Before 6 a.m. on a recent July morning, three of Minnesota’s most zealous wakesurfers crowded onto a motorboat and cruised onto the glassy, undisturbed surface of Lake Minnetonka.
For the next hour and before heading off to their day jobs, professional wakesurfers Chris and Stacia Bank and Andy Weigman took turns surfing, carving their boards without the aid of a rope through the wake generated by a specially equipped boat.
They repeat the routine every other morning in the summer, preferring to practice in private without other boats on the water.
But the trio is a visible force on Minnesota’s wakesurfing scene, working to expand the sport through group lessons and events against the backdrop of a rapidly expanded professional circuit in recent years.
The sport will be on display Friday and Saturday with the Minnesota Wakesurf Championship at Surfside Beach on Lake Minnetonka.
“It’s going to be a pretty crowded and awesome environment,” said Weigman, the event organizer. “[Wakesurfing] is a family- and spectator-friendly sport. It’s low impact and pretty easy to get into from a skill-level standpoint.”
The event will take place near the Spirit of the Lakes Festival in Mound, which Weigman hopes will pique the interest of festivalgoers. More than 300 people attended the first championship last year, but event organizers are confident there will be a larger crowd this time around.
Their hope is that many will “get exposed to wakesurfing for the first time,” Weigman said, “which is one of our goals: To show people about this cool, new, rapidly growing sport.”
Saturday’s competition will include the Banks, fellow Minnesotan pro surfers Cole Sorensen and Trevor Grindland, professionals from other states and others.
While wakesurfing might seem similar to the more widespread sport of wakeboarding, “the only thing similar really is you’re on a board,” Weigman said.
Wakesurfers stand on the board instead of being strapped onto it during wakeboarding. They stay only about 15 feet behind the boat after they let go of a rope, while wakeboarders can be as far back as 80 feet and hold onto the rope as they ride.
Chris Bank said wakesurfing is growing in part because the ride is significantly slower — 11 miles per hour — than wakeboarding, which takes riders through the water at nearly 20 miles per hour.
In wakesurfing, “you’re going to tip over more than you’re going to fall, slam or get hurt,” said Chris Bank, who called Minneapolis one of the three largest wakesurfing markets in the country.
Chris Bank, who works with many of wakesurfing’s top brands, said he has noticed a steady increase in product sales. The professional circuit is also expanding, going from 13 World Series of Wakesurfing events last year to about twice as many in 2015.
“As an industry, the wakesurf companies are growing very quickly,” he said. “Wakesurfing year over year right now grows at about 30 or 35 percent, and that’s on a per-unit basis.”
Boat manufacturers have taken notice. In the sport’s early days, surfers added weight to the back of their boats to generate bigger wakes. Now companies such as Malibu make boats specifically designed for wakesurfing that feature mechanized flaps to create larger waves for riders.
“Anybody can say their sport is super cool, but when companies start selling super expensive boats just to wakesurfers … you can tell that the sport is definitely on the upward trend,” Weigman said.
Chris and Stacia Bank are trying to get more young people involved with wakesurfing by teaching children in their neighborhood how to surf.
Stacia, who Chris says is the top women’s surfer in the world, coaches a female group. She also invented a trick called “The Salty Pretzel,” in which a surfer jumps off a wave into the air and crosses hands over one another while grabbing the bottom of the board.
“They say, ‘Our husbands have these boats and they get to do all the surfing. It looks pretty fun and I think we could do that. Can you help us?’ ’’ Stacia Bank said. “It’s been pretty cute, pretty fun, because I can take all these groups of women out and they can drive the boat, surf and have their own thing going.”
Weigman started wakesurfing shortly after it emerged about 10 years ago, and the sport continues to gain more popularity, especially in Minnesota.
“The goal is to make it become kind of like an organized youth sport,” Weigman said. “If you look out on Lake Minnetonka on a normal day, you’ll probably see 10 wakesurfers for every wakeboarder out there.”