A family grieves: LOHS student, father drown in Lake Superior

Family tradition turned to tragedy last week when a Lake Orion High School student and his father drowned in Lake Superior.
Eric Smith, 16, of Lake Orion, and his father, Douglas Smith, 50, of Oxford, were swimming in Grand Marais Harbor off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula about 6 p.m. Aug. 5 when a riptide pulled them into deep water.
The two struggled against strong currents but were not able to return to shore.
Michigan State Police Underwater Recovery Unit located both victims in 20-30 feet of water around 2 p.m. Friday.
Douglas Smith’s daughter, Skye Giroux, was swimming alongside her father and brother when they were abruptly swept away.
The trip, she said, was an annual and much-anticipated tradition for her family.
‘My dad always talks about it all year long,? she said, noting a big part of the trip involves a lot of time spent swimming in Lake Superior. ‘Every year, we look forward to this.
This year, she said, the lake was calm, ‘not very Lake Superior-like? the whole week they’d been there.
Thursday was the first day there was any wind, and Giroux said she suggested a spot she’d visited with her Grandma years ago.
‘I told my dad and my brother ‘Hey, there’s a beach I know. The waves are really great there. It’s gonna be so much fun. I’ll teach you to body surf.??
Sure enough, the waves were crashing in when they arrived at the beach on the other side of the bay.?
‘Not the biggest waves we’ve swam in, but they were a good size,? she said. ‘My dad and my brother were both real excited. We all just ran straight into the water and I started telling my brother how to body surf: ‘Wait for the wave, just before it crests, and jump onto your belly.? We were having a lot of fun.?
Giroux said she was turned away from her father and brother when she noticed a change in the water.
‘All of a sudden the waves just got weird,? she said. ‘They weren’t coming at me, toward the shore, they were coming from the shore, and from the side. They were sloshing into each other and churning around me. I thought ‘Well, this is weird.? I could see where the waves were normal a half dozen feet away from me.?
So she swam out of the riptide.
When she looked up, she saw the danger immediately.
‘My dad and my brother are in the middle of where I just was and they’re panicking and my dad is screaming for my brother to swim parallel to shore.?
The rest is difficult.
Giroux tried to help her father and brother. Realizing she couldn’t, she asked them to hang on, stay afloat, while she went for help.
Both were submerged by the time she made the long swim back to shore.
According to a story published at UpperMichigansSource.com, the area where the family was swimming is about four feet deep far into the bay, but abruptly drops to well over 40 feet in depth.
The same story quotes Burt Township Supervisor Jack Hubbard.
‘If we had this break wall built in this harbor so this harbor was protected, things like this would never happen,? he said.
With the Coast Guard, Michigan State Police and the Alger County Sheriff’s Department all on the scene, the bodies were recovered Friday afternoon, Lake Superior’s fourth and fifth swimming victims in the past three weeks.
Giroux said she and her siblings, Autumn Smith, 21, David Smith, 19, and Eric, 16, shared a close relationship with their dad.
‘He was a character,? she laughed. ‘My sister and I were just at a party, telling everyone about our crazy dad.?
But she talks with the utmost affection, even about his ‘cave man diet,? and ‘bizarre taste in music.?
‘But he took me to my first opera,? she said. ‘Every year we went. It was our daddy/daughter date.?
Her dad, Giroux said, also had ‘a million? nicknames for Eric — everything from Double-E to Wickily.
For Nancy Smith, the loss still doesn’t feel quite real.
Even as her ex-husband, she calls Doug her best friend. They shared custody of Eric, their youngest.
‘He was a quiet, laid back kid, but the joy of our lives,? she said. ‘He was hilarious. He loved to torment me and his dad.?
Like her daughter, she says the words with the affectionate ribbing of a close family.
Eric, she said, liked photography, video games, and music, and was often found downstairs tinkering with the keyboard, the drums, or the piano.
He was a fan of Family Guy and the Simpsons.
He also loved to swim.
‘He wasn’t a strong swimmer,? she said. ‘But we went to the U.P for vacations every year. We’ve always swam in that lake. We never had a problem.?
Until last week.
‘It’s surreal,? she said. ‘I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that he’s’s never going to come through my door again.?

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