By Sara Stathas
As a photographer, I am inspired to make work about people who have an extreme passion and enthusiasm for something near and dear to them. I seek out the quirky interests that Americans, in particular, have intense love for and use that as inspiration for making photos. I moved back to Wisconsin, the place that I grew up, after being away for a decade, and I’m rediscovering and seeking out some of the passions unique to Midwesterners.
The draw of the largest freshwater surfing event in the country, the Dairyland Surf Classic, held in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sounded right up my alley as a photo opportunity.
I headed up to Sheboygan on Saturday of the Labor Day weekend, the busiest day of surf and paddling competitions, according to their schedule. I rolled into sleepy downtown Sheboygan at about 8:30am, noticing a Honda Camry with a surfboard strapped to the roof following me east towards Lake Michigan. I parked along the bluff at Deland Park, near a group of dudes peeling off their wet suits after their early morning surf session.
As I walked towards the flurry of vendors setting up their tents for the event, it wasn’t long before I was introduced to the two men in charge: Larry “Longboard” Williams and his twin brother Lee “Waterflea” Williams, founders of the event 25 years ago and lifelong residents of Sheboygan. The two twins could, and probably have, taken their comedic banter on the road — Lee and Larry, 58 years old, are not identical, but are cut from the same cloth for sure. Within that first five minutes of meeting them, the brothers explained to me that Lee is 16 minutes older than Larry. Lee calls Larry “the afterbirth” and Larry said he got to watch Lee take his first tube ride (from the womb). The two of them have been surfing for 46 years.
For the next 45 minutes I wasn’t able to put my camera to my eye for a photo as both Larry and Lee (mostly Larry) rattled on and on: about the history of surfing in the Great Lakes, surf culture, and how they have come to run the largest fresh water surf gathering (okay, the largest freshwater surf PARTY) in the country. Pure Midwestern hospitality and an eagerness to share stories and facts and figures poured from them (mostly from Larry).