PHOTO CREDIT: JAKE MILLER
He lives in an RV in a trailer park, he grows medical marijuana, and he surfs Lake Superior all year round. Daniel Schetter, alias Surfer Dan, is one of a kind. He sat down and talked to Brian Cabell about his life and his philosophy.
BC: Where’d you grow up, Dan?
DS: I was born and raised in Marquette and Ishpeming but I spent a lot of time in Carney Nadeau with my family. I have a lot of family down there. My dad is an iron worker and my mom was a lunch lady in the schools, she was an aide. She’s worked with a lot of elderly people and people with special needs.
BC: What were you like as a boy?
DS: I got to play outside a lot. I went sledding, fishing, hunting, and grabbing onto the bumpers of cars and sliding behind them. With a point system. (We laugh). We used to do fun stuff like that. We played football and basketball. Sometimes we’d freeze but we were too busy having fun to worry about it.
BC: So the cold weather never really bothered you, even as a boy?
DS: It was just the way it was. I didn’t want to get stuck inside, even with the nasty weather.
BC: If you had your druthers, would you rather live in a warmer climate?
DS: I think I’d like to go in and out of different climates. Because I’d miss the cold, I’d miss the snow but I don’t always want to be around it.
BC: Back to you as a boy. Where’d you go to high school?
DS: I went to high school in Ishpeming for a little while and I went to high school at an Air Force base in Okinawa, Japan. And that’s when I first started catching waves.
BC: Academics–were you a good student?
DS: I was a pretty good student, played sports but at the end I started surfing and my grades started going down so I ultimately got my GED. All I wanted to do back then was go surfing and party.
BC: Why were you in Japan?
DS: I was living with my aunt there. She was a schoolteacher for military children. She kind of adopted me in my freshman year in high school. My mom was getting a divorce, and so being with my aunt was just a more stable home for me. And that was really awesome for a while but then I started rebelling against everything and just wanted to go surfing, and to be in the water all the time.
BC: So you were in Japan but then you’d come back to the U.P?
DS: Yeah, we’d come back to Michigan in the summer but then on the way home, we’d stop in Hawaii and that’s where I caught my first wave. And then we got back to Michigan, and I said ‘We got all this water everywhere and all these waves!’ So I started surfing. And when we got back to Japan I started surfing there.
BC: So in the summer when you came back to the U.P., where would you stay? Who would you live with?
DS: I’d stay with my mom and…you know…wherever…I really don’t remember. It’s kind of fuzzy.
BC: It doesn’t sound very stable.
DS: No, everything’s always changing.
BC: Did that bother you?
DS: I mean, it seems kind of stressful but it’s really kind of cool to experience all that stuff. There’s a lot going on out there, different cultures and stuff.
BC: Were you a “handful” for your aunt?
DS: Uhhh…maybe. I think at certain points, yeah, but I think I was pretty good. Everybody’s got their issues. It’s normal. But yeah, I was starting to drink off base. I got drunk a few times and passed out. Woke up and got water dumped on my head.
BC: And how did your aunt feel about that?
DS: Uhh, you know, we just kind of went to church and learned about the Bible and stuff…and morals.
BC: Did that “take” with you?
DS: I think so. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it. But I think in the long run it’s good to have some sort of understanding of things. I don’t know. I have different opinions of things. It depends on my mood.
BC: So you finished high school. Then what?
DS: Well actually I got my GED. Then I went to Northern for a couple of years and decided that really wasn’t for me. So I got into farming and growing medicine. I became the first legal medical marijuana grower in Michigan. So I’ve been kind of this underground pot grower for people who are dying. A lot of people I grow for, there’s a lot of hope but there’s a lot of sadness. When I go surfing, it takes my mind off of that stuff.
BC: How long have you been growing it?
DS: Since 2008.
BC: So that’s been your main source of income?
DS: Well, I also buy and sell surfboards, do odd jobs and stuff like that. I give surf lessons once in a while. Everything’s so convoluted. Always behind on bills. You wanna sponsor me? (We laugh) I need booties, gloves, surfboards, repair kits, wax, leashes…If anybody’s reading this out there, we need lots of supplies to surf! It’s not cheap!
BC: What about other jobs? Did you ever work steady jobs?
DS: I worked cleaning floors for quite a while, for about five or six years, I think. But that was a night shift job and that really messed with my sleep pattern, and with catching waves.
BC: But growing pot has given you an income.
DS: Gardening is full time, it takes all my energy. I also grow my own food. I have chickens and ducks. I have some property outside of town, a secret location. That where I’d like to grow my own food and can it.
BC: It sounds like you really enjoy being independent.
DS: Yeah, but it’s stressful because I lost my driver’s license about ten years ago, and I’m on about my fourth or fifth lawyer. We’re working on getting it back. I’ve been sober from alcohol for thirteen years. It’s just a matter of getting in front of a panel to say I’m okay to drive. So I don’t feel independent because I’m always bumming rides.
BC: You have to depend on friends.
DS: Yeah, all the time. I’d like to go surfing by myself if I could but I can’t because I can’t drive, so I have to always include other people. So sometimes I’ll just stay at home. There’s a nest in here. But I have a lot of friends that come over, hang out and watch movies. And I have a couple of dogs that live with me.
