While the waves of wily Lake Superior can offer swimmers, kayakers and surfers a wild ride, it can also turn a good time into a dangerous situation in a hurry.
Jamie Dolan and her daughter Tyler of Marquette were enjoying riding the waves recently when Lake Superior’s strong rip current started dragging them far from the beach at Presque Isle Park – a spot favored by surfers and kayakers for its waves and strong currents.
“We wanted to just jump in the waves — body surf,” Dolan said. “We were having fun.”
Before they knew it, however, the two began feeling like they were “in quick sand,” as Tyler described it.
“It brought us out farther,” Tyler said. “We were stuck there and being taken under.”
Dolan remembered the techniques she learned in water rescue class – do not panic and tread water instead of trying to fight the current. But as the 5-foot to 7-foot waves rose above her and her daughter’s heads and they found themselves fighting for a breath nearly 100 yards from shore, she knew that they were in serious trouble.
Fortunately, kayaker Bob Hendrickson of Negaunee noticed the dire situation and paddled toward Tyler. As he struggled to help her hang on to his kayak and get her to shore, surfer Mike Horton of Marquette, rushed to help Tyler’s mom, who was about 50 feet away. Using his board, he was able to get Dolan safely to shore; however, Tyler and Hendrickson continued to struggle.
“(Bob) tried kayaking to shore – I was kicking as hard as I could,” Tyler said. “But we were just stuck in the riptide.”
Horton returned to the water along with fellow surfer Dan Schetter to help Hendrickson rescue Tyler.
Meanwhile, Hendrickson worked to keep Tyler above water. He said when he first reached her, he knew the situation was serious.
“She was on her way down,” he said. “She was pretty exhausted.”
Horton attached his surfboard ankle leash to Tyler’s wrist and all the rescuers worked to keep her head above water.
With the three men’s efforts, along with two other unidentified surfers and kayakers, Tyler was brought to shore safely.
“Those guys worked like crazy to get us in,” Dolan said. “When it was all over, we hugged and they went back to what they were doing.”
Hendrickson said he was relieved.
“The current took them out in a matter of minutes,” he said. “Things happened so fast. It was definitely a teamwork effort — we worked well together.”
Hendrickson and Horton agreed that this incident is a perfect example of how Lake Superior’s rip currents can take swimmers by surprise in mere moments.
“It’s like a river, we use it to paddle out,” Horton said. “It’s important the education gets out there about these rips. You can get pulled out so fast.”
Hendrickson said the current on that day was especially strong.
“It was one of the strongest rip currents I’ve been in,” he said.
Despite their harrowing experience, Dolan and Tyler plan to continue swimming in the lake they love. However, they plan on being more cautious.
“On Sunday, we went to McCarty’s Cove where there are lifeguards,” Dolan said. “It’s easy to become complacent when you’ve lived here all your life.”
Tyler agreed: “Don’t quit doing what you love just because something like this happens.”