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MN Wake-Surfing Opponents Seek Stronger Protections from State

In addition to harming shorelines and fish habitats, opponents of wake-surfing say it is disruptive to other people using Minnesota lakes. (Adobe Stock)
In addition to harming shorelines and fish habitats, opponents of wake-surfing say it is disruptive to other people using Minnesota lakes. (Adobe Stock)
March 11, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota is among the states where "wake-surfing" has become a popular water activity. But concerns over its effect on lakes has prompted legislation, which some say won't go far enough.

The sport involves someone on a short surfboard riding the wake behind a boat without being pulled with a tow rope. While it may sound fun, lakefront residents and conservation groups say the massive boat waves can be harmful.

Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said it's especially a problem in narrow sections of waterways.

"When these waves hit shore," he said, "if they don't have enough time to dissipate, they can just simply wash away the shore and release all that sediment into the lake and destroy the shoreline, swamp loon nests, all kinds of problems."

A bill has cleared a Senate committee to require a 200-foot buffer from shore for wake-surfing, and the boating industry supports it as a way to address the problem. However, Forester said there's no evidence that it will help. His group backs legislation to fund research on the effects of wake-surfing, while calling for a boat-operator's permit requiring safety training and a special endorsement for wake-boats.

Officials in the boating industry have said they've gone to great lengths to educate watercraft owners about wake-boarding responsibly. Forester said that's true, but pointed out that it's often people who don't own the boat -- friends and family -- who create problems when they take control.

"And the operators are causing problems because they're not thinking about it," he said. "They don't know."

He said he thinks that's why the operator license bill would have a greater impact. That license also would include an endorsement for people who want to inspect watercraft for aquatic invasive species.

The text of the buffer bill, SF 3624, is online here, and the text of the research and licensing bill, HF 4254, is here.

Disclosure: Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN