Story: Wave Runners

Everyone has a story of something they did once upon a time, which, in retrospect, was probably not a good idea. This is one such tale.

Flashback to the 1990’s. At that time, I was splitting an apartment in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a friend named Ralph, who also enjoyed outdoor challenges. As such, every now and then, when the weather turned foul, we’d telephone a wave report recording, which detailed conditions present on Lake Michigan.

One stormy summer day, this report cited waves near Holland, Michigan, as high as 8-12 feet, including a stern recommendation to avoid coastal areas. Well, that was exactly what we were hoping to hear, and so quickly jumped into the car on a road trip to the south pier, demarcating the channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. Thirty minutes later, we parked and continued our trek on foot through strong winds and rain, toward the pier.

This was a big storm, as whitecap waves crashed up and down the beach, surging far inland along the coastline. As we approached, it became apparent that roughly 20% of the pier was engulfed in waves at any given moment. This observation should’ve served as an omen not to proceed…

However, after an extensive discussion it was decided that, though obviously dangerous, our individual attributes of bravery, keen sense of observation and quick reactions, respectively, were sufficient to undertake the challenge: which was, to see who could traverse farthest along the pier?

Note: digital cameras didn’t exist on the market at that time, but I’ve included a few photographs taken many years later, which show the coastal landscape and piers:

Relative to the second image – which is actually an aspect of the other pier, to the north – the storm we faced was significantly stronger and with much larger waves. In point of fact, unlike the common and predictably wind-driven pattern of waves rolling in uniform rows, what we encountered was less organized and wild, with waves crashing from both the front and side directions.

Painted blue, bollards were positioned along the length of each pier. Were the situation to present itself where either one of us was unable to elude an oncoming wave, my friend suggested that the best course of action was to drop down onto the pier and secure oneself by clutching on to a bollard for safety.

And so began the challenge.

This endeavor was as difficult as it was foolish, as waves broke across the pier at essentially random intervals, all the time of which my eyes were glued on the water. Movement entailed both quick footsteps and brief sprints, scrambling on the concrete both forward and backwards in order to safely create space between potentially hazardous waves. It was a major adrenaline rush, to say the least.

I’d estimate that I was approximately 50-60% of the way out on the pier when it happened. I glanced back to check on my friend, only to see Ralph hunkered down and clinging for dear life to a bollard…as he was swept away by a huge wave, washing him over the other side of the pier toward the channel, down into the rocks.

I immediately moved back toward where he was, all the while watching over my shoulder to remain cognizant of approaching waves. From a distance of 15-feet away, I spotted Ralph among the rocks with only his head visible above water, and without a stronghold for safety. Glancing back once more, I then saw him suddenly disappear into a trough of shifting waters, sinking an estimated 5-feet among the rocks and vanishing, out of sight. There was nothing I could do to help him.

Then, only seconds later, the water crested, lifting Ralph up and out of that den of death, tossing him like driftwood on to the rocks, where he latched-on and was able to dash up the incline to the top of the pier.

We hightailed it back to shore as quickly as possible, never again to challenge such a storm as was experienced on that day.

Great Lakes Lighthouse

Big Red

Located on Lake Michigan, this vintage photograph features an historic lighthouse in Holland, Michigan, located along the southern channel to Lake Macatawa – known as “Big Red”.

You can discover a variety of prints, gifts and apparel items available in the following shops:

Vintage Lake Michigan

Enjoy this old photograph featuring waves and clouds rolling along a sandy beach of western Michigan, at Lake Michigan in Holland. This picture would make a wonderful accent piece in your home or office, and can be purchased through my galleries at Pixels and ArtPal. So, check it out, and thanks for stopping by!

Vintage Sand Dunes

Long ago and far away, winds from Lake Michigan shaped sand dunes in this vintage photograph, taken on the beach in Holland, Michigan. You can visit my galleries at Pixels and ArtPal to select a print, if you’d like. There are many varieties to select, including: framed, metal, wood, art, poster, acrylic, canvas and tapestry. Thanks for visiting!

Lake Michigan Beach

This vintage photograph was taken many years ago on a windy autumn day in Holland, Michigan, on the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan. Drift back in time with a print from yesteryear on a wall in your home or elsewhere, from these shops: Pixels, Redbubble. Other items are also available. Thanks for stopping by!

Lake Michigan Pier

As a practitioner of repurposing, I’d estimate that this image has endured a minimum of four modification iterations. This digital rendition features a vintage photograph of a pier – really, a break wall – on Lake Michigan. To be specific, at the Holland State Park (Holland, Michigan). You can visit the following shops to find great products – prints, gifts and apparel:

City of Gold

Checkerboard Landscape

Golden geometric skyscrapers form a city skyline, reflecting across a checkerboard with a mirrored surface.

This surreal structural scene is available on many great products in the following galleries:

Big Air

Enjoy this vintage photograph featuring an extreme sport jet-skier catching big air on the waves of Lake Michigan. You can find a variety of cool products available as gifts and apparel in my shops, here:

Lake Michigan

Step back in time to the sandy shores of yesteryear, on a windy autumn day at Lake Michigan. This vintage photograph was taken at the Holland State Park (Holland, Michigan) and is available on a variety of cool products in the following shops:

A Day At The Beach

A Day At The Beach

Playing in the Sand


This stylized, vintage image is based on a photograph taken on the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan in Holland, Michigan, as waves and cooler early autumn temperatures keep people ashore.

Prints available.

Flashback: Grateful Dead

What A Long Strange Trip

A friend from Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Daley, showed up at my apartment in Holland, Michigan during the summer of 1985, asking if I’d be interested in traveling to Wisconsin to hear the Grateful Dead perform back-to-back shows. After gathering my backpack, we then scoured the town in order to purchase the only remaining original formula Coca Cola available – following the recent change – and hit the road in his Honda Prelude.

Along the way, we must have bumped into at least a dozen people on the road that Brian, a Deadhead, knew from various shows he’d attended. That seemed rather unlikely – what were the odds? – though, less so upon arrival at the venue.

We set up a tent on the edge of a farmer’s field near the concert grounds, purchased tickets and proceeded to the first show, on Friday night. It was an excellent concert, though it took quite a while to exit the amphitheater, afterwards; something was obstructing the door at the top of the hill.

Once finally outside, we saw that a large car (a dark blue, Oldsmobile Delta 88) had parked crosswise, directly in front of the exit. That car belonged to friends of ours – Bernie, Libby & Roger – from Holland, Michigan, who heard that we had gone to the show and took a road trip to join us. Realizing that we would likely be very difficult to locate among the crowd, they decided to be as conspicuous as possible. Indeed!

© 2021 Phil Perkins

The Shows


PHOTO CREDIT: modified photo from unsplash.com.