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Cops bust man catching waves at Oak Street Beach

Rex Flodstrom Chicago rides wave Lake Michigan Whiting Park Whiting Ind. Friday September 30 2011.  Flodstrom was among several

Rex Flodstrom of Chicago rides a wave on Lake Michigan at Whiting Park in Whiting, Ind. Friday September 30, 2011. Flodstrom was among several surfers taking advantage of the windy conditions and big waves. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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• From Labor Day through Memorial Day, it is legal to surf only at Rainbow, Montrose, 57th Street and Osterman beaches.

• During the summer, surfing is allowed only at Montrose and 57th Street beaches — and only away from active swim areas.

Updated: January 18, 2012 10:22PM

A peace-loving artist with a prep-school pedigree pinched by police Tuesday for illegally catching Lake Michigan waves plans to fight for the right to surf in Chicago.

Wrapped in a cold-weather wetsuit, Rex Flodstrom hit Oak Street Beach to surf 3- to 4-foot swells with occasional 6-foot breakers — “bumpy, short, rippable” waves that are a rare find at the closest beach to the 40-year-old’s Streeterville condo.

“Pretty good for a lake,” Flodstrom said. “Chest high, head-high at the biggest. Oak Street only breaks like that one or two times a year.”

While surfing, Flodstrom spotted people waving at him from the beach.

“You can’t really hear anything when you’re out there. I gave them the thumbs up,” he said. “I figured if they thought I was in trouble, they’d see me catching waves and know I was OK.”

Angry police officers awaited Flodstrom when he returned to the beach at 5 p.m. They locked him in “pretty tight handcuffs,” confiscated his Rusty Surfboard and said “pretty hostile stuff” about sending the 40-year-old to Cook County Jail where he would likely get abused, Flodstrom said.

Police held him in custody for more than four hours, said Flodstrom, who was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and violating a park district ordinance for being at a closed beach. In the winter, you can surf at four different beaches in Chicago ­­­-- but Oak Street isn’t one of them.

News of his arrest spread internationally on Twitter.

Flodstrom — who grew up in the north suburbs and attended boarding school at Choat Rosemary Hall, the Connecticut boarding school alma mater of late President John F. Kennedy — got his first surfboard for $10 at a garage sale while visiting his father in Redondo Beach, Calif.

“I was stoked and caught a wave and was hooked for life,” Flodstram said.

The painter, poet and online tea company employee is a former Ultimate Boarder “Surf, Skate, Snow” triathlon competitor now training to pursue a professional surfing career.

Flodstrom said he thought catching waves in Chicago became fully legal in 2009 when the Chicago Park District ended its surfing prohibition. So far, he’s surfed Lake Michigan about 10 times this winter.

“I’m an experienced surfer and very confident in my abilities,” Flodstrom said. “I don’t get scared until waves are over 15 feet, and then it’s sketchy. But I’ll go out anyway. It can be life or death, but as a surfer, you take responsibility for your own life.”

Flodstrom, who has a Feb. 16 court date, said he plans to plead not guilty. And he hopes Chicago leaders will change the city’s surfing rules.

“I just hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” he said, “and surfers are free to surf everywhere when there are waves.”

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