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Teton Surf Company: introducing surfing to the mountains

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DRIGGS — As those living here know very well, life in the mountains offers a wide array of outdoor activities, including mountain biking, hiking, climbing, and fishing, among many others. And as of this spring, surfing can be added to the list. Local company Teton Surf Company has made life even more exciting near the Tetons, offering wake surfing lessons on Palisades Reservoir in Alpine, Wyoming.

Jess Collins, an instructor with Teton Surf Company who has been surfing for four years, graciously explained the sport of wake surfing and what to expect on a trip with Teton Surf Company. The lesson starts with safety protocol and the mechanics of getting up onto the board.

To begin, a participant will lay down in water, holding a rope, which is anchored to a tower at the back of the boat, and is used by the surfer to pull himself up onto the board. The board itself, smaller than a surfboard, pops up under one’s feet as the surfer pulls on the rope, which gains resistance from the motion of the boat forward. The board is untethered, with no connection the boat or to the surfer.

An instructor, Jess for example, will either be in the water with the surfer or on the back of the boat a few feet from the surfer. Jess will then demonstrate how to get in water, how to place one’s feet (toes are straight up in air), and how to pull on the rope and pop up onto the board as the boat starts to gain speed.

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Surfing in Wyoming?! Wake surfing in Alpine, Wyoming on Palisades Reservoir. | Photo courtesy Teton Valley News

It’s similar to wake boarding in the sense of how the rope pulls the surfer up from the water. The max speed of the boat is much slower than that of wake boarding, around 10 – 11 mph. Positioning of one’s feet when the board comes up sounded similar to snowboarding, with foot positioning being regular or ‘goofy,’ depending on which foot is leading. No experience in wake surfing is needed, so long as a participant knows how to swim.

A personal flotation device will be required and provided for each participant. Wet suits are provided early in the season but near the end of June, the water warms to 65 degrees and higher, typically making wetsuits unnecessary. However, for those still feeling chilly, wet suit tops are available. Jess, or any of the instructors, all of whom are First Aid and CPR certified, will coach from back of the boat, trying to encourage the surfer to stay in the ‘sweet spot’ (wake of the boat). Eventually, when a surfer is feeling comfortable, or daring enough, she can drop the rope and surf the sweet spot completely untethered. The boat used, a “Malibu WakeSetter,” is a wake surf boat, specifically designed for the sport.

To make waves, the wake surf boat fills ballast bags and there are surf gates located on the back of the surf deck, which are basically in opposition to which side the wave is formed. Waves generated by the boat range from two to four feet. The wake of the waves behind the boat range to around eight to ten feet.

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Photo courtesy Teton Valley News

Founder, owner, captain of the boat, and instructor Jennifer Wilhite first began her wake surf adventures back in 2008, when she purchased a wake surf boat. From there, she began to take her friends out, Jess included, and many of the instructors today are friends from years ago who she had introduced. A couple of years ago, and after showing countless people the freedom and challenge of the sport, the idea of a wake surf business developed.

After obtaining a permit through the Targhee National Forest office, located on the Palisades Reservoir, Teton Surf Company was born. From bachelorette and bachelor parties to family reunions and vacations, the company has been steadily gaining business their first season.

The logistics of booking a trip with Teton Surf Company are simple. The majority are booked online through tetonsurfco.com and through the Jackson based online booking agency Outpost Jackson Hole, found at outpostjh.com. Phone reservations can also be made at (307) 413-9641 and via email at tetonsurfco@gmail.com.

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Photo courtesy Teton Valley News

Typically, customers are instructed to meet in the city of Alpine, at the grocery store. However, if it’s not possible to meet in Alpine, transportation from Jackson Hole and Teton Valley can be arranged. Reservations are recommended and available 7 days a week. The season ranges from the beginning of June, depending on the weather, to the end of September.

Half day trips, lasting four hours, from 12 pm – 4 pm, cost $495. Full day trips, lasting eight hours, from 8 am – 4 pm, cost $895. The price remains the same for a group ranging from one to eight participants. With a maximum group size of eight people on a half-day trip, pricing equates to around $60 per person. For a full-day trip, with a group of eight, it comes to around $110 per person. An hourly rate is also available, at a rate of $150 an hour.

Wake surfing continues to gain popularity on the east coast and around the world, with professional wake surfers emerging, as seen with the Canadian company H20. And now, with Teton Surf Company, Wyoming is added to the list of wake surf destinations. White shores and seagulls are replaced by pine trees and bald eagles as you “shred the gnar.” Summer living in Teton Valley just got a bit more swell!

This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News. It is used here with permission.

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