Forget work ... I'm going to the wake

Local wakeboarders have daily access to state's prime waters

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Jeff Aragon poses for the camera while wake surfing at Steamboat Lake. Wake surfing, in which the rider doesn't have to hold onto a tow line, has become increasingly popular in the world of water sports.

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Brian Aragon performs a tail grab on Steamboat Lake. Wakeboarding and wake surfing have become popular summer sports in Routt County, where residents can choose between several lakes and reservoirs on which to ride.

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Jeff Aragon executes a flip while wakeboarding on Steamboat Lake with his dad, brother and friends on a recent August afternoon.

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Jeff Aragon rides along the crest of the wake kicked up by his dad's ski boat.

— Dan Wilson says he's seen 350 boats - at one time - on the Chatfield State Park lake's 1,400 surface acres on a busy day. About 20 percent of those boats are towing a wakeboarder or water skier as they tear around the lake in enforced counter-clockwise laps.

Wilson manages the North Shore Marina and scoffs when asked if he likes to go out on the lake when it's that busy.

"It's like a slalom course out there," he said. "I wouldn't go out and ski. It's real choppy - too busy to wakeboard."

The scene is much different at Steamboat Lake.

Just larger than 1,000 acres of water, the lake's seclusion and picturesque setting at the foot of Hahn's Peak has contributed to its growth as a paradise for local boaters looking to push themselves in the increasingly popular sports of wakeboarding and wake surfing.

On a clear Monday morning in early August, John Aragon's wakeboarding boat is the only boat on the water.

"The wake is perfect today. It's like glass in the morning" Aragon said as his 22-year-old son, Jeff, stepped into the bindings of a wakeboard and slipped into the water off the back of the boat. "We'll come out five to six times a week. At dusk, you have the place to yourself."

With Jeff ready to go, Aragon remembered the most important part of driving the boat.

"The captain controls the music," he said, blasting the tunes before hitting the throttle.

After warming up a little - jumping from wake to wake and throwing in an occasional grab - Jeff Aragon leans hard on his edge, pulling himself far outside of the wake. Turning sharply, he accelerates toward the wake, popping up and back-flipping high above the water before smoothly touching down on the transition of the opposite wake.

It wasn't always this smooth for Jeff.

After learning to wakeboard four summers ago off the back of a fishing boat, Jeff said he started making trips to Grand Junction last year to wakeboard off his brother's new boat. Trying to do a "raley," a trick he describes as "kind of flying like Superman," he came down hard on the water, breaking his left foot and spraining both ankles.

"It's fun trying new things out on the boat," Jeff said about how he and his younger brother, Brian, look up new tricks on the Internet and push one another to progress. "It's a rush."

Before heading back to the marina, John Aragon filled the ballast tanks beneath the boat to weigh it down. Doing so means that at a speed of 10 mph, the 4-foot wake can be surfed - free of a tow line - like a wave in the ocean.

"It's a kick," said 47-year-old Dan Rowe after riding the wake in. "It's a good old-man sport, you can't get hurt."

Far from the cutting edge of the sport's development, Steamboat Lake is quickly becoming discovered as a premier destination for Front Range boaters. Aragon remembers consistently being the only boat on the water four years ago. Now, both Aragon and Steamboat Lake Marina owner Karl Bunker agree the sport is growing and estimate that about 15 ski and wakeboarding boats fill the lake on a busy summer day.

"The locals come up here mid-week to avoid the crowds," Bunker said, eyeing the 14 docked ski boats at the lake. "The last two weeks in August are a great time to come up - the crowds really drop off and it's still warm."

Other locals say Steamboat Lake gets too windy in the afternoons and opt to ride at Stagecoach Reservoir.

Chris Smith, owner of Powder Pursuits and Steamboat Watersports, has taught wakeboarding lessons for nine years. He prefers Stagecoach, where he said there's "glass for everybody" on any given weekend.

In the past 10 years, he said he has seen the sport pick up among locals such as Blake Eddington, 15, who said he's been riding "at least every (summer) weekend" at Stagecoach since he was five.

"There's absolutely a market," Smith said. "There's probably 20 to 30 locals that have boats. That's a pretty good size for a little town."

Although Smith also touts the technological advances that have led to the inland boat surfing craze of recent years, he has not forgotten the one thing about the sport that is not easy.

"Money is the biggest hindrance," Smith said about the cost of both a boat and gasoline. "You've gotta either have friends with a boat or show up on the dock with a $50 bill and a case of beer."

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