Chillwavers: An Interview with Sam and Caleb Skelton

There’s a moment in late September Clevelanders know all too well. After months of warm and (mostly) sunny weather, a wall of dark clouds forms over Lake Erie. With it, a rush of cool air jets down from the northwest, riling up our once peaceful lake into a frenzy. The temperature drops and the sky turns grey. Pack up the beach blanket. Summer is over. The season for fun on the lake is done.

Or is it? For a small but passionate community spread across the Great Lakes, these chilly conditions can mean only one thing: surfing. While the thought of a polar plunge is enough to make some shudder, the most dedicated of Great Lakes surfers will gleefully throw on their wetsuits, grab their boards, and enter the frigid water for an adrenaline rush few can comprehend. It’s an activity so uniquely bonkers, our brewers couldn’t help but name a beer after it.

Born and raised in Mentor, OH, brothers Sam and Caleb Skelton have fully embraced the North Coast lifestyle our Chillwave Imperial IPA so colorfully depicts. Their cold water antics and frozen beards have garnered a sizable following on social media, and they’re hoping the extra attention will get more people interested in their favorite winter sport. We caught up with them at the brewpub to learn more…

GLBC: We’ve been brewing Chillwave for a while now, but the concept of surfing on Lake Erie is still hard for a lot of people to wrap their minds around.
Sam: The most common response we hear is, “you can’t surf Lake Erie."
Caleb: Yeah, we’ll be in our wetsuits, carrying our surfboards, and people will still be like, “wait… are you going surfing?” But that’s because most people don’t go to the lake when it’s surfable. They only go when it’s nice and warm and flat and it’s good to swim or go boating.
Sam: The season is really fall, winter, and spring. September and October is when you start getting consistency.
Caleb: You can get lucky in the summer, but it’s rare.

GLBC: How did you get started surfing?
Sam: It started with me in 2004 or something? I was hanging out with friends and they started talking about lake surfing and I was like, “you can’t surf the lake,” but they were like, “yeah, you can.” And after that, my buddy and I found a surfboard in Mentor Headlands that someone was selling on Myspace. We bought it, and we started going during thunderstorms. I caught my first wave on Lake Erie in July or August that summer.
Caleb: I went with you when I was probably 14. I borrowed your board and got absolutely destroyed by a Lake Erie wave.
GLBC: I have to imagine catching your first wave on Lake Erie, rather than on an ocean, is pretty unique, even for the diehard surfers that live around here.
Caleb: Yeah, a lot of people moved here from someplace where they could surf, or they tried it while on vacation someplace.
Sam: It became my little obsession. I would skip school and stuff for it, but usually it was just a big failure. It kind of went on the backburner as something we did here and there over the years. But right before the pandemic, Caleb had really started showing an interest in surfing.
Caleb: I lived in North Carolina for a bit and was able to surf every day.
Sam: But then the pandemic hit and we had nothing to do, and we thought, “I wonder how much you can surf here.” And last year it ended up being? What? 80 or so days?
GLBC: Wow!
Caleb: Yeah, they weren’t all great days, but you were still able to get out, paddle around, and get some sun.

GLBC: You mentioned that the early days were a “big failure.” Why?
Caleb: We weren’t good at tracking storms until recently.
Sam: You have to get really familiar with meteorology. It’s a lot easier now with all of the apps out there, but we started pre-smart phones. I would look at the marine forecast, see that there’d be four to six feet waves and think “great! Let’s go!” But we wasted a lot of time not understanding how the wind direction affects everything.
Caleb: We’d go to just one beach all the time and sometimes get lucky. Now, if we’re going out, we’re most likely going to be surfing.
Sam: We have spots all along the coast of Lake Erie. It’s super rewarding. The more you go, the more you learn, and the more days you get.

GLBC: It sounds like surfing the Great Lakes is a game of patience.
Sam: The lake is funny because it’ll give you bad day after bad day for a month straight, and then it’ll give you one day where it’s warm, the sun is setting over the city, and you’re getting these crazy waves that you just can’t believe you’re surfing.
Caleb: But it’ll only be for a 30 minute window. It’ll be choppy or flat all day, and then all of the sudden there’ll be these beautiful clean waves.
Sam: It’s that moment! That’s what keeps you going out.
Caleb: You’ll be ready to go home, and then you catch a wave, and then you just want to paddle right back out to get another one.

GLBC: I’ve heard Great Lakes surfers can be a secretive bunch, but you two don’t seem that way at all.
Sam: There are so many benefits to getting people stoked on Lake Erie. People who live in the Cleveland area aren’t necessarily “lake people” even though they live so close to it.
Caleb: If we hide the spots and make it a secret, then the sport is never going to grow.
Sam: Economically, there’s a lot of potential for there to be surf tourism in Cleveland.
GLBC: And it seems like getting people to the water helps them understand why it’s important.
Caleb: And we love the lake. It’s way more valuable and way more fragile of a resource than a lot of people realize. Protecting it is such a big deal.
Sam: And we’ve seen what happens when people don’t.

GLBC: What’s your favorite memory of surfing Lake Erie?
Sam: Oh, that’s easy.
Caleb: The pandemic messed up my wedding plans twice, so my fiancée and I decided we’d get married on the beach instead. The weather had been terrible all day, but the sun came out and these waves just started rolling in.
Sam: So it’s an hour before the wedding is supposed to begin and we run back into the house to ask his fiancée like, “Please! Can we please go out?” And she was like, “yeah, for sure!”
Caleb: I’m supposed to be putting my suit on and instead I’m like, “wait, I’m gonna go catch a wave real quick.” *laughs*
Sam: I watched Caleb catch this awesome wave, and we ran back in, got showered, and man… it was just sick. I loved that day.

Chillwave Imperial IPA is available now in 16 oz. Can 4-Packs and Draft for a limited time. To locate Chillwave Imperial IPA and other GLBC beers in your area, visit our Beer Finder.

Words by Adam Ritterspach. Photos of Sam and Caleb Skelton provided by Sam Skelton. Photos of Chillwave Imperial IPA provided by Adam Ritterspach.

Back to top arrow