A former X Games wakeboarder knows most of his compatriots can’t afford the boat load of cash needed to ride rails and ramps all day, so he’s built the Pacific Northwest’s first cable wakeboard park, where they can come tow the line instead. Writer Colin Wiseman dives in.
It’s a late-summer evening and mist pours off 80-degree Fahrenheit water, dissipating in the cooling air of golden hour. Fifteen or twenty college students relax, and one takes a turn on the winch, hitting a few rails and launch ramps on their wakeboard. Others ply the balmy surface on stand up paddleboards, while their friends have a drink to cap off a long day on the water.
This might sound like California or Florida or some other southern-bound locale where cable parks are commonplace. But this is the Pacific Northwest. Fifteen minutes south of Bellingham, Washington, to be exact. The place is called Permacation. It’s owned and operated by Mike Ennen on a loose schedule dictated by the number of visitors. It’s the first cable park in Washington; you’d have to travel to Sacramento, California, to find another one.
At his cable-tow wakeboard park called Permacation, Mike Ennen has founded his own chill spot for boarders without boats.
Ennen was a pro wakeboarder for 15 years. He had signature models and rode in the X Games. Nowadays, he’s studying architecture in Seattle. For Ennen, Permacation is more than a business venture. “Wakeboarding costs so much money these days,” says Ennen. “When I started, it was with the family boat that my parents and grandparents split, which cost $10,000. Nowadays you need a $100,000 boat and it costs $300 to run it for a day, so wakeboarding isn’t really accessible like it should be. I’d seen cable parks while travelling the world. They’ve been in Germany since the 60s.”
With a cable winch in hand that he bought for events, Ennen saw an opportunity. In 2013, he found Bow Lake, a privately owned piece of water belonging to Doug Spadey, near the small community of Alger. “It started with local core wakeboarders in this area,” he says. “People had been waiting for something like this. Wakeboarding is so private, just a few people in a boat. But having a cable park makes it a cultural gathering point.”
Attendance ebbs and flows throughout the summer. The lake is lit as long as people are riding. In the winter, it’s by appointment. The cost is $35 for an individual, and that sure beats a six-figure boat.
Mike Ennen isn’t making a ton of money off the park. It’s still young. Ultimately, it’s not about dollars anyways. “After I retired from wakeboarding as a profession, I wanted something to stay involved in the sport and give back to the sport in the area,” he says. “Now anybody can say, ‘Today, I’m going wakeboarding.’ Just show up, ride, and go home.”
Mountain Culture Group’s online editor Vince Hempsall recently attempted wake surfing, a free-heeling cousin to wakeboarding, when a friend’s brother visited Nelson, British Columbia, with all the gear. Incidentally, the board retails for about $900, it’s approximately $150 to fill the boat’s fuel tank and the boat itself will set you back over $60,000. Mike Ennen’s cable-tow park is definitely a more affordable option.