Out of Place
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One Thanksgiving, when I was a kid, I went out after dinner to watch my brother surf. But we didn’t live in California or Hawaii—and it wasn’t the kind of carefree, sunny day that you see in ‘60s surfer movies. Believe it or not, I grew up in Michigan. And on that stormy November day, when my brother hopped into the frigid water of Lake Michigan in his full wetsuit, I was bundled up in layer upon layer of sweatshirts and jackets, hats and gloves. Most people thought that he was crazy to brave the storms to try to surf on a lake—but he’s not the only one. Around the Great Lakes, there are tight-knit communities of men and women just like him—and some of them are featured in the Lake Erie surfing documentary, Out of Place.

Out of Place highlights the daring Cleveland men (and a few women, too—though none of them appear in the interviews) who brave the unpredictable Midwestern elements to catch a wave. This isn’t a sunny California surfer movie. These guys surf in the most surprising of conditions—because, on the Great Lakes, the coldest, stormiest winter days produce the best waves. As one of the surfers says, the best days are the ones that look like a black-and-white movie. They’re hazy and often snowy (and they’re almost always very, very cold). But those dark, stormy days make for some dramatic documentary footage. Thanks to those gray skies, the snow-white ground, and the black of the surfers’ full, hooded wetsuits, the film often feels like a black-and-white movie—even when it’s technically in color.

While the footage may seem serious and dramatic, though, the surfers make it light and entertaining. From No Na Nalu (roughly translated to “No Salt Waves”) surfboard designer Vince, who idolizes Fast Times at Ridgemont High surfer Jeff Spicoli, to Neil, who shares his old home movies, they’re full of passion and enthusiasm. They’re definitely surfers, but they’re Midwesterners, too—which makes them a fun-loving, easygoing brotherhood of misfits.

These surfing misfits and oddballs come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are Cleveland natives who have been surfing in Lake Erie all their lives; others are transplants from Florida or California who are trying to make the most of their situation. They’re artists and geologists and restaurant owners; they’re parents and children. They’re working third shift or living in their car so they won’t miss any waves. But no matter who they are or where they come from, their eyes light up when they share their stories about chasing the waves.

Out of Place is an unexpected documentary about an unusual brotherhood of outsiders. It’s a beautiful film—and while it may not inspire you to suit up and grab a board on a cold November day, you’re sure to be inspired by the passion and camaraderie of these lovable (and maybe just a little bit crazy) Ohio surfers.

Ed. Note: Out of Place is currently making the rounds at film festivals and indie theaters. For more information, visit OutOfPlaceMovie.com.

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