A gooshy reflection on the theme of Jr. Waterman Camp, and Day 1/Week 1 2023 / Written by Ella Skrocki
Sunday had me sweating. The forecast was playing tricks, changing each time I hit refresh; which happened to be about every half hour. I probably could have made it a little less torturous on myself, but the idea of not having a chance of waves on camp days kept me anxiously obsessing. We had even thought about pushing the start to camp back one day – for a better forecast with grander possibility of surf and sunny skies. But no no, that’s not Waterman Camp!
We’ve been spoiled each camp week for the last 12 years – somehow always being graced by perfect lesson waves. This felt different. It was a first. A first June camp offering, after a two-month long flat spell and an abnormally cold Northern Lake Michigan. It was also the first big push of energy in the teaching realm; the first big event; our debut to camps and such a level of activity & sociability since our cheerleader & right hand woman was taken from us.
We arrived to Monday morning to a moist, cold air that felt more like fall than the first few days of Summer. We layered in fleece, started up Jenny (our ol
’72 Chevy Cheyenne & shop workhorse), and headed to the beach with a truckload of boards & suits.
Lake Michigan was resting; in a state of pure tranquility, with a glassy status that reflected all the details of the sky. The forecast promised waves for the evening, with wind beginning to whisper as our day of camp would be coming to a close. Not what I wanted to see. Somehow, though, I was rather calm. Confident that the Lake was going to come to life, as we were – just when we were ready.
We wrangled 12 wicked-awesome teenagers into an extensive morning of water safety training; complete with a relay race that challenged their ability to do a shallow water rescue with floatation available to them. When all were water-logged and goose-pimply we huddled together for lunch, sharing conversation about the water and the weather. The lake was flat still, with a breeze tickling the water in a way that provided the lightest bit of texture on the lake’s surface. I was down to the last bite of my PB & J when I saw the wind line; expansive, dark, moving across the lake carrying an army of white caps.
We digested as I shared the on-land portion of our intro-to-surf lesson; the mass of wind now nearing the shore. The moment I had concluded the talking portion of my lessons for the day, the lake just turned on. Never in all my years have I seen such a remarkable transformation ensue so quickly.
It was powerful, spiritual – an array of emotions that can only be described in feeling and experience. It felt like a gift. It felt like our mother. Like the Lake and the Stars and everything in between had heard our plea, and were responding. “Here are those waves you ordered, Ella”. It felt, in that moment, that we had received approval, or applause – that we indeed were doing something right.
It also felt down right cold! The rain poured down like blue-lipped kisses, encouraging us to tarp the bags and lower the tent. We built a fire, warmed our digits, and before I could give the green light, our absolutely radical group of groms were already grabbing boards and eagerly waiting at the water’s edge as perfect wind-swept waves crashed upon the sandy shore.
We’ve definitely faced adversity amidst the weather during Jr. Waterman Camp before – but never have I personally felt such a summer chill. We swiftly warmed ourselves, dashing here and there, guiding the little chargers through the surf, and sending them down the faces of waves.
You know the twitching of cheeks as a chill starts to set in? Imagine twitchy cheeks and beaming smiles – the joy cut straight through the cold. Some surfed as others bodysurfed, and a few took breaks huddling around the fire to warm their digits.
When I came to shore to check in with Annabel, the beach lookout, and the fire crew, I asked if anyone would join us in the water. There were a few “no way!”s but when I asked a couple of gals to try to break away from comfort for just one more wave, they unenthusiastically pulled themselves from the warmth and succumbed to the magic and roar of the lake.
“Okay one more wave”, “Okay just one more”, “I think this will be my last”…. I heard these lines for hours. No matter the nearly purple pigment of the lips, or the ample water up the nose, the stoke throughout the afternoon was absolutely undeniable.
To say we were proud of this group would have to be an understatement. They were inspiring, all-embracing of the wind, the weather, the gloom of the day. That’s what Waterman Camp is all about, and they harnessed and added so greatly to the energy of it all.
We, as counselors, feed from that energy, too. I think the reward of teaching, and the joy of watching someone catch their first waves is just as powerful as experiencing the dance with a wave yourself. For me, anyway, I know that much is true. And oh how it is inspiring too.
As we loaded up board to the back of ol’ Jenny, our 1972 Chevy Cheyenne, I felt a pull back to the lake – an arm extending from its depths, pleading me to come play. And so I did. I grabbed a bright green 8’ foamie from the bed, clumsily stowed it under my arm and attached my leash, dashed to the water’s edge, and for the first time in 11 months, I let the lake carry me once again.
What a lesson in intuition, of adaptability, connectedness, hope, and trust. This was yet again another reminder; to welcome the day as it comes, in whatever form, and to try to enjoy the process of it all, as it’s an opportunity to watch magic unfold. I designed this camp to create a guided space to do just that – to embrace it; the wide, magical variety of weather that our Great Lakes create. Plus everything that happens in between; the hardship, the shivers, the angst, the uncertainty… and the joy, reward and pride, that arises from welcoming the energy of the lake despite the gloom or glory of the day.
Oh, and that next day, the one we considered pushing back to, well, the lake had already fallen back into its state of calm, for the forecast.. is ever changing. So, we take what we get, and we make the best of it. And boy did those 12 chargers do just that, each and every day forward, through week 1, Jr. Waterman Camp.