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Water sports 101: How to choose the best lake day activity

Jon Walters enjoys a clear afternoon while kayaking. Photo courtesy of Dan Francis Photography/ Special to Forum News Service1 / 4
Wakeboarding has gained steam on the traditional water skiing activity. Special to Forum News Service2 / 4
Ride-in tubes are recommended for young or inexperienced riders. Special to Forum News Service3 / 4
Find your own tropical bird to join your lake day. This popular item is easy to find in-stores or online. Special to Forum News Service4 / 4

Saturdays in July are sacred rituals when you live in the Midwest. We pack our bags with snacks, low-calorie drinks, towels, SPF, various forms of yard games and travel to our favorite lakes and rivers. Then we painstakingly search for the perfect water sport.

"Pretty much the month of July is our most steady month for water sports," says Luke Torgerson, assistant store leader at Scheels. "I think you see a lot of people going on vacation or spending time at their cabin. July is the warmest month so everyone wants to get to the water."

Torgerson, who has worked at Scheels for more than 10 years, helps people find the right gear.

"This year the more popular item are the Aqua Lily Pads, wakeboards and paddleboards," Torgerson says. "But tubing really never goes out of style."

Before choosing which water sports gear to pack, consider first who will be joining you and the desired activity-level during this outdoor excursion.

Tow a tube

A staple of childhood lake trips, tubing uses the highly durable inner tubes that can dragged by pontoons or speedboats.

"They have softer shells which make it more durable," Torgerson says. "They've come a long way even just since a couple years ago."

Torgerson says tubes today are a more comfortable ride. When considering which tube to purchase, decide the number of people who will ride on it at any one time. Traditional donut-shaped tubes are the best for single riders. Flat, or deck tubes, allow two or more riders to lay on their stomachs.

For young or inexperienced riders, try using a "ride-in" tube; this design allows a rider to sit in a chair-like position, similar to riding in a small boat.

Tubes range in price from $55 up to $299. You will also need a tow rope ($15 to $30) and an air pump ($5 to $50). Tube repair kits ($5 to $10) are also recommended.

Ride the wake

Unlike skiing — which seems to have decreased in popularity according to Torgerson — area residents are attracted to wakeboarding.

Wakeboarders ride a short board while being pulled behind a boat. (Just Google it and you'll see some pretty impressive acrobatic tricks.)

"ZUP has an all-in-one one kneeboard/wakeboard so it's great for people of different builds and sizes," Torgerson says of the board ranging in price from $219 to $429. "A 10-year-old and 30-year-old could use the same board and pretty much get the same performance out of it."

Similar to tubing, wakeboarders need to purchase tow ropes designed for wakeboarding (which are different than others for skiing). Choose a wakeboard rope depending on its material, length and style. Different materials of rope will be more flexible than others, ranging in price from $60 to $180.

Paddle away

Other board enthusiasts choose to be seek more balance with paddleboarding.

"Paddleboards have really taken off and more people are taking an interest during the last two years," Torgerson says.

As a paddleboarder himself, Torgerson can vouch for their practical uses. Many use paddleboards for exercise — some even for water yoga. Certains models are built for speed or stability, but Torgeson recommends first-timers look for calm waters. New riders find it hard to find their footing on waves.

"Paddleboards are really cool but they are an investment," Torgerson says. Generally prices start at $170 and go up.

Relax and kayak

Torgerson reports what most already know to be true: people love kayaking.

"Kayaking never really goes away," he says. "We always have people looking for them."

Jon Walters — longtime outdoor enthusiast and founder of Nature of North — discovered his love of kayaking last fall when he found a used kayak for sale on the way to bachelor party in the woods.

"I bought this used kayak for $300, strapped it to the top of my BMW with some noodles, and I just really fell in love with it," he says.

Walters now camps on islands and floats on many new lakes and rivers including the Red. He credits kayaking with helping him to see and enjoy nature from a whole new perspective.

Like paddleboards, new kayaks are an investment. Small, 10-foot single riders starts at $200. Because of this, Walters recommends a person rents a kayak first if they are unfamiliar with the sport. Until Aug. 27 at the Hjemkomst Historical Center, kayaks or canoes are available for $8 an hour on Wednesday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. or on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.

Find other local kayak enthusiasts in the "Red River Paddle Club" group on Facebook. RiverKeepers — a local non-profit dedicated to protecting and promoting the Red River — is hosting a group paddling excursion and scavenger hunt on the Red River. All skill levels are welcome to join from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 15.

Your own 'floating island'

Torgerson says his Moorhead store location on Center Avenue has carried Aqua Lily Pads for its second year.

Aqua Lily Pads are made from durable cross-linked foam material with tether straps at each end. One of the smallest models is 6 by 12 feet with a thickness of nearly 1.5 inches. This size can hold up to 900 pounds.

"We are seeing college students, families and little bit of everybody with those Aqua Lily Pads." Torgerson says.

The 12-foot model costs $425, but the 18-foot model runs for $499 with a protective cover.


Floaties with personality

Gone are the days when you had to choose an inflatable for leisure based on color. Now novelty inflatables are likely to be found all over lakes country.

Torgeson recognized a considerable increase in these types of floaties this summer — the Moorhead Scheels store has even sold out of the flamingo before.

• Find flyin' floaties like an oversized swan ($25, Amazon) or the "Derby Duck" ($41, Amazon). The Derby duck also includes four handles and two cup holders.

• Make waves with mythical floaties like a unicorn ($20, and Pegasus ($25, Pegasus' wide wing-span will allow its user to lounge in stable luxury, no matter the winds.

• Indulge in food favorite floaties like the popular pizza slice ($17, Target) and colorful, yet slightly-traditional donut-shaped floatie ($18, Target).

• Try the adult-themed floaties including the wine bottle ($30, Amazon) and margarita floats ($20, Amazon).

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues, and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as a digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew up on a farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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