Charges dropped, Lake Michigan surfer recounts his experience

  • Surfer Rex Flodstrom (left) with professional California surfer James Pribram after appearing at Branch Court 43 to contest his arrest for surfing in a no-surf zone and charges of disorderly conduct and being at a closed beach Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012.
Surfer Rex Flodstrom (left) with professional California surfer James… (E. Jason Wambsgans/ Chicago…)
February 20, 2012|By Mick Swasko, RedEye

Rex Flodstrom wants everyone to enjoy the freedom to surf Chicago's beaches, even in the middle of winter.

The 40-year-old was arrested last month at Oak Street Beach for, among other misdemeanors, surfing on a closed beach. Although the charges were dropped in lieu of community service, Flodstrom said he's happy the ordeal has given him a chance to spread his message about how giving Chicagoans greater access to the lake could make an impact.

"I feel the more people that are free to access the lake, the more people will respect the water," Flodstrom said, adding that wind surfers, kayakers and others involved in aquatic activities have called him to show support following his arrest. When the charges were dropped last week, surfers took to the water at Montrose Beach in a show of solidarity.

A resident of Streeterville, Flodstrom spends his time working for a company that sells rare teas and working on art that is largely influenced by his passion for surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. His arrest, which he said reminded him of the end of Keanu Reeves' surf-centered movie "Point Break," even provoked national attention when 11-time wave riding champ Kelly Slater took to Twitter to defend him.

"One of the officers told me the news was picking up, and I was going to be a celebrity," Flodstrom said. "I guess I might as well try to speak for everybody and keep it positive."

He said he didn't realize it was illegal to surf at the beach, and had even done so before. He recalls being asked by officers at the beach previously if he intended to surf, only to be left alone. But after about two hours that January afternoon, Flodstrom said, he spotted uniformed onlookers on shore.

"A couple of guys showed up, and I realized it was the police department. I gave them 'thumbs up,' and I realized they weren't there for the show, they were there to arrest me," he said.

He said he hopes his arrest causes the city to rethink access to the lake for surfers and other water sports. A meeting between city officials and some in the community is planned for Feb. 28 to discuss the issue. As for surfing, the arrest won't keep him from beaches in the future.

"Surfing is a spiritual connection with the earth and the water. For a surfer, surfing washes away the dust that collects from life on land. It puts you in the moment, it's a meditation," he said.

mswasko@tribune.com | @mickswasko

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