Surf Ski Paddling Makes Waves on Lake Minnetonka

The hybrid water sport has a small—but growing—following in the Lake Minnetonka community.

Is it a kayak? A surfboard? No, it’s a surf ski paddle board!

Maybe you’ve been out on Lake Minnetonka and noticed these contraptions. Maybe you’ve even been in one of the many boats that have helped to create wakes for these athletes to “surf.” The surf ski paddle board is similar to a canoe or kayak, but with a flatter hull and more rounded bottom.  According to Jon Sanborn of St. Louis Park, “surf ski paddling is the only way to enjoy the water regardless of the conditions.”

Sanborn started paddling five years ago and said, “On really flat lakes and rivers, it’s the fastest paddle craft, and in big waves it’s the most fun—and the only safe boat to take out.” 

Surf ski paddling has taken off in recent years around the state of Minnesota. Every Thursday throughout June and July up to 30 athletes will participate in derby races on Lake Calhoun. Sanborn has won many of these derby races, and also the larger Two Harbors and Tom Blake races on Lake Superior. Sanborn has traveled to Chicago, where he placed 10th in the Chicago Shoreline Marathon on Lake Michigan. He’s also gone to San Francisco to race in the Pacific Ocean under the Golden Gate Bridge. He called that race “the most surreal race I’ve ever done.” He hopes to race internationally one day, as some of the best surf ski paddlers come from South Africa and Australia, he says.

Sanborn and his group of paddle boarders consider Lake Minnetonka home and train there. Their favorite way to train is to chase the wake of the larger watercrafts. Because they are miniscule in comparison, Sanborn says they “dress in bright colors and keep an eye on the [boat’s] captain to ensure they see us,” In the bitter winter months of Minnesota, surf ski paddle boarders train via Nordic skiing, because both sports require stellar core strength, he said. Ergonomic rowers are also popular training machines.

Interested in this exhilarating sport? Hoigaard’s is currently the only local spot that sells surf skis. They also hold demos and will steer beginners in the right direction, as not every paddleboard is suitable for every skill level. “The paddle board community is very small and everyone is very interested in helping people get started safely,” Sanborn said. He says it’s also an activity nearly any age can enjoy: ‘I plan to paddle as long as I can hold one.’”


Surf Ski Resources:

Rice Creek Boat Club