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Guest Opinion: There’s more to the wake boating story

Talk to your local DNR conservation officers and fisheries employees. Talk to bait shop owners, fishing guides and everyday anglers. Talk to local lake associations and seek out lakeshore property owners that have spent tens of thousands of dollars to armor their shorelines with riprap after wake boat wakes destroyed their natural shorelines. Simple Google searches will reveal there is more to this than the boating industry wants you to know.

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I’m responding to the June 22 front page article in the Brainerd Dispatch: “ Wake Responsibly program aims to bring safety, etiquette to wakeboarding .”

This article focuses on the boating industry groups delivering “education” to wake surfers: “… stay at least 200 feet away from shorelines, docks, boats and other structures.” While education is generally a good thing, continuing to promote the “200 feet” myth will only compound the valid environmental, safety and property damage concerns being voiced wherever wake boats and wakesurfing exist.

The industry’s “Wake Responsibly” campaign has been in existence since early 2016 when 150 feet was the number they promoted. While they’ve used different numbers, they were both claimed to be derived from the same 2015 study the Water Sports Industry Association paid for. In reality, the initial Executive Summary published in late 2015 did not carte blanche support either of these numbers. In March of this year, a computer simulation study financed by the National Marine Manufacturers Association was released to the public. This study was conducted using data from the 2015 Water Sports Industry Association study. Not surprisingly, the conclusions matched the industry’s 200 feet claim. The study also concluded that wake surfing should be done in a minimum depth of 10 feet.

Numerous other studies have been conducted around the world by scientists not affiliated with the boating industry. Depending on specific study variables, conclusions on setback distances for wake surfing have been a minimum of 500 feet up to 1,000 feet. As an example, on Feb. 1 of this year, the University of Minnesota St. Anthony Falls Laboratory released their study report that suggested a minimum distance from shore of at least 500 feet. Recent presentations of results from a 2021 study on North Lake in Wisconsin showed that the prop wash from wake boats in surf mode impacted the lake bottom to greater than 20 feet. If dormant sediments are disturbed, nutrients, including phosphorus, are released into the water column which can lead to degraded water quality and algal blooms. Anglers should be concerned about impacts on fish habitat, including spawning beds.

The Water Sports Industry Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association sponsored the Bar Harbor In-Water Boat Show. It should be clear to people that these two large organizations represent the vested interests of wake boat manufacturers and retailers, helping them to continue to accelerate sales and profits. The following quote from the article is from Brad Fralick, chief government affairs officer of the Water Sports Industry Association: “Water Sports Industry Association was formed with the mission of providing education.” In reality, the Mission Statement on the Water Sports Industry Association’s website is “To promote and protect all towed water sports activity.”

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I encourage the Brainerd Dispatch to report on the other side of this story. Talk to your local DNR conservation officers and fisheries employees. Talk to bait shop owners, fishing guides and everyday anglers. Talk to local lake associations and seek out lakeshore property owners that have spent tens of thousands of dollars to armor their shorelines with riprap after wake boat wakes destroyed their natural shorelines. Simple Google searches will reveal there is more to this than the boating industry wants you to know.

Chuck Becker, an Ogema resident, is a board member of SafeWakes for Minnesota Lakes.

Related Topics: BOATING
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