To The Editor: Do wakesurfing boats belong on the river?

“John,

Parker Live needs to address the controversy over wake / surf boats on the river. Many private docks have been damaged by the huge wakes this summer alone. The river isn’t big enough for what they want to do. Everybody likes to have fun but people are really mad at this point. Can you please talk about this? There should be more of a public debate about it.”

– A part-time resident

Here at Parker Live, we love all our river goers, and the many sports enjoyed on our stretch of paradise. On top of that, my own opinion is that wakesurfing is one of the most fun watersports ever invented. But okay, there’s a controversy! So let’s talk about it.

On the Parker Strip, recreation comes in many forms. Over the course of any given weekend, you’ll see people tubing behind boats, swimming, sunbathing on inflatables, jetskiing, grilling at the shoreline, snorkeling, bass fishing, cruising on boats, paddle boarding, socializing at bars, kayaking and much more.

And the history of towing people behind powered boats goes back a long way. Waterskiing goes back to 1922. With a little less speed and a shorter rope, you get wakeboarding. And nowadays, it’s easy to see the popularity of wakesurfing, which is even slower and with a much shorter rope.

The reason this growing sport produces larger wakes (waves) than other forms of boating is obvious: the deeper the wake, the better the session. Boats used for wakesurfing are deliberately designed to produce a large, surfable wake behind them, so surfable that the surfer can throw the rope away once they’re in position. They are no longer being towed like a skier or wakeboarder, they’re free riding.

The boats people use for this can intentionally take on water for ballast, digging into the water further. The best of them allow for controlling the shape and scale of the wave using touchscreens… or even using a controller in the hand of the surfer.

As I said before, it’s undeniably fun and cool. BUT…

…that wake doesn’t just disappear once the rider has surfed it. It pushes out from the boat with a deep ripple effect behind it, affecting the water for other people along the way, and lands on the shoreline up to several minutes later in bursts of crashing waves. Once you get a lot of them out on the river at once, you may as well be boating in a blender.

Several angry rants on boating forums have taken up the issue for years, with some posts this summer including photographs showing damage to private docks, which they blame on wakeboarding and wakesurfing.

In Minnesota earlier this year, legislators introduced a bill that would require wakesurfers to stay 200 feet away from other water users, a proposal that may have come from within the boating industry itself. But, on the Parker Strip, that would be an impossible solution. The river isn’t wide enough in many areas for it to be practical, and the confined space means that the shorelines wouldn’t be any less-impacted anyway.

And I guess that may be the exact argument here. On a wider body of water, like parts of Lake Havasu, there is room for wakes to dissipate. The argument goes that this is precisely why the Parker Strip – the Colorado River between Headgate Dam and Parker Dam, on which there’s lots of private property – is an unsuitable place for the sport.

Personally, it would make me sad to see it banished from the Strip completely. Twenty years ago, people complained that ‘cigarette boats’ didn’t belong on the strip, and then that wakeboards didn’t belong on the strip, and then that jetskis didn’t belong on the strip. Everybody seems to have their own pet peeves about something. And is it even a settled matter that surfing causes more disruption or damage than any other watersports?

The ultimate question is the same as every controversy: how do we all get along?

In conversations with some local complainants, I asked whether they could think of any other solutions. One that was offered: allow wakesurfing only on certain stretches of the river or at certain times. For example, between BlueWater Resort & Casino and the Badenoch’s area, which has fewer homes along its shoreline. Or, between certain hours, with quieter times for waterskiers and anglers (who generally like a smooth river), and other times for more…. rowdy… activities.

What do you think of wakesurfing as a sport, and do you think there’s room for it in Parker? Do wakesurfing boats belong on the river?

John Wright
Editor
Parker Live

More than 100 more comments about this on our Facebook page HERE.

12 comments

  1. I think the suggested solutions are good and should be considered. They certainly would go a long way in allowing skiers and wakesurfers to play together nicely in our beautiful Parker Strip…BUT…could we actually designate times or an area? Who would enforce it? I fear that we are just peeling the onion. Let the debate begin, right?

  2. All boat operators are responsible for any damage their wake causes. This is a principle in State, Federal and International law that has been around since Navigation Rules were established a century ago. However when there are dozens of boats going by, in a narrow area each one throwing up a wake, it’s hard to determine, much less prove, that one particular boat caused the damage. Nearly any boat, if trimmed up enough, has the potential to throw off a damaging wake. So how can the victims of damage recover for there loss? They pretty much can’t. But property owners also have a biting dog in this fight. The proliferation of seawalls cause wakes to bounce off and project that energy back out into the River, causing that “washing machine” effect, rather than wake energy being dispersed as wave rolling onto the beach.

    But aside from physical damage that can be repaired by some new wood and a few screws, what about the damage that isn’t easily repairable? Beach and shoreline erosion is a real problem. Go walk the beach at La Paz or Buckskin Park after a big weekend. Rather than having a gentle sloping beach, there are cliffs, sometime several feet tall, that must be re-sloped or the have sand replaced.

