Water skiing across Lake Michigan might sound daring, dangerous or dumb.

But with plenty of planning and preparation, a pair of Oostburg teens made it look almost easy.

Starting just past dawn Saturday, Madelyn Hendrickse, 18, and Braden Dirkse, 17, each behind separate boats driven by their fathers, made the 62-mile crossing to Silver Lake State Park in 2½ hours.

Hendrickse said she got the idea two or three years ago. “You always sit on the beach, look out and wonder, ‘What’s actually out there?'”

“I ski almost every day. I thought it was something big I could do with this small thing.”

She and Dirkse have been friends and skiing budding their whole lives. They decided the crossing would be a great send-off before she leaves for college in Arizona on Friday.

Dirkse — a three-sport athlete at Oostburg High School where he’s a senior — said he had no qualms about the physical demands of the trip, until his knees started aching after about 10 miles. By the end, he said, his hamstrings were sore too, but he recovered quickly and felt fine by later in the day.

“I knew Madelyn wasn’t going to let go, so there was no chance I would let go,” he said.

About all the other preparation: The pair credited Madelyn’s father, Terry Hendrickse, for making the trip happen. He’s a Lake Michigan aficionado — he has boated, fished and surfed it for years — and an extreme weather nerd.

“I triple checked the weather and wind conditions on seven different sources and Saturday’s forecast was certainly the best,” he said. “Yet despite all my research and experience and how beautiful it was near shore, I was surprised with how much chop there still was in the middle of the lake.”

The course was plotted by GPS. Each boat carried extra fuel, a marine radio, cell phones, flares, and both drivers and skiers were equipped with two-way radios. Each skier wore a wet suit and a life vest, and kite surfing harnesses that allowed them to secure the rope handle and rest their arms part of the time.

Boating and swimming in the Great Lakes can be dangerous, drownings are reported and weather can change quickly.


The trip took two deviations. Two miles out, the skiers had to go around a large cluster of fishing buoys. In the middle of the lake, they realized they were on course to collide with a giant iron ore freighter and had to veer around its stern.

After arriving on the Michigan shore, the group waded ashore to celebrate and explore Little Sable Point Lighthouse before refueling and boating back home.

“We wanted to go to Sheboygan Harbor for lunch,” Madelyn said, “but my dad said the weather was about to change, and we should go straight home.”

That was just a ruse, though. When they arrived, the lake crossing crew was met with a big banner of congratulations and a surprise picnic party on their home beach.

She said her lesson from the trip is simple.

“People can do more than what they think they can. It’s mental. Set a goal, work, determined, you’ll accomplish it, whether it’s waterskiing 60 miles or becoming a doctor, which is another goal of mine.”

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.

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