VIDEO: Opposition mounts to wake-enhancing devices

As wakesurfers increasingly use new boat technology, some regions are banning wake-enhancing devices.
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As wakesurfers increasingly use new boat technology, which makes the sport accessible on smooth, glassy lakes, some regions are banning wake-enhancing devices.

An article in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal highlighted the growing sport of wakesurfing and the advances in boats that have made it possible for inland enthusiasts to wakesurf on smooth lakes. But it also highlighted a pushback from critics.

Boats designed for wakesurfing are hot sellers at Idaho Water Sports, a shop managed by Justin Harrison.

“It’s really opened up a huge market that wasn’t there before,” Harrison told the newspaper.

Because wakesurfing can be done going 10 mph so wipeouts are easier on the body, Harrison even has an 80-year-old wakesurfing customer.

Wakesurfing helped revive the ski-boat industry after the Great Recession, Jay Povlin, vice president of sales and marketing for Vonore, Tenn.-based MasterCraft, told the paper.

Nationwide, sales of boats used for wakesurfing and similar watersports rose 14.6 percent last year, outpacing the 8.5 percent increase of boat sales overall, according to research firm Statistical Surveys Inc.

However, critics say the specialized boats that create swells for surfing should be banned. Lakeshore homeowners and conservationists worry that the boats, with wake-enhancing devices, could erode shoreline or disturb wildlife.

Bans on wake-enhancing devices have taken hold at lakes in Oregon and Iowa. Pennsylvania officials have fielded complaints about disturbance and damage allegedly caused by wakesurfing boats.

In Idaho a few months back, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned to ban wake-enhancing devices on Lake Lowell, a popular recreation area in Idaho’s Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. However, letters from the state’s highest-ranking politicians opposed a ban.

Even with the Idaho victory, the wakesurfing boat lobby isn’t idling. The Water Sports Industry Association hired Clifford Goudey, a former Coast Guard officer and Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated consultant, to gather data.

He spent a recent week on lakes in Orlando, Fla., measuring the wakes of wakesurfing-type boats as they passed electronic sensors. Within a few months he will present findings to the WSIA about how wakesurfing boats affect shorelines, compared with factors such as other boating activities and wind.

“We need to have our ducks in a row next time these boats are challenged,” Harrison said.

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