Making Waves

Learning to wake-surf on Ennis Lake. 

It was a pleasant summer day on Ennis Lake. Kobayashi Beach was lively with swimmers and sunbathers, and teenagers turned flips off the bridge at the mouth of Bear Trap Canyon. The mid-afternoon sun beamed down, and I contemplated a cannonball as my buddy Ian and I awaited our ride from the dock.

A young couple drifted up to us in a modified speed boat, and two hands reached out to help us aboard. Carefully stepping over their canine crewmembers, we swapped introductions.

We were going wake-surfing, a rarity on the waterways of southwest Montana. Meg, one of our surf instructors for the day, smiled and welcomed us. Her counterpart, Seth, said, “Today’s perfect for surfing. The algal bloom can get out of control this time of year, but right now’s perfect.” I liked the optimism; the algal bloom could have been atrocious, with green slime everywhere, and these two would still be glad to be on the water.

As we left the dock, Seth inquired about our surfing history. None, we told him. He asked if Ian and I had ever snowboarded or skateboarded before. Again, nope. Surfing in the mountains already seemed paradoxical; why not add clumsiness to the mix? Besides, the less potential for us, the more potential for the footage—at least in terms of carnage.

Meg got up first to demonstrate, placing the board on the stern. As the boat picked up speed, she leaned back and effortlessly glided into the wave behind her. Seth cranked the stereo, reggae music blasting through the speakers; Meg deftly choreographed her way up and down the wave. Finally, she went for an ambitious maneuver and tumbled. There was a sudden transition on the boat from total awe of Meg to anticipation of who was up next. Ian and I looked at each other, and I filled the silence. “I’ll go.”

Wakesurfing, Activities                                                                                    Wake-surfing instructor Seth offers the newbie some advice.

Seth sat me down on the stern. “I always tell people to put 350% of their weight on their back foot,” he said. “Your first instinct is to lean too far forward, but that’s how you nose-dive.” He slapped me on the back and positioned the board for me. I stepped on, collected myself, and nodded that I was ready. The reggae started again, and the boat sped forward. I slowly leaned back. Water sprayed at 30mph beneath my right foot. The board slid off the back of the boat, and I immediately lost it, the board flying and my face smacking the water.

Wakesurf, Activities                                                                                                                        The first step's a doozy.

The boat pulled back around to pick me up, and I noticed Ian's face buried in the camera, snapping pictures. He was loving it. Must have tripped over a lone algal bloom, I wanted to say. “350 percent!” Seth shouted over the engine noise. I tried again, and fell again. The learning curve was a steep one, but there was plenty of daylight left. As the motor cranked, I may have been the tensest reggae fan on the planet. Once more: speed, back foot, face plant, smile for the camera.

Somewhere around my sixth or seventh attempt, something beautiful happened: as the boat sped forward, I leaned back hard, thighs burning by now, but stable. My board slid away from the stern and stalled, slowly skimming back into the wave. In a fleeting moment of glory, I stood tall, surfing amid a theater of mountains. The crew erupted with cheers and applause.

Wakesurf, Activities                                                                                                                 DJ hones newfound surfing skills.

The board glided up and down the wave in smooth swoops as the music took hold of me. I smiled and gave Seth the hang-ten sign, leaned too hard to the right, and skipped like a stone across the water. Climbing aboard, ready to try again, I couldn't help but agree with Seth: it was indeed a perfect day for surfing.

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