Mastering the art of wake surfing

Jennifer Pennington riding the wave. | Priya Hutner

The air was crisp, the waters of Lake Tahoe glassy and calm, and the sky was clear and blue. The mountains in the distance still topped with snow on this August morning was the perfect backdrop to Action Water Sports of Incline located at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. The dock was buzzing with people, employees preparing boats and people eager to get out on the water. Capt. Stephanie Payne greeted us for our women’s wake-surfing lesson. Two friends, Jennifer Pennington from Truckee and Christie Lee of Incline Village, Nev., joined me.

“Have you ever wake boarded before?” Capt. Payne asked. Pennington and Christy had. I had not. She explained that wake surfing was a bit like wake boarding and there was a learning curve and technique to getting up and staying up.

Capt. Payne finished preparing the twin-engine Mastercraft and loaded a short board onto the boat. Her assistant Brianna Barraza got us situated on the craft. We motored out, with the wind in our hair and the sun shining. There were few boats out this day. Someone with a bright orange and red sail was parasailing far off on the east side of the lake. It was as if we had the whole lake to ourselves

Priya Hutner’s first time attempt at wake surfing. | Christie Lee

Barraza strapped on her vest and jumped in. She would go first to show us how to get up on the board.

“It’s not a very long board,” said Pennington , who had surfed before.

Capt. Payne explained the technique: “Place your feet wide on the board and keep your knees bent and your arms straight.” She handed Barraza the rope. “Once the boat starts to move, the tension will pull you up.”

The key was to get the board under you, then get on top of the board, stand up and ride in the wake of the boat’s surf. We watched, trying to assimilate the technique.

Pennington went next. She was a pro. She got up and stayed up in the wake of the boat.

“It’s like a roller coaster on the wave; you can feel the speed and power of being propelled by the wave,” Pennington said.

I was next. I put on the cold life vest and jumped into the cool waters. I was definitely awake now. I placed my feet on the board and grabbed the handle of the rope. Capt. Payne went over the instructions once more. The engine started and the boat slowly started to move; the rope became taut; I kept my arms straight and my heels flat. Slowly I pulled myself up and was on the board for about a half second before I was back in the water. I tried a number of times. The captain cheered me on and encouraged me.

Stephanie Payne offers surf tips to Jennifer Pennington and Priya Hutner. | Christie Lee

Lee went in for a few rounds and also got up. It was so much fun. We each took a few turns before it was time to return the boat. I’m addicted and want to get out and try it again and again.

In the end it didn’t matter if we mastered the art of wake surfing in the two hours we were on the boat. It was about being on the water, surrounded by the beauty of Lake Tahoe having a magical time.

Capt. Payne was an excellent teacher. In addition to wake surfing and parasailing, Action Water Sports of Incline offers catamaran cruises with beer, wine and cheese platters; mimosa cruises; Thunderbird Lodge tours; guided fishing charters; and kayak and paddleboard tours. Boat and Sea Doo rentals are also available. The staff is knowledgeable, experienced and friendly. The adventures are fun and the scenery awe inspiring. | awsincline.co