Wakeboarding: Wake lake making waves in Valley
July 29, 2010
It takes a little bit of gumption, to say the least, to go out and dig yourself a lake in the middle of the desert.
But when lifelong dream met ideal circumstance, Carson Valley resident and longtime water ski enthusiast Doug Lippincott knew exactly what to do.
It took him five months to finish that first lake and, nearly 16 years later, he finds himself and his newly-christened Western Oasis Wakeplace on the technological forefront of one of the fastest-growing action sports in the country.
Lippincott opened what is currently the largest cable wakeboard lake on the West Coast earlier this month as an add-on to his long-running water ski school a mile north of Stephanie Way on the west side of Highway 395 in Minden.
“There was a time where my family basically disowned me because I sold a house I’d renovated and sunk most of the money into engineering for a lake I didn’t have a permit for yet,” Lippincott said. “I spent a lot of time looking for the right land, because you basically need long, narrow land with the water in place and still have it be affordable.
“It was a tough mix to find and it took quite a long time.”
Lippincott built a foundation and parked his trailer home on property just adjacent to the Sierra Springs Water Ski Club, where he already had a membership, and started digging in the summer of 1994.
“I had a 10-yard scraper and a little D6 bulldozer,” Lippincott said. “The bad part was there wasn’t any wind that summer. I’d be out there digging and I could see the spray over at Sierra Springs. It was dead calm out in the dirt where I was.
“After moving the first 1,000 yards of dirt, I started wondering what I’d actually gotten myself into. I still had 70,000 more to go.”
He finished digging in November that year and began offering water skiing lessons and memberships on the 350-by-3,200-foot lake. Sierra Springs shut down a couple years later and he added another lake, this one 220-by-2,100 feet, for boat wakeboarding.
While competing regionally in slalom water skiing and managing the fledgling ski business on the side, Lippincott still had to hold a day job in order to keep what was then “Ski Oasis” up and running.
“There weren’t enough lessons to support the business, so I always had to have another job,” Lippincott said.
The catalyst came this past winter when Lippincott’s teenage son, Ryan, took a trip to Florida after football season.
“They were supposed to go to Florida for the Pop Warner Super Bowl, but they fell one game short,” Lippincott said. “One of Ryan’s friend’s dads took them anyway for a week.
“I got to go down for about four days and there was a cable wakeboard lake down there. Ryan got hooked on it.
“He’d been living with a lake in his backyard his whole life and never shown any interest in it. But he loved this.”
The idea of cable lakes, where riders are pulled along the water with a high-powered pulley system, was nothing new to Lippincott.
“I’d written cables off,” Lippincott said. “I thought they were stupid. I tried them on slalom skis before, where the cable came from under the water and it was hideous.
“I’d never even though about it for wakeboarding though. I saw it and I thought it was awesome.”
So began a whirlwind process over the next few months of purchasing cable systems for a third lake measuring 350 by 3,200 feet.
“I was at the point where there are plenty of businesses where you never have enough money, so why not do something you really like and not have enough money?” Lippincott said. “So I started working around here full time and that’s what we did.”
Word about the four-cable wakeboading systems spread quickly, particularly with the WWA Wakeboarding Nationals landing at the Sparks Marina earlier this month.
“Once you start building a facility like this, pros start contacting you because they want to come and work so they can ride,” Lippincott said. “During the nationals, we had a lot of pros practicing out here. It helped spread the word a little.”
Western Oasis also landed a resident wake skating pro, Keaton Bowlby, for the summer.
“Keaton worked with the people we bought the cable systems from and he was coming to the area for the summer and didn’t have a place to ride,” Lippincott said. “Once he heard about what we were doing, he was just ecstatic.”
Aside from the attraction of pro wakeboarders, Lippincott said a large benefit of the cable systems is the economical rates.
“It’s a very green technology and it costs about a third of running a boat on the lake,” Lippincott said. “It makes a huge difference. It’s so much more economical, both for us and the riders. You can have kids come out for about $22 an hour, whereas with a boat you’re probably looking at $122.
“It’s doing for the sport what chairlifts did for snow skiing.”
Lippincott added that the cable systems make it easier for beginners to learn the sport.
Aside from lessons and equipment rental, Western Oasis offers two-, five- and seven-day summer camps complete with housing and meals.
“Kids can actually come here and stay,” Lippincott said. “There’s the option of housing with meals or just going home at the end of the day.”
Western Oasis’ four cable systems are set in varying degrees of difficulty, from beginner to expert. Each system is operated by a techinician on the shore with a remote control so all riders are supervised. The lake has a number of ramps and rails for tricks.
“Snowboarders really take to cable wakeboarding,” Lippincott said. “There’s a lot of similarity in technique and a lot of carryover in the tricks. I think this will be a good fit for some of the area boarders during the summer.”
One problem early on has been letting the public know where they are.
“A lot of people pull in and see the old Sierra Springs lake all closed up (the two venues share and entry off of 395) and think that’s us,” Lippincott said. “We’re trying to get some signs to help out with that problem, but if you stay to the left when you turn in, you’ll find us.”
What also might help is a planned six-acre lake along the highway that would support a full-size cable system that can hold up to eight boarders at once.
“We’re starting to go through the county approval on that,” Lippincott said. “It would be pretty cool. The full-size system continously rotates around and more people can be out there. Having the visibility from the highway would be beneficial too.”
Lippincott said he is planning on hosting wakeboard and wake skate competitions starting this fall.
“Cable competitions are getting big time,” he said. “It’s a quickly-growing sport and we’re happy to be on the forefront with it.”