Chicago surfer surprised with arrest

Lifelong surfer Rex Flodstrom couldn't resist the Lake Michigan waves Jan. 17. Courtesy of Mike Killion

The conditions were far from ideal -- sun going down, temperatures in the 20s, chop on the water -- but Rex Flodstrom couldn't resist the urge to surf a 4-foot wind swell on Lake Michigan. Turns out, he had other forces against him as well. Namely the Chicago Police Department.

At around 5 p.m. Jan. 17, officers got a call that somebody was in the water off Oak Street Beach, a city park about three miles north of Chicago Harbor. They arrived at the closed beach to find Flodstrom riding waves. When he got out of the water, Flodstrom, 40, was arrested and ticketed.

Fox Chicago News reported that Flodstrom was cited for disorderly conduct and violating city park ordinances for being at a closed beach. They also confiscated his surfboard.

"It made me feel like the world is going a little crazy," Flodstrom told Fox, adding that, as a lifelong surfer, he's dealt with aggressive locals and dangerous sea life but has never been handcuffed and taken down to the station.

Since his arrest, prominent figures in the global surfing community have rallied behind Flodstrom, including 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater, who, via Twitter, likened Chicago's regulations to a "police state."

The Windy City has a history with this issue, and surfers have been ticketed in the past. During the offseason, which runs from the end of Labor Day Weekend until the start of Memorial Day Weekend, only four Chicago beaches are open for surfing, Montrose, Rainbow, 57th Street and Osterman.

Surfer and environmental activist James Pribram -- who helped convince city officials to legalize surfing at those beaches in 2009 -- told the Chicago Sun-Times that he "was shocked to hear someone got arrested, again. I thought Chicago was going to open more beaches and have surfing legalized throughout the lakefront. The fact that surfing is illegal anywhere in America is pretty baffling in this day and age. People should have the free will to use the lake to surf, boogie-board, do stand-up paddling, whatever."

The Surfrider Foundation was also key to that 2009 effort, and in a statement responding to Flodstom's arrest, the nonprofit advocacy group said "there is a need for the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the City of Chicago to continue working cooperatively to communicate which beaches are open for surfing and paddling, while at the same time working to expand opportunities for surfers in the region."

Flodstrom's arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 16.