Wakeboard boats — boats that generate waves large enough for people to surf on — are increasingly popular on local lakes.
You may have seen them and wondered: What are skiers doing standing ten feet behind a boat?
Those people aren’t skiing; they are surfing.
Welcome to the world of wakeboard boats.
“This boat has a certain type of hull that is designed to make a wake, generating enough that you can push a surfboard down it. Then it has a gate on each side that flip out to one side or the other that kind of tips the boat,” said Tanner Slavens. “Historically people would sit on…you’d have a bunch of your buddies pile onto one side, add a bunch of weight, put your coolers over there… but this boat does it all.”
Tanner Slaven’s boat weighs 4,000 pounds dry.
Add 4,000 pounds of water and 10 of his friends, and the boat weighs more than 4 tons.
At low speed it displaces water and creates a large wake.
“We start at low speed. They are holding a rope and we slowly bring them up. The surfboard will come up to your feet. You’ll get into that wave. And once it starts to form that wave–and it takes a couple of miles an hour– then they can release the rope and then they are surfing on their own on the wave that this boat builds,” Slavens said.
“I’ve snowboarded. I’ve skied, wake-boarded, but this is…the balance, catching the wave…it’s always a challenge for me, but it’s always fun to get better,” said Carl Borgwardt.
Is it hard to learn?
“Once you get it, you got it. It takes a few falls. It’s not terrible to learn, Borgwardt said.
Borgwardt performed a 360 spin on the wake.
“I haven’t stuck it yet. Pretty much you’ve just got to do it. Put your hand in the water, spin and away you go. It took me one time to try it and I’m still trying to stick it.”
Didn’t we see you finish it?
“I just kept on going. Usually you try to stay in the wave but I just kept on going. Yeah. I’ll get there.”
If getting there is half the fun, having music and an audience are the other half.
Everybody who is sitting in the boat watching the person ride the wake is cheering or jeering.
“You are absolutely cheering. You have to get the rider excited. If they are excited, then the rider is excited and it’s so much easier to get up and everybody is having a good time,” Slavens said.
Boat captains are responsible for the safety of the rider behind the boat, the passengers in the boat and boats nearby.
Extra vigilance is required when operating a vessel that generates a wake that can swamp another boat.
“Each boat out here is probably generating a wake of their own. Everybody’s out here trying to have fun, right? You’ve got your ski tubers, your jet ski guys, people on pontoon boats. You don’t want to put a big wave at somebody and ruin their day and vice versa. Just give yourself plenty of space.”
Slavens suggested staying at least 500 feet away from other boats when operating a wakeboard boat.
Megan Sinclair said learning how to surf behind a wake board boat starts with a deep squat.
“Hold your arms really stiff and trust that you are going to hold on. It’s like standing out of a really deep squat. Trust your legs. Believe in your legs and once you are up, good luck.”
Sinclair fell or biffed, several times.
“I really try to plan my biffs but. As soon as I think I’m doing fine I look up and I see my nose is in the water and I know I’m going down. You need to cover your head and hope for the best. I’ve had the board come around and whack me in the head and that’s something you don’t want to happen.”
Megan got the biggest rounds of applause when she fell in the boat’s wake.
“Maybe it’s because it’s my birthday and I would really cause a ruckus if I didn’t get the rounds of applause and Carl did,” Sinclair said.
Carl scored a good round of applause for catching a beverage tossed to him, and drinking it…while surfing.
So what does a day on the water in a wakeboard boat mean to this crew?
“Unplugging. Getting away from work. No cell phones. No cell service. Just relax. Hang out with friends,” Borwardt said.
“Soaking in where we live,” Sinclair said. “Every day you take advantage of it. This is a day you get to take a look around and realize ‘Wow, we live here, and this is what we get to do.’ You don’t want to take that for granted.