Wake surfing is catching on in New Hampshire
Matt Hughes throws the tow rope back to the boat after picking up enough speed to wake surf on Newfoundland Lake in Bristol on Thursday, July 19, 2012. Hughes is the owner of Newfound Boat Shoppe. (William Wrobel)
Matt Hughes uses a tow rope to pick up enough speed to wake surf behind his boat on Newfound Lake in July. Wake surfing is a slower, non-airborne version of wake-boarding in which the rider eventually releases the rope and uses the wake as a means of propulsion. (William Wrobel)
The boat, which is loaded with extra weight, speeds to about 10 miles an hour, not fast enough for water skiing. But its stern is cutting deeply into the water, creating an in increasingly large wake which soon becomes a five-foot wave, curling toward Hughes and forming a “pipeline.”
Transferring his weight, he cuts the rear of his board into the wave, and quickly the tow rope becomes limp, and he drops it. He's now being carried entirely by the wake's wave, twisting and turning on it like … a surfer.
Hughes is wake surfing, a sport that has become hugely popular on lakes in California, Texas, Florida, and worldwide. It's an offshoot of wake boarding, which became popular in the 1990s is now the dominant lake water sport in the country.
Wake boarders, who are pulled by tow ropes like water skiers, now greatly outnumber water skiers in the U.S. In this state, they outnumber water skiers by about 3-1, according to Safe Boaters of N.H.
Wake surfing has only emerged as a major water sport in the U.S. in the past few years, but is just now catching on here.
“It's just getting popular in the Lakes Region, but we've been selling more and more wake surfing boards,” said Hughes, the owner of Newfound Boat Shoppe in Bristol.
World champion wake surfers, many of whom are converted ocean surfers, can ride a boat's wake for an hour or more, making the sport look easy as they do tricks on the waves with their boards.
Hughes admits he is a wake-surfing novice who can only stay on a wave for a few minutes. But he is learning and improving with each ride, he said.
“It's surfing, so it takes some time to get really good at it, but it's really, really fun no matter how long you're up,” he said.
Boat and water sport shops around the state began prominently featuring wake surfing boards in the past two summers, Hughes said.
They are usually about 5 feet long with fins on the back underside. They start at about $350.
A performance boat with an inboard engine and some sort of ballast system is needed, he said. Ballast systems in modern boats take in and store lake water onboard in order to create a large wake.
Older inboard boats can be weighted with lead, cement or other heavy materials.
“Most of the modern water sports boats have these systems. They are getting pretty common,” Hughes said.
A tow rope of 20 feet is recommended for safety. State law requires wake surfers to wear life preservers or buoyant body suits.
With the right boat and board, wake surfers, like ocean surfers, can find the “sweet spot” on the board and in the wave, allowing a long ride for an experienced surfer.
But like Hughes, most wake surfers on state lakes are still learning.
New Hampshire hasn't been represented — yet — at the World Wake Surfing Championships held in southern states in past years.
“It's a very new sport up here, we aren't known so much yet for surfing,” said Evan Goldner, founder and president of Water Monkey Camp on Merrymeeting Lake in Wakefield, which began offering wake surfing lessons for kids last summer.
The camp also teaches wake boarding, water skiing and other water sports.
But Goldner, who is also still learning to wake surf and says he can now stay on a wave for about 15 minutes, said wake surfing lessons are the most popular.
“It's an amazing sport,” he said.
“It's so much fun to teach, and the kids are learning quickly. It's great to see the little kids just pop right up on the waves.”
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