By Jacob Wheeler
A couple of new businesses have opened their doors in town — a surf shop and a doctor’s office — and as long as you play it safe, there should be no causal relationship between the two. As a matter of fact, the Glen Arbor Sun wouldn’t even mention them in the same story if Empire weren’t such a small town where everything gets intermingled over a juicy burger at the Friendly Tavern.
Stoked for a gnarly session?
Beryl and Frank Skrocki opened the Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak Shop in late June, and what began as just another flip-flop shop is now decked out with sleek kayaks and buff surfboards. Says Beryl, “Our three little kids love kayaking along the coast when the water has that glassy quality to it, so we decided to fulfill our dream of opening a store in beautiful Leelanau County. Kayaking is a perfect way to experience the lakeshore without huffing and puffing up the dunes.”
Wait. Stop the presses. Surfing? Here?
Yeah, apparently so, confirms Sarah, the lovely surfer diva from San Diego who will offer lessons on the Empire beach to anyone interested in renting a board from the Surf & Kayak Shop. “It seemed like a joke at first,” remembers Sarah. “Surfing in a lake? My friends in Santa Cruz where I was living at the time asked why I was bringing my boards with me.”
But Sarah and her boyfriend Tim, who monitors the Piping Plover for the National Park Service, have ridden waves of as large as four-five feet high on Lake Michigan. The main difference between here and California — the Mecca for anything hip and outdoorsy — is the frequency of the waves. Under the right conditions the waves in Empire hit every two or three seconds, whereas the swells on the Pacific Ocean give you ample time to prepare for the next ride.
Well, that and the lack of salt in the water. “If it weren’t for the frequency of the waves, I’d notice the lack of buoyancy in the freshwater,” says Sarah. “But it sure is nice to take in a mouthful of water here. And the wetsuit doesn’t stink afterwards!”
Sarah is what we’d call a surfing pro. She learned the trade from her father when she was young, and got into the art “pretty hard-core” five years ago. She’s been participating in contests and jumping on a board four or five times a week ever since then.
And as you might imagine, she speaks the surfer language fluently.
“I’d say the lingo is part of my daily vocabulary,” Sarah confirms and proceeds to fill me in on a few key terms. Some of them I had heard before. Others I brought up, like “hella,” the adjective I had heard Californians use to precede another adjective, turned out to be “valley girl talk” and not surfer lingo. Oops.
“Gnarly describes a really cool wave,” she explains. “And stoked is when you are really excited. Your session is the time you spend on the wave. A ripping wave is a big one that throws you around. If you charge it then you go full force into the wave.
“But if you’re a beginner,” she tells me as I blush, “make sure to use a longer board. And when you paddle toward the wave, don’t lay too close to the nose of the board or you’ll nosedive, or pearl into the water.”
That’s it. I can talk the talk. Now it’s time to walk the walk.
Back in caring hands: Coles fills the void
Doctor Douglas Coles wants to get to know Empire, its population and all its family dynamics. He’s the new vital organ in town, and so proving himself to the locals is important. But one thing he absolutely will not do is participate in the Polar Bear Club’s plunge through a hole in South Bar Lake in the dead of winter. Coles knows too much about health for that.
“I’ll cheer them on, but it’s unlikely that I’ll join in,” he says with a straight face.
The rest of Empire should be smiling. Ever since legendary Doc Houghton packed up his bags and left for Glen Arbor, the town has been minus a doctor — until now.
“Houghton served this community well,” says Coles. “He made house calls, and that impresses people.” Doc Houghton’s office in Glen Arbor also sent flowers as a welcoming gift to Coles’ office when it opened in mid-June, next to Diane’s Hairstyling, just across M-22 from State Savings Bank.
(If a nice hair-do and a cash transfer don’t cure what ails you, then the doctor is there for you.)
Coles has practiced medicine in nearby Frankfort for 19 years, and will continue to do so for half of the week. He will be in the Empire office on Tuesdays and Thursdays from1 p.m. to 6 p.m. every other Monday and every other Saturday between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. during the summer. Luckily, he doesn’t mind the commute because nothing beats the drive on M-22 between Frankfort and Empire.
But patrons may see nurse practitioner Robyn Yates more often. The cheery, outgoing Yates hales from northern Michigan but just moved back from Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband. Coles called it “a bit of a leap of faith” to put her to work since the two didn’t know each other, but Yates has gone above and beyond the call of duty. She has ventured north and south, from The Homestead Resort to Platte River Campground, handing out fliers to inform locals about the new doctor’s office in town.
The other integral parts of the new team are medical assistant Nancy and receptionist Heidi Solmose, whose daughter Ashley won the Miss Northwest Michigan pageant, as reported in the July 1 issue of the Glen Arbor Sun.