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Like Snow Skiing, But Warmer!

Lake Billy Chinook offers wakeboarding and waterskiing


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The two happiest days of a boat owner, I was once told, are the day you buy the boat, and the day you sell it.

I disagree.

The happiest days of a boat owner should be the days inbetween buying it and selling it (or, in the case of my last waterski boat, when it sunk in the Willamette River). And some of those happy days should be spent at one of the most spectacular lakes for water sports on the west coast—the properly named Lake Billy Chinook (so named after an early guide in the region).

Unlike, say, winter sports like downhill skiing and snowboarding, water skiing and wakeboarding are best when the surface is perfectly flat—and, at its best, Lake Billy Chinook can offer miles of glass-smooth water, with long stretches protected by high banks and stark cliffs. Especially if you head out early enough in the morning, this is some of the best water to find for water skiing or wakeboarding. (For that same reason, however, the space can also be some of the most hectic, with a bit of snarling "locals only" attitude.)

The mechanics—and balance—of water skiing and wakeboarding are roughly similar to snow skiing and snowboarding, with the added advantage of being so much warmer and without as much clothing required. Many first-timers and novice worry about actually standing-up on skis or a wakeboard, but that is like the fear of a chairlift stopping you from skiing. It is a remarkably easy hurdle to clear: For skiing, keeping your arms locked and letting the boat pull you out of the water makes all the difference, and for wakeboarding, the counterintuitive motion of stepping forward when the boat pulls will pop you out of the water.

If you want more coaching—or if the hurdle of boat ownership seems like a high hurdle for a new sport—check out Sundance Watersports. The 30-year-old organization offers coaching and excursions and, with a $25 annual membership, is truly one of the best summer bargains.

On Saturday, the club hosts its annual competition, with wakeboarding antics and a slalom waterskiing competition on Sunday, at the Crooked Arm just past the main marina of Cove Palisades Resort

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