It looked easy enough. On vacation, I made an attempt at what’s becoming the hottest water sport around. Ever tried wakesurfing?
A rider on a short board holds a tow rope to stand up, then tosses it away to surf along behind a weighted boat that creates a massive wake. Ballast boats used in wakesurfing have water tanks. Those tanks are filled to weigh down the craft, displacing more water.
Waves made by wakesurfing boats have the height and curl to mimic those breaking on ocean beaches. That’s great for wakesurfers, but property owners at some lakes aren’t happy.
We were far from any ocean, but the surf was definitely up during a visit with my brother at Payette Lake, Idaho. The winter ski town of McCall is along the shoreline of Payette, a nearly mile-high beauty of a lake.
Wakesurfing, I discovered behind my brother’s boat, isn’t at all like water skiing. I used to be a fairly decent slalom skier, so I figured my first try at wakesurfing would be a snap. It wasn’t.
Unlike wakeboards or water skis, wakesurf boards don’t have bindings and boots. You get up on bare feet. I did not. After three unsuccessful tries at standing up on the board, I was happy to get back in the boat and watch my brother, his wife and friends display surf tricks.
Back home, I learned that Monroe’s Lake Tye was recently the venue for a major wakesurfing competition. The annual Northwest Wake Surf Open, an INT League event presented by Supreme Boats, brought nearly 100 competitors to the man-made lake July 13-16.
“We had about 95 participants from all over the United States and Canada,” said Jacqueline “Jac” Banks, executive director of INT (International Novice Tour) League. The Lake Tye event included $10,000 in prize money for pro wakesurfers and trophies for amateurs.
“And through a cool partnership with the YMCA, there was a Pass the Handle Clinic,” Banks said. “Pro riders were teaching local kids how to surf.”
Mike Farrell, Monroe parks and recreation director, said the city was thrilled to host the competition. Lake Tye also brings pro wakeboard events to town. The lake is too small to normally allow ski or wake boats, but it’s suitable for competitions, he said. Wakesurfing “appeals to all ages, young, middle age and seniors,” Farrell said.
The sport has Northwest roots. Inland Surfer, a pioneer in wakesurf board manufacturing, was founded in Bellevue.
“It’s definitely the fastest growing water sport in the United States,” Banks said. “You ride behind the boat at 12 miles per hour. It’s really low impact compared to water skiing. And it’s easy to teach someone to do it.”
Those big wakes, while fun for riders, do have critics.
Online forums are filled with talk about banning wake boats on some lakes. In July 2016, Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper published an article, “Wake boats draw ire of property owners,” with information about efforts at Eastern Washington’s Newman Lake, the Spokane River and Idaho’s Lake Coeur d’Alene to curb the use of wake boats. Concerns include erosion and dock damage.
Marisa Burghdoff, a Snohomish County water quality specialist, said the county code contains nothing about wakeboarding or wakesurfing. Among the county’s lakes, only Lake Stevens, Lake Goodwin, Lake Shoecraft, Lake Roesiger and Flowing Lake allow water skiing. It’s regulated by route rules and schedule restrictions set by lake associations, she said.
“Generating those big, rolly waves has some negative side effects,” said Kevin Grant, general manager of MasterCraft Seattle in Redmond. MasterCraft is one of a number of wakesurf boat brands. Among this region’s lakes that allow power boats, Grant said, there are no wake boat restrictions. “The best practice is to stay off the shore as much as possible,” he said.
In this area, Grant said, Lake Sammamish is popular for wakesurfing, along with Lake Washington. Asked if anyone buys water ski boats these days, his answer was “nobody.” It’s an expensive sport. Grant said the price range for MasterCraft wakesurf boats is $60,000 to $200,000.
“Our boats have between three and five water tanks. They have surf systems on the transom that help shape that surf wave,” Grant said. A computer system allows for setting up a rider profile based on preferences and weight.
I’m not boat shopping, but I’d give wakesurfing another try.
Oh, and the other day I almost bought a water ski. It was leaning against a tree along Hoyt Avenue during north Everett’s annual Mother of All Garage Sales. A note on it had the price, $40, and the word “vintage.” That describes me, too.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.