“Dad! Dad! People are jumping off the breakwall,” my daughter Riley squealed one Sunday night as we drove along the Lake Michigan shore into Petoskey. Sure enough, the breakwall was crowded with a line of figures, some leaping into the waters ten feet below. It was the first time she saw, or even heard of, people jumping into the lake from out by the lighthouse. Becoming a bit of a daredevil, she was thrilled at the prospect.
Jumping from the breakwall is a summer tradition, though to be honest my family and I have never done it. Why? I’m not really sure. I know of a few families in town who don’t consider the summer started until they make the leap. Perhaps it is because our children weren’t ready, especially my daughter. More likely, we just never made time for it. Riley told me she really wanted to try it someday. Why wait? The next evening I drove my two children and one of my son’s best buds to the Petoskey waterfront.
Even if you don’t plan on jumping into the lake, a journey to the lighthouse makes for a wonderful walk. From the shore, it appears that the breakwall is made entirely of large, uneven rocks. But, hidden between those boulders, is a new sidewalk erected in 2007 during emergency repairs. There were several couples strolling out into the bay. A teen sat alone on a blanket playing his guitar. Several older kids were jumping off the Lake Michigan side of the breakwall. Two men were fishing. A young lady had her camera mounted on a tripod and was preparing to take photographs of the sunset.
As we walked towards the end of the breakwall, my son and his friend ran ahead. “I’m a little bit afraid,” my daughter admitted. “But I don’t want David and Tyler to know. So I’m going to just take off my shoes and jump in before they can tell.” That is my Riley, not embarrassed to admit her fears, and brave enough to face them. This isn’t the first time she surprised me. Last year I took her to the Lions’ game in Detroit. During the game, she noticed a cameraman filming the crowd and figured out that he was shooting footage for the Jumbotron. “Dad! Ask him to film us,” she begged. I laughed. “Listen Riley, if a big middle-aged guy like me goes over there and asks him to film us, he’s going to say no. But…if a cute little girl goes over and asks, he is very likely to say yes.” I could see the shy hesitation on her face and I let it go. Two plays later, she bolted past me and straight up to the man with the camera. A few minutes later, there was my Riley with her arms stretched high on the big screen. Ironically an ad for ‘Confidence’ was playing at the same time.
Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when the four of us reached the end of the breakwall and Riley kicked off her shoes and socks before jumping straight into the bay. She didn’t even waste the time to remove her yoga pants. She simply leaped. The boys stared a bit dumbfounded for a moment before they joined her.
As I stood at the end of the breakwall, I could understand her apprehension. As you approach the walkway, there is a large yellow sign that warns, “Warning – Structure is Not Designed for Public Access – Proceed at Your Own Risk.” I was assured by the mother of two 6-year-old children also making the plunge that jumping from the breakwall, especially on the harbor side, is safe and legal. “The water is deep. The boats steer clear. The most dangerous thing is the fisherman’s hooks, but they are careful not to cast near the kids. They only put that sign up for the lawyers.” To be honest, I wasn’t worried, having spent my youthful summers diving into abandoned quarries and swimming across the lake at my grandmother’s house. David, Tyler and Riley are all capable swimmers. And if they got into danger, I was only a ten-foot dive away from helping them.
The kids spent an hour leaping into Little Traverse Bay and a new tradition was born in our household. Next year, summer won’t begin until we all make the plunge.