Surfing is not a crime … except in Chicago.
That seems to be the case for Rex Flodstrom, 40, of Chicago, who was arrested for surfing Lake Michigan on Jan. 17. On Thursday, Flodstrom appeared in court in response to being cited for disorderly conduct and violating city park ordinances for being at a closed beach.
Another layer of gray was added to the story Thursday as Flodstrom was offered a deal for violating three Chicago Park District ordinances. To keep from going to trial, Flodstrom, a warehouse worker and artist, agreed to 20 hours of community service.
With fellow surfers in support, including activist James Pribram of Laguna Beach, Calif., who refers to himself as an "eco warrior" and a circus of media, Flodstrom's lawyer, Ed Genson (who defended musician R. Kelly and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich) agreed to the deal.
It appears that despite the ridiculousness of the case, surfing is still a crime on certain Chicago beaches.
"I know some light has been shed on the issue, but whether this law is overturned, remains to be seen," Flodstrom told ESPN.
Flodstrom has been surfing since childhood on the Great Lakes and in California. He was sitting on his board off the Oak Street Beach when he saw two figures walk down to the water.
"I couldn't see that they were police officers. I was kind of far out. They started motioning to me. I gave them a thumbs up. I didn't want them to think I was in danger. Eventually I came in and the grabbed me, handcuffed me, and threatened me with felony charges. I was taken to the police station, fingerprinted, and had my mug shot taken," said Flodstrom who was incarcerated for four hours.
"It's kind of like being in the Twilight Zone," said Pribram, who has been to the Great Lakes several times for surfing access issues, "Coming from California, it seems a lot of the laws here are fear-based. They don't understand surfing. They don't want people to drown, but they don't educate the public. They just ban it. There's a real disconnect here."
Pribram contacted the mayor's office requesting a meeting, but his calls were never returned. He added that a good number of people surf, use stand up paddleboards and kayaks in Chicago, and the rules of where they can recreate are not very clear.
Flodstrom contends he didn't even know it was illegal to surf at that beach. After the hearing, he and the other surfers took part in a voluntary beach clean-up on the shores of Lake Michigan. He says he will keep surfing where the waves are good and hopes that the city comes around.