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Wakeboarding Sans Boat

Caldwell park offers chance to ride the waves without a motor

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I started snowboarding in the infancy of the sport during the early '90s and can cruise the slopes with ease. But with powerboats costing tens of thousands of dollars and my net worth being much more in the neighborhood of $11, I have never been wakeboarding.

But the staff at Caldwell's new Wake Central Cable Park told me that was not a problem. People start out at the park all the time, and they claim it's easier to learn there rather than behind a boat because the angle of the tow-rope naturally pulls you to a standing position--unlike being dragged behind a boat.

Looking at the motorized cables strung 20 feet above the water, and the 45-degree pitch of the handle, I saw their logic, but I was still haunted by my years-long struggle to stand up on a surfboard. I was also still trepidatious after seeing another rider at the cable park take a face plant.

I strapped my feet into the bindings and jumped into the water, sinking immediately and then let my feet bob as I laid back in the pond. Only 5 feet deep and under the relentless sun, the water was warm. Far warmer than the recent float I took on the Boise River.

A staff member told me to grab the handle, so I awkwardly paddled toward it then thrashed around trying to orient myself the way I was instructed to. Knees up like I was squatting, board perpendicular to the path of the cable, arms firmly outstretched.

They told me the secret is to push back with my legs, like braking on a snowboard, and to let the cable do the work standing up. They told me most people pick it up after only a few tries. But before it really sunk in, I felt the tug of the cable. I held my arms firm and dug in my heels.

Suddenly I was standing, skimming across the football field-sized pond at what felt like warp speed, though it's more likely the staff member controlling the speed of the motor from shore had it set to the lowest speed.

I quickly advanced on a series of permanent slide boxes and kicker ramps that I wanted nothing to do with so early in my wakeboarding career. They'd be there on the return pass. Carving away from them was surprisingly easy.

Suddenly, I realized the end of the pond was approaching and the cable would soon be reversing direction.

The staff told me to lean back like I was sitting down and it would naturally swing me around. What they didn't tell me was that it would come with the centrifugal force equal to the business end of a game of crack the whip. I went flying ass over teakettle--just like I was trying to avoid.

But beyond a mouthful of water, it wasn't so bad.

The operator halted the cable and I awkwardly paddled back to it.

Once I grabbed hold, I gave him a thumbs up to signal readiness, a move I immediately regretted because with only a single hand on the rope, it was nearly torn from my clutches.

But I grabbed hold again and was quickly cruising back the other direction.

Boats are for suckers, I thought with a giant smile.

Then I wiped out again on the turnaround. There might be something to them after all.

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