    The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for any modifications to the shoreline, and look really hard at new seawalls, as they realize that they increase damage done by wakes. They also have new regulations for docks, where any existing docks are grandfathered and can be repaired as long they continue to be serviceable. But any new, or full replacement, docks must meet the new guidelines, increasing the costs for those older docks that have been in place for 50 years or more, but have been just recently damaged beyond repair.

    And finally there are the environmental issues. Many endangered and threatened species live in our River. With wakes damaging their habitat, it won’t be long before the Federal Government steps in to further protect them. The No-Wake zone in the Lower River by Blue Water Resort wasn’t established for the Resort or Marina. An endangered bird, the Yuma Clapper Rail, was found to nest on the water surface back within the tules of the marsh across from the Resort. It was also found that the eggs and fry (baby fish) of the Bonytailed Chub, Colorado River Squawfish and Humpbacked Chub, all endangered native fish, use the tules to protect from predators such as Largemouth Smallmouth and Striped Bass, and other non-native sport fish. Wakes disturb and destroy the egg clusters and force the fry out into the river, to be eaten by other fish. The eggs are laid anywhere that there are natural barriers from predator fish, not just in the lower marsh. In the case of the Clapper Rail, if their nests are disturbed by constant wakes or waves, the mothers abandon the nest, leaving the eggs and chicks to be prey to hawks, Sea gulls and buzzards. Races are allowed to be held, as long as there is a minimum of 2 weeks between events, and the No Wake Zone is enforced for the rest of the time. This is consistent with periodic natural disturbances like wind, storms, etc.

    It would take cooperation between 2 states, an Indian Tribe and about 6 separate Agencies of the Federal Government to impose any regulations, and banning one type of boat would be nearly impossible. As with Personal Watercraft 20 years or so ago, the push was for self policing and self control, rather than bans. We’ve seen how well that worked. PWC ONLY areas were established on several lakes, but all that happened was the PWCs destroyed the marking buoys. The wake boat owners are the PWC owners grown up. Remember we’re dealing with the ME ME ME generation. If the operators of these boats cared about other people, they wouldn’t be slamming the river with wakes to begin with.

    And since we are in no way the only lake to experience this issue, the answer might just be a class action law suit against the manufacturers of the boats and the aftermarket additions that serve only to increase the size, and therefore, damage, of boat wakes.

  3. I have two homes with docks on the Parker strip water front. Never have had any damage from the surf wakes. I would assume the docks that have occurred damage were probably under maintained.

  4. Uh oh, The fun police are here again! Yeah, wakeboats are the problem. Not the People wasted at the sandbars doing 80mph up the narrow river. It has been my experience over 30 years on the strip that Most people who are into wakesports are very respectful of others.

  5. IVe got a StRonG DOck

  6. Wow Allen! Have you ever had any fun before? Just because you put some long winded So called facts, that may not even true. I also have a home on the strip, and spend a lot of time there. And you have no idea what your talking about. The fact is that the river is actually bear between November and May, I am talking about people actually in the water. That’s 7 months of very cold water that you have never touched in your life! So that’s 5 months of being in the water, basically the summer.

    Also during any normal summer, not a COVID driven time you can go out on the river Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and most of Friday and there is no one on the river. The wake boats travel at such low speeds, like at 10 to 15 knots. You don’t think that all of the speeding boats that go by the house don’t kick up the water? Have ever been out on the water?

  7. Wake surfing is a blast, but it obviously has its consequences. In a perfect world, it would be nice to have all the wakesurf boats surf their riders in the reeds just upriver from the casino. A perfect natural breakwater. Also, I’ve seen plenty of surf boats on the river traveling with ballast, and without a rider. No rider should mean no ballast! Another courtesy that should be followed bu the wakesurf boats is to try to ride in the less populated areas of the river. To see a surf boat pull their rider right next to a $300K boat tied up to a dock? Well, lets use some common sense.

  8. Build and maintain docks for the environment they are in. Be respectful when you are boating. Its simple lets not complicate it. Just like the highway there’s always going to be a couple let’s say, inconsiderate people in the left lane, hopefully the police nip them them when they see them, like boats right next to shore. Its not a perfect world we all have to coexist. Live live laugh

  9. Boats traveling at 10-15 knots create the largest wakes because they are not yet up to planing speed which means they are just plowing through the water. Boats traveling at high speed make very little wake as most of the hull is out of the water. There are many photos out there of race boats with the entire hull out of the water with the prop being the only thing touching. BTW, Alan (not Allen) kinda knows what he’s talking about since he patrolled that section of river for more than a couple of decades…

  10. Robert, you are forgetting the fact that people already have millions of dollars invested in docks along the strip that would have been fine and had many, many more years of service if it were not for these boats. Now those docks will have to replaced with more expensive docks to survive in this new “environment”. I agree with what you say about consideration and that will help but not eliminate the problem that is costing people real money today.

  11. Army core of engineers run the water way. If u purchase property on the riverfront, do it at your own risk. Homeowners have no right to suggest the rules on the waterway.

  12. So are we sure when filling and draining the ballast system for these wakeboard boats is not adding to the mussel contamination? Seems the perfect place for for distribution.

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