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HomeEvent CoverageWorth The Wait—Why Boyne Thunder Is Still On Top After 20 Years

Worth The Wait—Why Boyne Thunder Is Still On Top After 20 Years

Two decades, 20 years, 7,305 days or 175,320 hours—that’s the amount of time that has passed since Boyne City, Mich., welcomed a small group of performance boaters into town to help raise money for charity as part of the inaugural Boyne Thunder Poker Run.

With his friend Adam Seraphine running his all-red canopied MTI 390XR catamaran next to him, Jeremy Tschida had a great time driving his Outerlimits SC 37 catamaran in last week’s Boyne Thunder Poker Run in Northern Michigan. Photos by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix

And while much has changed in 20 years, including styles, sizes and speeds of the poker run boats that travel to Northern Michigan for the event, a lot—such as the organization, the format and the community that rolls out the red carpet for the powerboat enthusiasts—has not changed.

That consistency, in fact, is one reason the Boyne Thunder Poker Run is regarded as one of the most revered events on the planet. So as I looked back on the event and its impact not just locally but on the performance boat community that extends to the furthest corners of the country, I took a few extra days to craft this feature on the 20th annual Boyne Thunder Poker Run. I admit that a lengthy travel day home Sunday coupled with a doctor’s appointment early in the week and tons of “catching up” to do after the Fourth of July holiday followed by five days of traveling got the best of me, which is why this story is “later” than normal per speedonthewater.com standards.

But it also took some time for me to wrap my head around what makes the Northern Michigan event so special. What I can conclude is that it is the perfect storm; a perfect storm in terms of location, timing, people, fundraising, boats, weather, you name it. To that end, I guess it makes sense that “thunder” is part of its name.

The spectator turnout along the channel from Round Lake to Lake Michigan was as large as ever for the 20th annual event.

Not that this is the ultimate gauge, but my 13-year-old daughter, Morgan, who I’m pretty certain would have to guess between two boats which one was a catamaran versus a V-bottom, wants to go back next year. And not just because she would like to enjoy more of the recreational activities at the family friendly Boyne Mountain Resort, but because she enjoyed checking out the boats and cars along Water Street on Friday evening, rafting up with my friends at Sunsation Boats earlier that day—thanks Ryan and Madolin Wenk—and riding on the bow lounge of John and Julie Tokar’s exceptional, not to mention rare, 37-foot Axopar while idling through the channel from Round Lake to Lake Michigan in front of thousands of spectators on Saturday morning.

She certainly had fun at her second Boyne Thunder—she didn’t remember much from the last time we went as a family in 2018—but likely not as much fun as the various boaters who were running new boats at the poker run. That is another sign that an event is a good one; when people “need” their boat delivered in time for Boyne Thunder. And that’s what happened with at least four boaters that speedonthewater.com found out about.

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Check out the slideshow above for 30 more images from Saturday’s poker run action.

Three-time Double R Performance customers Matt and Tara Willman took delivery of a Nor-Tech Hi-Performance Boats 390 Sport center console powered by four Mercury Racing 450R engines. The gray, black and red boat was unique because it was the 400th 39-foot center console built by the Fort Myers, Fla.-based manufacturer. Another repeat Nor-Tech customer, Michigan’s Ron Meyering also ran the Nor-Tech 400 Supersport he purchased recently, and Nor-Tech itself—thanks to its local dealer and long-standing Boyne Thunder sponsor American Custom Marine—showed off its 500R demo boat, a 400 Supersport with four of Mercury’s red-hot supercharged V-8 engines.

Longtime Boyne Thunder participant Ron Szolack was able to run his new Cigarette Racing Team 42 Auroris center console in one of his favorite events of the year. He was especially excited to get his hands on the 42-footer since it features four of the new 500R engines from Mercury Racing that were unveiled last month at the Fond du Lac, Wis., company’s 50th anniversary in Charleston, S.C. In fact, Szolack’s new ride was one of the boats available for demo rides at the event.

Another crew debuting its new boat at the event was the Monsour family out of the Detroit area. Chris Monsour was elated to have his sons, Matthew and Christopher, and their friends with him to run the family’s new Skater Powerboats 368 catamaran with twin Mercury Racing 450R engines. The stunning gray, yellow and black catamaran, which Monsour picked up less than a month ago, was one of the most ogled boats at the F. Grant Moore Municipal Harbor.

Speaking of showstoppers, Michigan performance boater Bob Kaiser’s new MTI 440X catamaran powered by a pair of the new 500R engines was on display during the Friday Stroll the Streets showcase in downtown Boyne City. Kaiser had the new 44-footer—the fourth one from the Wentzville, Mo., builder—on hand to run with his matching 48-foot MTI featuring twin Mercury Racing 1350/1100 engines.

Fortunately for Kaiser, the former world champion racer who drove the 48-footer with his friend and veteran racer Steve Curtis, MTI owners Randy and Cherell Scism and their daughter, Taylor, came to town once again and drove Kaiser’s 440X so the spectators could get a glimpse of both of his boats in action.

A fan favorite at the event, Kemosabe—a 47-foot Apache Powerboats V-bottom owned by Michigan’s John Frohlich—is the ultimate rough-water boat.

One participant who isn’t going to forget the 20th anniversary event was the owner of a 36-foot cat from Statement Marine, Jason Alexander of Michigan. That’s because Alexander had the best poker hand, which he donated back to the charities and secured his spot as a gold sponsor of the 2024 event. The “winner” of the event’s worst hand—yes the organizers give out an award for that—was Lee Haener, a fellow Michigan boater who owns a 36-foot Apache Powerboats V-bottom named Pow-Wow.

