EMPIRE, MI — Sometimes it’s hard to understand just how woven someone is into the fabric of a community. A Lake Michigan town and the entire Great Lakes freshwater surfing community mourns the loss of its bright light, Beryl Skrocki, who passed away just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 61 years old.
Founder of Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak (SBS), Beryl and her husband, Frank Skrocki, opened the state’s first full-service surf shop in 2004 in the small town of Empire, at the base of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Since then, the family business has created a tight-knit yet extended family of freshwater surfing, boogie boarding, SUP, kayaking and water sports enthusiasts. Some live there. Others are familiar faces who return every summer, and still others surf internationally but maintain close ties with SBS.
But more than her business, “Mama Beryl” was the mother of her three children, who all grew up working in the surf shop and teaching lessons in Lake Michigan. Her laid-back, easy-going demeanor has also placed her among the top makers of happiness in her beach town. stretch between the sands of Lake Michigan and the parking lot of Empire Beach Village Park, just a few blocks from the family shop. These golden hour respites consisted of cuddling, catching up with friends, enjoying a drink and marveling at the beauty of the huge lake that lay before them. Recent community gatherings have been held to offer support to Beryl and her family ahead of her death on October 13.
A memorial gathering at Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak is scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 5. It will be filled with music and fond memories. Find more details here.
“It’s rare to come across someone as genuine and kind as Beryl,” said Jody Hayden, co-owner of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, whose chocolate and gelato shops are on M-22 near the store in surf. “She was a beacon of love, beaming with friendship to everyone she met, and her passing left a huge hole in the hearts of our entire community. know. She will be greatly missed.”
THE LOVE OF LAKE BERYL
It’s probably no surprise that Beryl Skrocki has become a little water warrior, creating a Lake Michigan surfing community and ecotourism hub. Its reach also included an extended paddler and environmental community. All of these things channeled her childhood love for the Sleeping Bear area, where she grew up spending summers at her family’s cabin. In 2002, she and her husband decided to move their young family to where they spent all their vacations. Two years later, the shop was born – a bold move, but in the eyes of the Skrockis, it was a good move. Frank and Beryl knew how much they loved surfing and kayaking along the shores of Lake Michigan. When they took their children there, they were often the only family playing that far out in the waves. And if they weren’t, they thought. What if they could show others how much fun it was? Beryl’s idea for a flip flops/surf shop was born. It quickly expanded to include some of the first stand-up paddleboards in the Midwest. Added summer surf camps. And this spot in downtown Empire has become the unmissable meeting place for water sports enthusiasts every summer.
A trip to the store for a cool rental, skateboard or gear was never just a simple pop-in. With Beryl at the helm, her family and friends say it was just the start – or progression – of a new relationship. She loved communicating with customers. These wires stayed strong no matter where they surfed or the miles in between. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak decals can be found as far away as Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Fiji. The same love for water that prompted Beryl Skrocki to open the shop made it easier to maintain these human connections.
A FREE SPIRIT, DUSTED WITH BERYL-ISMS
Beryl’s friends say much of her unique personality will live on with others. His family and closest friends were often treated to his frequent – and often tuneless – singing and humming. She also had her own set of goofy phrases – dubbed Beryl-isms – that she sprinkled liberally into every conversation.
Her family made their cancer diagnosis public in August as a social media post in late September. Beryl had been diagnosed with metastatic uveal melanoma, an aggressive and rare form of the disease. The family rallied and the store stepped back as they provided round-the-clock care for her. She died a few weeks later. A GoFundMe effort for family expenses is underway.
Friends have said it’s hard to put Beryl Skrocki’s highly visible joie de vivre into words for those who haven’t met her. She was a force, they say, her energy and spirit matched Lake Michigan on a day when big waves carried surfers high.
Beryl’s daughter Ella perhaps said it best in a tribute she wrote:
“His spirit lives vibrantly in the memories of his ‘galavanting’ across the dunes, ‘zoom vrooming’ on ski slopes, bike paths and through the trees on cross-country skis; scream on the backyard sledding hills; laugh while asking Mimi (the dog) to pose for pictures; affectionately greeting his fellow villagers on his walks through town; screaming with excitement during intense spoon play; peacefully puzzling (equipped with a headlamp), in front of the fire on a cool autumn day, and plunging so gracefully, weightlessly, through the waves.
“Now her laughter echoes through the wind, and her energy dances happily through the dunes and fervently flows through the veins of the mighty Great Lakes. The warmth of her embrace can be felt tapping into the joy of living. May- we laugh loudly, sing shamelessly, play with passion, jump bravely, fight fiercely for what we love and love without limit.May we all strive to be more like Beryl, for she lives in us all, forever.
Beryl Skrocki is survived by her husband, Frank, and her children, Ella, Reiss, Annabel. She is also survived by many other family members and countless friends – and all the waves of her beloved Lake Michigan.