Wakesurfing on Lake Erie? You can do it!


 You can surf behind a boat.

Wakesurfing is one of the hottest sports on the water. And though its ancestor, waterskiing, has been sparse on Lake Erie in recent decades, wakesurfing master Jason Hand hopes to expand the wakesurfing community around Bay Point and the Marblehead peninsula.

“We’re bringing new energy to the area,” said Hand, 49, who grew up skiing in Bay View and now lives in Buckeye Lake, near Columbus. “There’s a new energy and ski boats and new attitude.”

Around Marblehead there are still only a handful of surf boats, which don’t have bottom paint and so must be lifted out of the water at the dock. Because people don’t really ski on Lake Erie.

Ski boats are small and sit low in the water, and Great Lakes waves can be too rough too rough to ski. So families instead buy bigger cabin cruisers, which can still pull a tube.

“There’s a myth that ski boats don’t belong on Lake Erie,” Hand said.

But in the 1960s and ’70s, before tubing, everyone skied. “To get some water activity, you skied.” And you can still ski around Marblehead, which is sheltered by the islands and the peninsula. No matter which way the wind is blowing, you can find calm water somewhere nearby.

So how do you wakesurf? Hand says it’s hard to learn; you’ll fall the first 8 or 9 times. But once you get it, you’re hooked.

“You get in the sweet spot, the pocket. with wave that’s pushing you,” he said. “Smiles are undeniable. The smile, it’s invigorating. It spreads, the energy.”

Wakeboarding vs. wakesurfing

  • Wakeboards attach to your feet. Wake surfboards don’t.
  • Wakeboarding uses a rope. Wakesurfing uses it to start, then drops it.
  • Wakeboarding requires a boat going about 20 mph. Wakesurfing requires about 10 mph.
  • Crashing on a wakeboard can hurt. When you fall in wakesurfing, you just kind of sink.

Without the rope, wakesurfing can seem like a magic trick, Hand said.

Jason Hand wants to expand the wakesurfing community around the Marblehead peninsula. (Dawn Sullivan)

People originally used ocean surfboards, but the first U.S. patent was granted for a wake surfboard in 1997. Now more than 15 companies make wakesurf-specific boards.

And while in the sport’s starting days, surfers added weight to the back of their boats to generate bigger wakes, now boats are specifically designed for wakesurfing, with mechanized flaps that create larger waves for riders.

You can spend $150,000 on a surf boat. Hand, a phone and data cabling operator who likes to say he’s been semi-retired for most of his life, owns a 22-foot Malibu VLX.

“It’s like a performance boat,” he said. “Some people call it a Ferrari on water. It has a lot of features to make a huge wave.”

Hand grew up water skiing.

“From skis to knee board to wakeboard to this. These kids keep inventing these new sports. And I’m like, it’s not ending!”

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