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Wakesurfers call for self-policing to avoid conflict with lakeshore owners

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Philip Simonson of Brandon catches a wave generated by a wakesurfing boat on Lake Carlos on Aug. 22. Local wakesurfers are calling for the sport to better police itself in the wake of complaints from lakeshore owners about erosion and property damage. (Karen Tolkkinen | Echo Press)2 / 4
Miriam Anderson, an Alexandria ninth-grader, surfs behind her uncle Gary Anderson's boat on Lake Rachel on a recent afternoon. Wakesurfing boats can sit up to 19 passengers. This one, a 409-horsepower Nautique, fits 12. (Karen Tolkkinen | Echo Press)3 / 4
Vern Lorsung shows a section of Lake Latoka shoreline he says was eroded by repeated passes by wakesurfing boats this summer. He had to move his dock closer to shore and add a 2 3/4-foot section to step onto it from his yard. (Karen Tolkkinen | Echo Press)4 / 4

Out in the deep middle of Lake Carlos, Philip Simonson braced his feet against the wakesurfing board, held onto the tow rope and in seconds was up, skimming the side of the wave cresting behind the wakesurfing boat.

The homeschooled Brandon 8th-grader soon tossed the rope aside and rode the wave free handed as coaches and other kids shouted encouragement and snapped photos.

Wakesurfing has shot up in popularity over the past decade as a gentler alternative to wakeboarding. But it has gotten a bad rap in Douglas County lately, with some lake owners complaining that the waves generated by the large, heavy boats have eroded their shorelines, damaged watercraft tethered to their docks and intimated operators of smaller craft.

So Gary Anderson, who leads a ministry that brings kids like Philip wakesurfing each week, and Jason Lybeck, owner of Faction Marine, which sells wakesurfing boats, said they want to change that image. They want to defend the sport as a whole, while teaching troublesome boat operators how to play nice.

On a Tuesday afternoon, Anderson demonstrated how wakesurfing should be done—far from shore, life jackets for all, respectful of other boaters.

"We're on a mission to educate some of these people that don't know any better," Anderson said.

Douglas County isn't the only place where lakeshore owners have objected to the wakesurfing boats. Lakeshore owners in Virginia, Washington and Idaho have complained about erosion, leading to restrictions in some areas.

To head off further regulations, the Florida-based Water Sports Industry Association hired a naval architect to study waves created by the wakesurfing boats. The 2015 study contends that waves rolling off a wakesurfing boat crest and break much more quickly than those from cruising boats, dissipating more quickly and doing less damage to shorelines. It also maintains that in most situations, natural waves cause more shoreline erosion than waves from the wakesurfing boats.

Nevertheless, it recommended that wakesurf boat operators::

• Stay to the center of a body of water, and avoid narrow channels or thoroughfares, if possible

• Always stay at least 150 feet away from shoreline, dock, or fixed objects.

• Respect the shoreline and leave immediately and graciously if the property owner requests

• Avoid "working a shoreline," in which repeated runs bombard the shoreline with waves

• When possible, present the non-surfing side of the boat to the closest shoreline

• Avoid gradual turns close to shore.

Lybeck said that for every wakesurfing boat he sells, he spends two hours with its new owner after he delivers it, explaining how it works and how to operate it safely and courteously. But boats come to Alexandria area lakes from all over the state and beyond, where new owners might not receive any lessons. He's contemplating holding forums to teach dealers and sales representatives how to educate their customers.

He also posted a video on his business Facebook site urging wakesurfing boat owners to be more sensitive to others on the lake and to police themselves.

"Wakesurfing is young and we're all learning along the way, but let's all work together and make this the best is can be for everybody," he says on the video.

Lybeck said it's not only wakesurf boats causing problems. One recent weekend, Lake Carlos was full of fishing boats, personal watercraft and pontoons creating wakes within 150 feet of shore, he said.

"I get we're the ones painted as doing it but if you'd spend a day at the lake, you'd see we're in a vast minority," Lybeck said. "The general boating population is disturbingly uneducated."

The lakes, he pointed out, draw a lot of people and dollars to the Alexandria area.

"What we want to do is educate people, not scare them," he said. He said what he wants to avoid is the attitude of "'I'm not going to Alexandria because they're writing tickets.'"

Earlier in August, some members at the Douglas County Lakes Association's monthly meeting called for education, regulation or both.

Lake Latoka homeowner Vern Lorsung was one of those. He said he counted six wakesurfing boats on the 753-acre lake over the July Fourth holiday weekend. Some were in the bay in front of his house. The waves broke welds under his dock and ate away at his shoreline, he said. For many years, his shoreline used to measure 16 feet from the edge of his lakescaping plants to the bank along the lake. This year, it's 11.5 feet.

"Small lakes can't take these big boats," he said. Lorsung, a former Douglas County commissioner, said he sees no reason why lakes under 1,000 acres can't ban wakesurfing boats entirely.

"Everything seems bigger," he said of the wakesurfing boats. "The motors are bigger, the boats are bigger. You don't see many fishing boats like mine out here. You can't fish when the wakeboats are out here."

His biggest concern, he said, is not for his property. It's for the lake water quality. Soil contains phosphorus, an element that can rob lakes of oxygen and spur algae growth. Twenty years ago, when he was testing water clarity, the water was clear down to 26 feet deep, he said. Now, it's less than half that, and even at times only 6 feet.

"This used to be the clearest lake around here," he said. "It's not an extraordinary lake no more."

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