“I can’t say enough about the people behind Boyne Thunder,” said Ingrid Day, the director of Boyne City Main Street and the lead organizer of the poker run. “From the committee members and the volunteers to the boaters and the sponsors, we couldn’t do any of this without all of their support. I hope everyone had a great time this year and enjoyed some of the special touches we made to celebrate 20 years.”

One of the things the event did to recognize the anniversary was provide a 100-page, collector’s edition program that was produced by speedonthewater.com to celebrate two decades of the “world’s greatest poker run.” The magazine was extremely well received, just like the conclusion of the event was, at least for those who stuck around ’til the very end of Saturday’s party.

“So cool; better than expected; that was amazing”—those were many of the comments I heard as people were leaving the party following a fantastic drone light show that included custom touches such as the event’s logo and the words “Boyne” and “Thunder” in the night sky. The  oohs and aahs from the on-lookers in and around the harbor continued throughout the 10-minute show.

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The poker run always has a strong representation of Nor-Tech owners.

Since coming to Boyne Thunder in 2021 for the first time, Geoff Tomlinson, Nor-Tech’s dealer manager, hasn’t missed the event. He’s enjoyed the community, the scenery, the boaters and everything else the poker run has to offer so much that he brought his wife and daughter with him for the second time this year. Although they didn’t join him for the poker run on Saturday in the 400 Supersport with the new 500Rs, they did get to partake in most of the Boyne Thunder festivities.

“We love this event; I love coming here and seeing so many Nor-Techs and all of our customers,” Tomlinson said. “To me that’s one of the best things about Nor-Tech—we really get to know our customers and we get to see them at events throughout the year enjoying their boats. When I come to an event like Boyne and see 20-plus Nor-Techs on hand, it makes me feel very proud to be a part of the company.

“That is something that we like to share with the team at the shop, too, so they see and understand how big of a deal it is to work for a company like Nor-Tech,” he continued. “Showing them photos of people using their boats with huge smiles on their faces is great motivation to continue building the best boats on earth.”

So what is it that keeps Tomlinson coming back to Boyne Thunder?

“It’s the people—100 percent—there’s nothing like coming to Boyne and Charlevoix and seeing some many excited people,” he said. “I mean the people at the Lions Club providing the lunch are excited to be serving the food and the people lined up across the bridge and along the channel can’t wait to see all the boats come through. And then there’s the street party, which is filled with locals. They’re all so supportive of the event—you can tell that they want you want to be here. I don’t think there’s another poker run out there like this one.”

Dave Meizels, the executive director of Camp Quality Michigan, one of the event’s two benefitting charitable organizations, doesn’t have a lot of other poker run experiences to compare it to, but he’s a believer that there’s nothing like Boyne Thunder.

“Boyne Thunder is one of the most extraordinary events I’ve ever been a part of; the generosity of the people and this community is incredible,” said Meizels, who was quoted in the event program stating that without (the event’s) substantial assistance, children who have cancer or who have had cancer from around the state wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the camp experience. “The event, the food, the venue—it’s all spectacular. I can’t wait to do it again. I love seeing all of the boaters from all over the state and the country. They couldn’t be more gracious, more friendly and more generous with their time.”

After allowing the dust to settle following the event, it was apparent that Saturday’s auction fell short of expectations as the evening brought in a total of $45,000 in comparison to the $140,000 raised during the auction portion of the 2022 poker run.

The good news, on the fundraising end for the event that raised a record-setting $250,000 in 2022, which doubled the proceeds from the Boyne Thunder auction’s prior best year, is that sponsor registration for the 20th annual affair was higher than usual. While a total amount donated won’t be announced for at least a month, there’s no doubt that both Camp Quality Michigan and Challenge Mountain are going to see a significant amount of money going toward their programs for children.

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Members of the Skater Nation always come out in full force for the Boyne Thunder Poker Run.

That charitable aspect along with the overall economic impact on the community is a major incentive for performance boaters near and far to continue to return on an annual basis.

“Boyne is different than other events—it’s hard to describe why but it is,” said Minnesota performance boater Jeremy Tschida. “There’s something about the atmosphere between the town, the people and the charities. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing. Whatever it is, we love it and we’ll be back.”

Last year at Boyne Thunder, Jeremy and Kristie Tschida, and their son, Tyler, enjoyed the maiden voyage of the family’s new Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats SC 37 catamaran, which has a similar paintjob as Topless, the Tschidas’ 46-foot Outerlimits cat powered by twin Mercury Racing 1350 engines. For the 2023 run, they left the SC 46 at home and brought the 37-footer, which is powered by twin Mercury Racing 450R engines.

“If you can’t have a good time here at Boyne then there’s something wrong with you,” Tschida said then laughed. “Everything about this event is great. Some people think it’s a lot of work to come here and be a part of this, but it’s really not. And once you’re here, it’s well worth it. It’s probably my favorite run of the whole year that we do. We like that it’s a family event. We bring Tyler and I’ve brought my brother, my sister-in-law and several of our best friends.

“I’ve never had anybody come here with me that said they didn’t have a good time,” he added. “It’s kind of like one big family at Boyne, a big family reunion. There are some people I only once a year, here in Boyne City. I have so my friends that I met because of this poker run. It’s pretty incredible really.”

He’s right—it is pretty incredible.

The community support for the Boyne Thunder Poker Run is unmatched—just ask Kentucky’s Chris and Shelby Mattingly, who attended the poker run for the third straight year in their stunning 43-foot Midnight Express center console.

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