Claudia Cantin rides the wave off the back of the boat during an evening of wake surfing on Lake Winnisquam with her family. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
By ADAM DRAPCHO
LAKES REGION — For decades, waterskiing was the sport favored by boaters and their families on New Hampshire's lakes. Then knee boarding came into vogue, which led to wake boarding. Those have all been upset, though, by the new sport of wake surfing, popular in other parts of the country for a few years and now taking over New Hampshire's Lakes Region.
"It's a new craze," said Bill Irwin, at Irwin Marine.
Like the sports that preceded it, wake surfing involves a person standing atop a platform, riding the water behind a boat. Unlike prior sports, wake surfers only hold a tow line for a short time, after which they toss the line back into the boat and ride an endless, ocean-like wave, created by the boat.
"It's fun to do, and easier on the body," Irwin explained. Wake surfing is more accessible than waterskiing or wake boarding, and because wake surfers travel at slower speeds, and don't hang on to a tow line, the risk for injury is much lower.
Wake surfing has been around for a long time. The first patent related to the sport was filed in 1997. Dealers around Lake Winnipesaukee say that it's the development of boats that has led to the sport's sudden surge in popularity.
It's not possible to surf behind any boat. Wake surfers need a boat that can create, and shape, a wave in its wake. To accomplish this, the boats have the ability to take on water, as ballast, so that the boats sit lower in the water and thus create a larger wake. Additionally, the boats also feature design elements, such as articulating flaps on the boat's stern, or a sculpted platform that dips into the water, to shape the wake into wave for the surfer to ride.
"There's a strong curl to it," said Sean Mulligan, sales manager for Fay's Boat Yard in Gilford. "You are actually surfing behind the boat without having to be towed by a line."
Fay's sells Chaparral boats among its brands, and that marque added a "Vortex" line of jet boats that can create a wave for surfing. Fay's started selling the wake surf boats last year and has watched demand for the boats grow.
"It's not as popular in New Hampshire as it is in other parts of the country... but it's really starting to catch on," said Mulligan.
It was about five years ago that Tom Cantin first saw someone riding a surfboard behind a boat, without using a tow line.
"You see somebody else doing it, you say, 'Holy cow! How are they doing that?'," he said. Later, and his family he had a chance to try it out for themselves, with a relative's boat on Pleasant Lake, and last year they bought a Super Air Nautique 230, which has the ability to create a wave four-and-a-half feet tall behind the boat, curling to either the left or the right, and with a differing shape depending on which buttons the pilot presses on the touch-screen controls.
"Once you get up and start getting good at it, you can let go of the line. When you let go of the line, you aren't restricted by the line," Cantin said. "You're really close to the boat. Because of that, you can sit on the swim platform and have a conversation with the person surfing, it's really cool."
Older water sports are not for the faint of heart. Fall while waterskiing, and you'll hit the water hard at 30 mph. Wake surfing only requires a speed of nine to 11 mph.
"We're going super slow. It's low impact. If you crash, you're just falling into the water," Cantin said.
"It's definitely taking the industry by storm," said Kevin McCarthy, manager of Irwin Marine's Alton Bay location. "Of course, in New Hampshire, we're a little slow in developing it," but the wake surfing trend has arrived, he can say, and as evidence he points to his sales of wake surf boats that are double what they were at this time last year. The growth, he said, is due to manufacturers' innovations.
"These boats are evolving, I'm watching it before my eyes." McCarty said that manufacturers are now designing boats with surfing specifically in mind. Meanwhile, they're also designing the boats with open cockpits, allowing for greater passenger space. And the larger, deeper hulls needed to create the wake when the ballast tanks are full make the boat sturdier and more stable when Lake Winnipesaukee's surface gets choppy. The result is a boat that is as capable as a vehicle for water sports as it is a pleasure boat for an evening cruise.
"We're talking about a game-changer," McCarthy said. "It's got more universal appeal."
That's something the Cantin family has found with their new boat. In the space of a 90-minute outing, Cantin said he and his family will rotate between water skiing, wake boarding and wake surfing.
"I like being out there with my kids," Cantin said. "We're certainly enjoying it."
Julia Cantin rides the wave off her family’s boat during an evening of wake surfing on Lake Winnisquam. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)