Call it the surf smile. When you get up surfing behind Jason Hand’s Malibu Wakesetter on Lake Erie, you can’t help but grin.
“That smile, the undeniable energy,” said Hand, 49, who spends his summer weekends in a camper at Bay Point Resort.
“Like your mouth hurts when you get off this boat,” said fellow surfer and camper, Brian Rienerth. “And your ears because of the speakers.”
The music was blasting on a sunny Thursday morning when Hand, the godfather of Lake Erie wakesurfing, took me out for a trip with his wife, Kelly Hand, and a few surfing friends, including Patrick Walton, who shot drone video of the ride. (See the video above for some of his awesome footage.)
“This is a hardcore crew that shows up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the sunrise,” Hand said.
Hand hopes to expand the wakesurfing community around Bay Point and the Marblehead peninsula, which is sheltered enough that no matter which way the wind is blowing, you can find calm water somewhere.
The wakesurfing crew has all the areas named, like runs at a ski resort. There’s Shawshank, near Johnson’s Island, which used to house a Confederate prison camp, and the Pocket, and — where we headed, in front of the main Bay Point Beach, Showtime.
Let me start at the beginning.
As soon as we filled up with gas ($125 for a tank, which you can burn through in a few hours), we filled up bags in the stern of the boat with about 3,500 pounds of water. That makes the back heavier and allows for a better wake, created by wedges beneath the boat. You can control the size and shape of the wake from a digital panel on the boat’s dashboard.
I watched surfer Nick Chamberlain and Kelly Hand do tricks on their boards a few feet behind the boat. They used a rope to stand up, then let go. They propelled themselves and changed direction by shifting their weight.
Then it was my turn.
I planted my heels on the board, perpendicular to the bow of the boat, and bent my knees. I kept my arms locked between my knees. And then, when the boat pulled forward, the rope pulled me, and I pushed my feet onto the board. Ta da! I was standing! And grinning!
The surf crew cheered!
Surfing felt more fun than water skiing; I had more control over my movement. Though I didn’t last too long once I let go of the rope. I had to step on the gas by pushing harder with my front foot and brake by pushing with the back, Rienerth said.
I tried that, and fell. And tried again. And tried again. Surfing was a new challenge, one that used strength and balance I’d gained from stand-up paddleboarding and yoga, then would plop me in the water to try again.
I could see why wake surfing was addicting, like a video game. Each try I could go a little longer, get a little more confident, try to move a little more.
Through it all, I wore my surf smile.