My dad, brother and I had gone down to the beach at Lake Michigan to watch the sailboat races. It seems I was about 11 years old, and it was unseasonably warm that year. It was extremely windy and overcast, but I suppose the windy conditions were good for the races. We had driven there with my dad in one of his many little trucks, I’m sure the S-10 or something like that. It was not the normal beach we went to, it was closer to the marina, farther north than our usual spot.
The waves seemed freakishly high. I had never seen them that high before, they must have been between 6 and 7 feet. I understand that’s nothing compared to the ocean, but they towered over me. Being reckless and fearless, I immediately wanted to play in them. I had never been in waves like that, I thought they would be like the little ones. I just wanted to sit on the beach and let them crash over me a bit.
I asked my dad if I could go swimming, and he seemed a bit annoyed by the idea, but he eventually agreed. My brother was with us and he told me to watch out for the undertow, but I had no idea what he was talking about. I watched him walk off a little ways, and then he carefully stepped into the water about knee deep. The wave crashed over him, and he jumped up and emerged right away after the crest of the wave. It looked so cool, I couldn’t wait to try it.
I went to step into the water, but the waves were so high, that when the water went out, it went way out. I couldn’t tell how deep the water was, it was like a vacuum. The water just was sucked away from the shore, exposing all the rocks and the beginning of the drop off. I tried to stop at a depth I thought was safe, and then the wave came.
It was like getting hit by a linebacker. It smashed into me, bashing me down into the rocks. I automatically tried to stand, but the water that was so quickly sucked out to feed the next wave took me with it. I desperately clawed at the rocks and gravel trying to get traction. The next wave came in and picked me up and threw me back towards the shore. I force my feet down, trying to plant them into the sand, but it seemed like they never made it. I was smashed into the rocks again, frantically clawing and not grabbing anything as I was dragged back out. It was like I had been tossed into a giant washing machine. I needed a breath and was absolutely terrified. Why wasn’t anyone saving me?
I realized they couldn’t see me and had no idea the trouble I was in. I was on my own.
Another wave grabbed me. My lungs burned for air. It picked me up and slammed me down into the rocks again. I put all of my determination and strength into my hands and jammed my fingers into the gravel. I held on through the undertow, pulling at me like a gale force wind and stuck my feet into the gravel and forced with all of my might to stand. I gasped what felt like the biggest breath I’ve ever taken and pulled myself out of the water. I couldn’t believe how shallow the water was, and I so easily could have drowned. I realized how close I had just come to death, and how easily accidents like this can happen, even with parents standing by.
My brother came over to me, “where did you go? I didn’t see you”
“I almost drowned!” I yelled at him, like it was his fault. I had fully expected him to save me.
“I told you to be careful, dummy”.
I couldn’t argue with that. He did tell me, and he was usually right.
I decided that swimming now sounded like a terrible idea, and I was done for the day. We took a wet and sandy ride back to my dad’s house so I could change into something dry. I think I got about 2 peeks at those sailboats, but I suppose there was something more important for me at the beach that day than watching boats go by.