Catching some waves: Wakeboarding is still growing in popularity

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) -- Sometime during the mid-1980s, water skiers looking for a new thrill started strapping a wide, oval-shaped board on their feet. Hence, the sport of wakeboarding -- or skurfing, as it was known during those early years -- was born.

These days, wakeboarding is the preferred pastime of boaters in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and elsewhere. Boards come in every size, shape and color, and local ''skurfers'' can routinely be seen cutting wakes in the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, sometimes year-round.

''Once I went wakeboarding I never went back to skiing,'' said Lewiston's Jamie Huminsky, who grew up slalom skiing and ventured into ''skurfing'' around 1991. ''The tricks and the stuff you can do are just endless compared to a water ski, and it's a lot easier for people to get started. Fifty percent of the people I take out and try to get up probably do it on their first try.''

Wakeboards can be found at nearly every sporting goods store in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, and sales are soaring, according to a few local retailers.

''I used to be a die-hard water skier and I haven't done it for years because I took up wakeboarding,'' said Tri-State Outfitters assistant manager Justin Mortensen, who estimates that wakeboard sales outnumber water ski sales at least five to one.

Riverview Marina general manager Bryce Barnes says those numbers stand up at his business as well.

''You see more people coming in now to get their kids into wakeboarding versus slalom skiing,'' he said. ''Basically, you're not as restricted as you are with slalom skiing. If you're a good slalom skier that means you can cut buoys. If you're a good wakeboarder it's more freestyle, more of whatever it is you want to do.

''Wakeboarding is the new thing, the new summertime sport. The tricks are endless and you can do it for a long time. You slalom ski for 15 minutes and you're dead (tired). You can wakeboard for 15 minutes and then 10 minutes later you're ready to do it again.''

Huminsky, who works at Potlatch, has introduced several acquaintances to the sport. He likens wakeboarding to snowboarding, only easier -- at least in his estimation.

But part of that, Huminsky said, is because today's wakeboards are so much more advanced than their predecessors.

''The first boards were asymmetrical, and they were a lot different,'' he said. ''Today's boards are so much lighter. And they're switch-stance, and twin-tipped so you can ride them both ways. They're also made of better material and have better fins and bindings ... They just keep getting better and better every year.''

And it's not just the boards that are improving. Since boarders are seeking the biggest wake they can find, boats are now being built with internal bladders, which can be filled to add weight -- and wake.

''They are heavier and sit deeper in the water,'' Barnes said. ''At a slow speed it creates a bigger wake, and bigger wakes mean bigger air.''

Boats are also being fitted with ''towers,'' which straddle the hull or are mounted in the middle of the boat and enable wakeboarders to be pulled from an elevated angle. The result is, once again, bigger air and longer hangtime.

''Those have just come along in the last five or six years,'' said Huminsky, who was among the first boaters in the valley to install a tower. ''We kind of got some funny looks at first. But before you knew it, everyone was wanting to get one.''

Ideally, wakeboarders are pulled at speeds between 18-22 miles per hour. That alone makes the sport somewhat safer than skiing, where speeds can easily exceed 30 mph.

''The speeds just aren't as great,'' Mortensen said. ''You still have the occasional board coming up and hitting someone in the face, but you are going a little slower so it's not as dangerous.''

Tri-State Outfitters and Riverview Marina both offer incentives for prospective wakeboard buyers. At Tri-State, customers can rent a board for $25 a day. If they want to purchase it, the money is subtracted off the total price. And if they're not completely sold, they can spend another $25, try a different board and have both days' rental prices taken off the final purchase price.

Last summer, Barnes and his staff arranged for a one-day wakeboarding clinic, which featured professional boarders from north Idaho -- Coeur d'Alene Lake and Hayden Lake have also become wakeboarding hotspots.

Obviously, the sport is still growing. And people like Huminsky plan to keep riding the wake into the future.

''Now that the kids are doing it I'm even more excited about the whole deal,'' said Huminsky, whose daughter, Nikki, 11, got up her first time last summer. ''At all the competitions they're starting to make a lot of sliders out of stationary objects, and you're starting to see things like kicker jumps.

''It's really come a long way.''


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