are hundreds of thousands of people paddling now, but they are doing it in rivers or ponds – flat water. We want to promote the surfing aspect.”
To promote the surf sport opportunities Door County offers to beginners and professionals alike, Gabrielsen and his friend David Troup have launched Door County Surf Sports on Facebook – a video and photo competition where winners are determined by the number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares.’
“The main focus of the Door County Surf Sports project is to highlight that all these people that got in SUP are now advanced beginners and can ride waves,” explains Gabrielsen. The photo and video competition runs the entire season. “We’re not trying to get people to do the most extreme tricks – we want a beautiful photo of Door County, promoting that we have beaches for surfing.”
Gabrielsen started surfing at the age of 16 in Hawaii. As an adult he has long spent summer seasons catching waves in Door County and traversing the tropics during the winter teaching surfing, wind surfing and kite surfing in Hawaii, Florida, Texas, the Bahamas, and Costa Rica.
“The very first time someone gets a wave – it’s a very unique sensation, it’s very addictive,” smiles Gabrielsen. “When people catch waves they want to do it again. The five or six-year-old who catches their first wave here – that’s ingrained in their memory for the rest of their life. They will always associate Door County with surfing.”
Gabrielsen enjoys being on hand to help individuals learn to surf and become more comfortable with the waves. “We try not to give people the opportunity to fail, which is why we want them to start with SUP in flat water, get their sea legs, get their balance, get their coordination,” he explains. “Then we bring them gradually into small waves, then bigger waves, then introduce sails if they want to get into kiting or wind surfing – much better than going out on a windy day and handing them a kite and letting them get their a** kicked.”
Gabrielsen also believes that Door County, which has miles and miles of shoreline, is ideal for beginners. “No one else has the conditions we have to provide these waves,” he says. “We also have intermediate waves and advanced waves.”
Gabrielsen uses the Facebook page to send out weather alerts to followers and offer locations to convene.
“We try to get people to specific spots cause then there is a camaraderie,” says Gabrielsen. Most often the action takes place at Ridges Beach in Baileys Harbor. “It’s got a huge sandy beach, there are restrooms, a convenience store, the fire department is right there in case there is an emergency, there are restaurants, hotels, camping.”
The town of Baileys Harbor also noticed how tourism has grown because of the emergence of surf sports. “It’s like a moving billboard having a kite out there,” says Gabrielsen. “When we’re at Anclam Park, 500 cars will stop that would normally have gone through town. The town has noticed that when we surf here they make an extra 5,000 – 10,000 dollars that day and that adds up.”
The town hoped Gabrielsen would kite everyday and keep catching the tourists’ eyes. “Well, it’s not windy everyday,” he laughs. That’s why they’ve opted to hold the competition via social media rather than creating an event.
“We’re no longer trying to pack a beach full of people on a Saturday at 2 pm and hope it’s windy and wavy at 2 pm. It’s much more difficult to manage – you’re at the mercy of the weather,” explains Gabrielsen. “For this kind of sport, so many times they’ve scheduled huge events and they’ve had to be canceled.”
Because of this, many surfing competitions are held via digital media. “Even the X Games have their surfing division based on video submissions,” adds Gabrielsen.
This year, Gabrielsen and Troup have decided to keep the competition small and simple. They launched the page on June 2nd, photos are open for judging until the end of September, winners will be announced in early October.
“We could have done a lot more content, more promotion, could have gotten more sponsors, but we wanted to keep it small and learn from it this year, in anticipation of how to do things next year,” explains Gabrielsen. Prizes that will be awarded to the individuals in the winning photos will receive gift certificates to area restaurants including Base Camp Coffee Bar and The Northern Grill.
Essentially, the competition is designed to promote surfing sports. “We want to make it accessible. We’re showing that a five-year-old kid can be out there surfing alongside professionals who are jumping and doing tricks. We’re trying to promote a healthy, active lifestyle – kids are out there in the water, playing and being physical rather than on an Xbox or an iPhone.”
To participate as a judge or learn more about Door County Surf Sports, search “Door County Surf Sports” on Facebook.
Gabrielsen will also offer snow ski kiting lessons every Saturday at 2 pm at Fish Creek Kite Company throughout the fall season.