Wakesurfing newbies get lessons

August 22, 2018

Before last week, I had never water skied, wakeboarded or generally done any other kind of pulled-behind-a-boat water sport.

So I was a little nervous when I signed on to write a story about Teton Surf Co., a Jackson company that teaches wakesurfing classes, by taking one of its classes.

Teton Surf Co. is the only company in the area that offers wakesurfing classes. It take groups of locals and vacationers out on the Palisades Reservoir near Alpine, and it has a permit from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest allowing it to do so.

Our boat captain last week was Teton Surf Co. co-owner Kevin Nettleton. He has a United States Coast Guard captain’s license, is a wilderness first responder, is CPR-certified and has spent years as a backcountry guide.

The instructor was Bethanie Hruska, also a veteran backcountry guide with a similar list of certifications and safety accolades.

As I took notes on all that, I was also racking up my reasons to be less nervous.

The class was its Wednesday Women’s Wake Surf Club, an evening session specifically for women who want to learn how to wakesurf, so the class was entirely predicated on creating a supportive environment.

One of the women who came to last Wednesday’s class was Cat Wright. She went out with Teton Surf Co. last summer, and was there to get her feet back under her after ACL surgery in March. The classes were encouraging and gave her a better idea of what her own learning process might look like, she said.

“It gave me a healthy comparison — not some dude doing gnarly s---,” she said. “It’s always more fun shredding with girls, whether that’s surfing, snowboarding or skateboarding.”

While Wright was surfing Hruska perched on the back of the boat to give her tips and encouragement throughout her ride.

The classes on Wednesdays are only a small slice of what Teton Surf Co. does. Most of its clients are locals and vacationing families. Teton Surf Co. offers whole- and half-day trips as well as kids clinics each Thursday.

It doesn’t matter if your group includes a 1-year-old, a 5-year-old and their grandmother, said Jennifer Wilhite, co-owner, boat captain and instructor at Teton Surf Co. Even if they’re not all surfing they can still enjoy being on the water.

“With our recreation we can take them all out,” Wilhite said.

One of the reasons wakesurfing suits people of a variety of ages and physical abilities is the speed of the boat. When you go wakesurfing the boat is moving at approximately 11 mph. That’s compared with about 20 mph for wakeboarding and over 30 for water skiing.

I was the last of the group to take a turn surfing. Right before I jumped in the water Hruska said to me, “Remember, everyone here has done this before,” nipping in the bud any tendency I might have to compare my skill level with the others’.

I managed to get up on the board the second time I tried. Hruska jumped into the water next to me and showed me exactly where to place my feet and how to hold the tow rope.

Calling on my limited snowboarding experience, I willed my feet to shift to their toe edge, guiding the board closer to the inside of the wave, reminding myself I would fall into 78-degree water, not headfirst into snow and ice.

It was such a blast. And definitely a way to keep up with your quad muscles until ski season starts again.

“I live in this valley for snowboarding,” said Jordan Schleicher, a participant and co-teacher with Hruska during Wednesday’s class. “Now, after starting this [wake surfing], it’s a toss-up.”

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