First thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘Algarve + watersports’? Probably surfing or something else in the sea. But you don’t have to be in the ocean to have fun. Enjoy the Algarve has a go at cable wakeboarding in Lagos (and finds out that ‘no paddling needed’ doesn’t automatically mean your arms won’t hurt afterwards…)
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2017
There’s a giant splash as the spray of the board wets the obstacle. Another close pass creates enough water on the so-called rainbow feature to enable riding it. Then the time has come to go for the obstacle. Eyes are on the upcoming jump and the wakeboard is lined up in a perfect position as the cable pulls forward and the distance gets smaller. I do what I usually do in those situations and briefly hold my breath, watching from the side-line while wakeboarder Maggie rides the rainbow. After some advice from Pedro Machado (40), her second go is even smoother.
Pedro used to be a kitesurfer and has been active in the board industry for over 20 years; teaching and riding as well as working in distribution and marketing. When he started wakeboarding in 2009, pursuing this newfound passion into creating Wake Salinas in Lagos was a natural move. Especially as back then there was only one cable park in Portugal, up in the north of the country. That doesn’t mean converting the old salt pans (that’s what it was back in the 1970s) and fish farm (in the 1990s) into a wakeboard park was an easy move; the paperwork alone took three years. The hard work of Pedro and his business partner João Pinguinha (39) paid off though: Pedro guesses that last year alone he’s converted 1500 people into wakeboarding enthusiasts. However, about 97% of the customers are foreign.
“Cable wakeboarding is a big sport everywhere else, but not so much in Portugal,” he explains. “We have an amazing coastline in this country, so as a people we’re used to live on, by and from the sea. Hence why we’re more focused on sea sports, and also not used to paying for our leisure time. The stereotype is still: buy a surfboard and nature provides you with sea, wind and waves.” In the two tower system cable park, it’s different. You’re pulled along by a cable that gets controlled by one of the staff. “It’s the perfect set-up for beginners,” Pedro says about the one-on-one system. “I can stop it whenever I want, start it really slow, control the speed and give directions. This allows riders to get up and have fun already in the first ten minutes of trying wakeboarding, instead of spending hours trying to learn it.” The disadvantage of the system: there’s only room for one rider per course.
Maggie is finished, so time for me to give it a try. I’ve been cable wakeboarding before, back in my native Holland, but on a different system, where you move around four posts in a rectangle and dozens of wakeboarders follow each other around the circuit. Great fun once you get up, but that has always been the problem for me, as once the bar hooks on the system, there’s no way to control the automatic speed. Falling in at the start means you have to get out of the water and go to the back of the queue, while all the others in the line moan about the fact that your missed opportunity means another bar leaves empty. I’ve also once tried it behind a boat at sea. Amazing scenery, but again the getting up part was a bit of a drama.
Hearing about my previous experience, Pedro claims I’ll get up straight away. “Here, it’s ten times as easy as getting up behind a boat. The angle of the cable is much steeper, so it pulls you up. And the control of speed I have here is very accurate, not like a motor boat with 450hp.” I seriously doubt that I’ll be standing at my first attempt. Going on my previous wakeboarding experience, the first ten minutes will consist of me bending forward too much at the start (result: bellyflop extreme plus loads of swearing) or leaning backwards too much when trying to get out the water (result: board shoots from underneath your feet plus frustrated cries). Then, suddenly something will click and I’ll be able to get up (which will be accompanied by shouts of joy).
At Wake Salinas, there’s a separate bar to help practising the start position (float in the water with your knees bend, arms stretched out, elbows to your knees and lower back locked) on land. Pedro ensures the cable has the right speed and to my complete surprise, I do get up immediately in the water. My snowboard background kicks in and I glide over the water surface as if it were snow. Already having this board control is very handy as I have to avoid Gustave the Dog who has jumped in and wants a piece of the action as well. Dog safely attached on shore, some advice on how to do the turns and before I know I’m wakeboarding around the 100m long course. As I fall in, I notice another advantage of the two-tower system: no falling off at the furthest corner of the course and thus spending 20 minutes of your wakeboarding time walking back to the start.
Instead, staying under the cable means that you just wait for the controller to steer the bar your way again, allowing you to resume the session at any point of the course. A good thing, as swimming with a wakeboard attached to your feet isn’t easy. Pedro gives some tips on how to make the turns easier by keeping tension on the cable, which is very welcome as my arms hurt like hell from the sudden pull they get after I let the cable go slack. He’s also spotted that I keep my weight too much on my back leg. Plus, he’s saved me from my own stupidity by stopping the cable when I was clinging on stubbornly, already fallen in the water without a chance of getting up. I could very much get used to having this kind of one-on-one tuition. Not wanting to break all my bones, I leave the obstacles for what they are and instead try a 180, which works out after a couple of crashes. Way too soon for my liking, my arm muscles go on a strike and I have to give up.
Being the only wakeboarder on the course is great fun and allows for quick improvement in technique, but it’s also pretty intense. Even though I’d like to continue the entire afternoon, I can’t even lift myself up on the shore. (Especially not as Gustave the Dog has come to ‘help’ again and climbs on my life jacket). While I’m showering off the salty water, Wake Salinas’ crew member Fred Wilson (18) shows how it’s done properly. Despite the fact he started wakeboarding only two years ago, he rides the obstacles and jumps his turns as if he’s training for the 2020 Olympics (wakeboarding is on the shortlist of candidate sports). He also makes it look very attractive so I want to get in again, but can’t as my arms hurt too much.
“It’s addicting,” confirms also Pedro. “Many wakeboarders get hooked after their first time. For me, it’s a sense of freedom. Like when you’re snowboarding and all the white stuff around you triggers deep emotions; the same happens to me here on the water. The tranquillity, the feeling that you’re flying over the water, it’s just awesome.” Although I still prefer snowboarding, he’s definitely right. And since it isn’t very likely that there’ll ever be enough snow on the Monchique mountains, I might just have to continue this boarding on the water. That is, when I can lift my arms again…
When to go?
Anytime from March to November (the park is closed in December, January and February). It’s best to go in low season as it won’t be so busy and the crew will have more time to give you advice during your session. Book ahead if you plan on coming with a big group or during an event.
Take swimwear and a towel. Wakeboard, helmet and lifejacket are provided. Usually, the water temperature is warm enough to ride without a wetsuit until late October.
Want to go? Contact details can be found on www.wakesalinas.pt
Anyone who wants to ride on water. Surfers wanting to try something new? Give this a go. Snowboarders missing the action in summer time? Try wakeboarding. It’s also great if you want to learn kitesurfing (as the angle of the cable is the same as the angle of the kite lines).
The minimum age is 10. However, younger children who already have wakeboarding experience are also allowed. It’s good if you feel comfortable in the water, but knowing how to swim is no requirement as you’ll be wearing a lifejacket at all times.
Having previous snowboarding or water-skiing experience helps a lot. (Increasing the strength in your arm muscles beforehand is useful too).
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2017