Bringing the surf to Minnesota
Those who crave the thrill of riding a wave don't need the ocean. There are plenty of opportunities to surf on lakes right here in Douglas County.
That's something more people of all ages are finding out as the sport of wakesurfing becomes more popular with each passing summer. Alexandria's Jason Lybeck can attest to that as someone who teaches wakesurfing after starting to excel at it himself.
Lybeck recently tested his skills at the Florida Wakesurfing Championships, where he took second in skim and third in surf in the Outlaw Division, the division just below the professional level. That came after he won the men's surf event in the Outlaw Division at the Mexico Wakesurfing Championships in late May. The win qualified him for the 2013 World Championships in Las Vegas this September.
"The funny thing is when I went to Mexico, I literally had two days on the Mississippi River riding before I went there," Lybeck said. "So I was as surprised as anybody that I won. I just had a really good run when I got there."
Lybeck started wake surfing in 2004 as something to do when he wasn't wakeboarding. His passion for the sport changed in 2009. Tommy Czeschin, a former Olympic snowboarder for Team USA and a professional wakesurfer, came to the area to do a camp on how to wakesurf. It's by watching him that Lybeck realized the kind of progressive tricks that were possible on the board.
"From that day forward, wakeboarding, I hardly did it anymore," Lybeck said.
Slowly but surely, water- sport enthusiasts are taking a similar course in the area. Lybeck, who owns the Faction board shop in Alexandria, said he has sold more wakesurfing boards this year than wakeboards. There is an appeal in the fact that almost anybody can do it with the right equipment.
Wakesurfing does require having a boat with an inboard motor. Outboards or inboard/outboards with an exposed prop aren't safe with the rider being approximately 15 feet behind the boat. Weight is then added to tilt the boat to the side that the surfer intends to ride. Driving speeds range from 10-11 miles per hour to help create the ideal wave.
The first challenge for every surfer is getting up. There are no bindings, so the board floats naturally in the water with the rider's heels resting on it. They are pulled up with a rope that they eventually let go of. From there, they ride the wave that is created by the wake.
"Wakesurfing is 90 percent technique," Lybeck said. "It has very little to do with strength. My son learned when he was five. He did ski and wakeboard before that, but I have taught numerous young kids. People in their 50s and 60s do it."
Alexandria's Gary Anderson, 41, has made it a point to introduce young kids to the sport every summer. He has taught children as young as five years old and currently has almost 30 students ranging from 7-18 years old who take part in his Wakn'up program, which is designed to introduce kids to both wakeboarding and wakesurfing.
"It's growing a lot," Anderson said of surfing. "When we started this program, it was 95 percent wakeboarding, 5 percent wakesurfing. That was six, seven years ago. Now it's almost exactly the opposite. I'd say we have 95 percent wakesurfing and 5 percent wakeboarding."
Anderson started wakeboarding in the mid-1990s, but it punished his body to the point where it became tough to do. A friend introduced him to wakesurfing, which provided a similar thrill without the physical abuse that can come from the falls and the pull of traveling at higher speeds on a wakeboard.
The tricks aren't quite the same as on a wakeboard. There isn't near as much air in wakesurfing, but professional riders are constantly coming up with new tricks that help add to the intrigue for current surfers and bring more new surfers into the sport.
"It used to be just surfing the wave was enough," Anderson said. "Then somebody learned how to catch air on the wave. Then it's spinning or 360s. The sport is just progressing so quickly. It's tough to say where the limits are."
Surfers have already overcome their greatest limitations by proving that they don't need the ocean to ride a wave.
"It's cool because it's so fun and it gives Minnesotans a surf experience," Lybeck said. "It's as close as you're going to get without going on Lake Superior and riding the waves in 30-degree water in December."