Sisu - Determination. Perseverance. Grit.

Sisu - Determination. Perseverance. Grit.

Imagine a character trait so unique that it takes three English words to express it.
Determination. Perseverance. Grit.
The Finnish term “sisu” might best be defined as the extraordinary and indomitable spirit required to never quit and to go beyond all limitations, especially in the face of adversity. But more than a word, it’s a quality that expresses the national character. Hardy and inspiring folks for sure. Not only a can-do attitude, it’s courage that is present even when success is unlikely. It’s resolutely taking action against the odds. It’s going for it and sticking it out even if you fail — and fail again. Sound familiar?

Lake and Company and Lovin’ Lake County have partnered to share stories of some adventurers who embody sisu. Whether it be harsh conditions, failed gear, injuries or illness, they fail, try again, repeat and succeed. It’s because of these experiences that they’re inspired to dream bigger and push further in the places they live. We hope you’re inspired, and ready to go beyond too.

For Wild Winter Adventures
Wander and Wonder at the quiet magic of the forests and ever changing moods of Lake Superior. Take a journey by nordic ski, snowshoe, or fat-tire bike; the trails are groomed and ready. Fire up the sled and ride like a kid -or bring the kids- for the quintessential snowmobiling experience in Lake County.

Paul Schonfeld | Winter Surfer
Paul Schonfeld is an educator and a Lake Superior surfer living in Duluth, Minnesota. As a high school physics and computer science teacher, he often taught students about upcoming storms to highlight the physics of waves and computer simulation tools for making wave predictions. Schonfeld now works for the Northern Lights Collaborative for Computing Education, an organization within the University of Minnesota focused on developing evidence-based programs and resources that support inclusive computing education. In the role of district support coordinator, Schonfeld works closely with Northern Minnesota school districts to help build equitable and sustainable K–12 computer science pathways. He has surfed in Duluth since 2013.
How do you embrace Minnesota winters?
Some people think the summer would be the season for surfing on Lake Superior, but actually the opposite is true. Winter, fall and spring bring the best waves for surfing, as the stronger winds and storms move the cold, dense air to make bigger waves. I gear up with a wetsuit, boots and gloves and get ready for the surf season in Duluth. 
When I was a high school teacher, one bonus of the job was that the snow days were often a result of the biggest storms 
producing the best waves, so I’d get to go surf as long as I could dig out my car and get down the hill to the lake. Last winter we surfed into the slushy season, and I think the slush in the water made the waves better; it helped reduce the chop on the water and made a cleaner wave face. It was a strange feeling, though, paddling through the slush. 
It felt like I was in a giant Icee machine.
What are your tips for being comfortable outdoors this winter?
You need the right gear. It is a requirement for surfing on the lake safely. I find myself making frequent wetsuit repairs to help 
keep the cold water out. Randy Carlson, outdoor program coordinator at the University of Minnesota Duluth, also taught me the trick of bringing a thermos of hot water to pour into my wetsuit or boots on a cold day. The Back Alley is a surf and coffee shop in Duluth where you can get gear, and you can sometimes find used wetsuits at Duluth Gear Exchange as well. There was a really cold session a couple of years ago – I tried staying warm by powering a kerosene heater next to my car. It worked! I was able to warm up pretty quickly next to the 80,000 BTU heater.

“If you can find one or more people to help you get past any hurdles you’ll inevitably encounter, that can make the difference to keep you participating and learning.”
What encouragement would you give to those wanting to try a new winter activity?
Go for it. Look for some people who are doing that activity and ask them how to get started. If you can find one or more people to help you get past any hurdles you’ll inevitably encounter, that can make the difference to keep you participating and learning. When I first started surfing, some local surfers saw me struggling to catch waves and after a couple of days, they started giving me some tips. That encouragement and advice helped me overcome the obstacle of getting started, and then I had a group of friends to support me as we surfed together.

Social Channels
Instagram: @paulschonfeld

Check out more stories of SISU like his in Issue 27.