BC: In this RV?
DS: Yeah, but they’re out hiking with a friend right now. And I have my brother here who’s close (next door in a trailer), and my mom comes here in the summer, but I’m getting out of here. I’ve been here in this trailer park for ten years. I’m gonna get my driver’s license, move out and have a farm, and live happily, harvest my own corn, and go catch waves. That’s my dream. Have a little tree house. You know what I mean?
BC: Any romantic interests?
DS: Not really right now. Just taking care of myself, focusing on important things like getting a driver’s license and catching waves. Either you’re helping me catch waves or you’re not. Just get out of my way!
BC: Have you ever been married?
DS: No, I’ve been in some relationships but I’m cool for now. I need some serious independence.
BC: How often do you go surfing?
DS: I’d say between 100 and 150 days a year maybe. Two or three days a week. In the summer, there’s waves too. You just gotta be willing to settle for smaller waves.
BC: You surf mostly at Presque Isle?
DS: Yeah, Presque Isle but I go everywhere. It’s pretty protected at Presque Isle.
BC: Most of us look at you and others surfing in the winter, and it looks so uncomfortable. Why do you do it?
DS: Just because the waves are so sweet. You gotta go ride them. If you get a good suit, you don’t have to worry about getting cold, at least for a while.
BC: So what’s it like while you’re out there on the lake in the cold waiting for a wave?
DS: When a wave’s coming, I’m anxious. I know I got to get to the right spot to catch it. And then when you paddle into it, and you take off, it’s sweet to watch the wave form, and pick which direction you’re gonna go, and line up where it’s gonna cover you up. It’s hard to get covered up and come out of waves here. I’m still going after the tube shot. I wanna get a big ice beard tube shot coming out of the wave. That’s what’s kind of keeping me going. That’s my goal. We need a really good day.
BC: Do you follow the weather closely?
DS: No, I just wait for it. If I just sit and watch the weather, I’d go crazy. I’d get depressed. But sometimes my phone will start blowing up. People will call me and say “You know there’s waves, right?”
BC: It seems clear that surfing is your number one love in life, right?
DS: Yeah, because it’s sweet! It involves so many things. You got the land and the water and there’s snow and there’s rainbows and stuff. There’s fish and birds.
BC: What would rate number two on your list of things that you love?
DS: Probably hiking with my dogs maybe. Hanging out with friends.
BC: But you don’t drink alcohol anymore.
DS: No. It was just making me sick and I was always getting in trouble. I wasn’t dependable. Just wasted drunk is no way to live. You gotta eat food. You gotta drink water, take care of yourself and sleep.
BC: So you just decided on your own to stop drinking?
DS: Well, I’ve been in trouble a few times for drinking and driving…you know, fighting or whatever…I’ve been in rehab a couple of times. It seemed to last for a little while, but finally I was, “Enough was enough, ” and then I got back into surfing at the same time so that really helped me. And then medical cannabis really helped. If you just take care of your body and exercise and rest and don’t be stressed out all the time, if you live right, you don’t need a bunch of pills. Just grow your own medicine and take care of yourself.
BC: You’re forty years old. That’s kind of a milestone. Are you happy with yourself?
DS: No, I’d like to have a driver’s license. But I feel great. I just wish I could catch more waves because I get a little bored with daily life. The daily struggle. Transportation’s a must.
BC: Do you feel you’re different from the average guy out there who’s working, has a wife, a couple kids, and takes a two week vacation every year?
DS: I’d love to take a two vacation but I don’t have time for that. I like living where there’s waves so you can just catch waves in between work because I’m working all the time. I’m like full-time.
BC: Again, doing what full-time?
DS: Being a caregiver for people who need medicine who can’t grow their own medicine so I grow it for them.
BC: Would you like to be more conventional?
DS: Yeah, but I try to think of what would I want to do. You know, working on trying to save people’s lives is probably the most important thing I could do. You see someone’s cancer completely disappear when doctors tell them they only have a little time left to live? And four years later, they’re still kicking and their lung cancer is completely gone.
BC: And you think that’s because of medical marijuana?
DS: Yeah, 100 percent. And there’s someone with a pancreas, they were told told they only had a couple months to live. They’re still kicking a couple years later. And they’re like, “Thank you!” And I’m like, you know, “You’re welcome.” That’s what I do.
BC: But it sounds like you don’t have much economic security.
DS: There’s nothing. Everyday’s a prayer. Rent was due yesterday. I’m just trying to figure things out. But I’ll be all right.
BC: Let’s jump ahead twenty years. Dan at age sixty. What do you hope to be doing?
DS: Smokin’ a big fat joint in a car that hovers itself to the best waves, and back to my garden. We’re gonna have hovering cars, and you just drop right out of it into the waves.
BC: That’s your dream.
DS: That’d be it. Smokin’ a joint on your way there and be happy.
BC: Final question. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
DS: Yeah, I think Nature’s pretty powerful. Other than that, I think there’s a lot going on that you can’t describe in words. You know, religion and principles and morals. Whatever’s going on, I don’t understand everything, but I know when I need something, it just seems to appear.
BC: Is there something or someone looking over us?
DS: Yeah, it might just be in my head but I think there’s something looking over us. Somebody. Some beings. Something.
BC: Thanks, Dan.