Stillwater adds wake surfing contest on the St. Croix River to Lumberjack Days festival

City council agrees to host event previously held on Lake Minnetonka.

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A small wakesurfing boat. (Brendan Lally/Flickr)

The Stillwater city council on Tuesday approved a request by the new organizers of the community’s annual summer festival to add the Minnesota Wake Surf Championship to the July event. Wake surfing involves using specialized boats to create large wakes that can be ridden on small surfboards. Last year’s event was held on Lake Minnetonka in the city of Mound.

The competition is scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday through Sunday, during Lumberjack Days weekend. It will involve one competition boat that will work with all participants and a dinghy to ferry people from near the Gazebo to the boat. The wake surfers will show off their abilities in an area of the river visible from Lowell Park. Organizers said most competition will probably take place south of the lift bridge.

Lumberjack Days organizer Brian Asmus submitted the request to the city. Asmus is owner of Brian’s Bar in Stillwater and a partner in LJD Stillwater Events, an organization formed this year to produce the annual festival. A nonprofit group called The Locals had organized the festival for the past decade, but stepped down this year.

“LJD Stillwater Events is working directly with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to obtain the necessary permits needed to host the event on the St. Croix River,” city parks superintendent Chad Rogness wrote to the council. “Pending approval from the WCSO, Council will determine final approval.”

The letter also said organizers expect about 1,000 people to show up for the event over the course of the weekend. The council approved the request unanimously after a brief discussion. The competition organizers have already announced the change of venue and registration opens tomorrow.

Environmental and safety concerns

Wake surfing has been increasingly controversial as it has rapidly grown in popularity in the last several years. The wakes the boats create not only carry the surfers, but also damage shorelines and docks, aquatic habitat, and other boats.

Large wakes were the most common problem reported by Minnesota boaters in a 2020 report from the Department of Natural Resources. Wake surfing was reported as a problem by 24 percent of respondents. The activity has been a hot topic everywhere from the state legislature to local governments and lake associations.

A 2022 study released by the University of Minnesota found that the wakes from wake surf boats take up to 500 feet to decrease their wake size to that of a typical boat. Advocates have pushed for requirements that the boats stay 300 to 600 feet from shore and other boaters.

If the wake surfing contest on the St. Croix River follows recent guidelines, it would leave a narrow corridor for safe operation. The St. Croix River is from 1,500 to 1,800 feet wide in the area where the competition is planned. Currently, state boating regulations prohibit boats from creating wakes within 100 to 200 feet from shore, as well as within 100 feet of the Lift Bridge.

Lumberjack Days weekend is also typically very busy for boating on the river. It’s not yet known if competition organizers will block off areas of the river with buoys or take any other measures that might impede navigation.

The boats used for wake surfing have ballast tanks that are filled with water, adding hundreds of pounds of weight that cause the boat to displace more water and make bigger wakes. Rarely fully drained and dried, ballast water tanks can carry invasive species like zebra mussels or spiny waterflea, or fish disease, from one body of water to another. A 2021 study from the University of Minnesota found that ballast tanks were the most likely place to find zebra mussel larvae on a boat.

The Lumberjack Day organizers plan to base the Wake Surf Competition in Lowell Park on either side of the Lift Bridge. The judges will likely be watching competitors from the location, and thus most activity will likely take place as close to the bridge as possible.

Wake woes

In 2018, the Stillwater city council considered asking the DNR to implement a no wake zone on the section of the St. Croix River in front of town. The request originated with the owners of Mulberry Point Marina and Portside Restaurant.

The Stillwater proposal was soon followed by a request from Sunnyside Marina to the city of Oak Park Heights for a no wake zone near the marina. Neither idea has yet been implemented.

The river level at Stillwater is currently very high, with the forecast calling for it to reach at least 688 feet above sea level, which would be moderate flood stage. The city is responding to the high water by sandbagging in areas along the riverfront. No wakes are allowed on the river when it is above 683 feet, and it will need to fall at least five feet in the next month for the wake surf competition to take place.


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16 responses to “Stillwater adds wake surfing contest on the St. Croix River to Lumberjack Days festival”

  1. Everett (Bud) Fuchs Avatar
    Everett (Bud) Fuchs

    This is a very BAD idea for all the adverse impacts from wake boats described in this article. Speaking from personal experience, wake boats are hazardous to others on the water. I was nearly swamped by a wake boat while fishing on the St. Croix River. There is research that documents these boats cause shoreline erosion, adversely impact fish habitat, stir up bottom sediments, and spread exotic species. They should be banned from our lakes and rivers and a proposal to do just that is moving through the resolution process at the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. Why do you think it is not wanted on Lake Minnetonka anymore? It is shameful to promote this on the officially designated scenic river portion of the St. Croix. If the city and the event planners were not aware of the negative effects of wake boats there is still time to say no to this event. I am shocked that this is being proposed in Stillwater which is so very environmentally progressive in so many ways with Sustain Stillwater and other like organizations.

  2. Nancy K Nelson, Environmental Advocate, Stillwater Avatar
    Nancy K Nelson, Environmental Advocate, Stillwater

    What a terrible idea. How can we protest this?

  3. Howard & Michele Halverson Avatar
    Howard & Michele Halverson

    I agree with Everette totally. We live on the St. Croix and from the large boats and wave boats our beach is slowly disappearing. I don’t think people realize the impact they are having on the Beautiful St. Croix River, by creating huge waves.
    I think people think they are having fun, and don’t really care about the consequences.
    I really would hope that the town of Stillwater and Lumberjack committee would reconsider not having this competition.
    Please consider saving this river for generations to come.

  4. S Snyder Avatar
    S Snyder

    Hard to believe the National Scenic Riverway would approve of this.

    1. Linda Peterson Avatar
      Linda Peterson

      Unfortunately, the Boom Site Landing and the northern city limits of Stillwater, Minnesota, mark the boundary of the federally managed St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The area south of the historic bridge is not under the National Park management.

  5. Allison Mcginnis Avatar
    Allison Mcginnis

    I encourage everyone to contact legislators. This is going to far. Some things are more important than $$$.

  6. Kris H Avatar
    Kris H

    This is a great opportunity to have everyone see how bad the waves from these boats are. The WSIA and boating industry as a whole keep saying our eyes are lying. They use flawed science and pay to publish studies to sku the data while ignoring the dozens of proven scientific studies that show the energy these waves contain. I say get your local and even national news outlets, state legislators and naysayers out in kayaks during the event. Heck, just have them stand on the shoreline during the event. The waves will do the work and tell the story.

  7. Mark S Avatar
    Mark S

    Why not host this in the middle of Miile Lacs, Red lake, or Lake Superior? Plenty of room to wakeboard and lots of space for the wakes to dissipate before getting to shore.

  8. Richard H Avatar
    Richard H

    Horrible idea. I hate to see this activity promoted for all the reasons already posted.
    Also, having watched people do this, I really can’t understand why this would be a spectator sport. You have to be close up ( in the boat ) to be able to see well enough to appreciate what’s being done.
    Check out YouTube and you’ll see what I mean.

  9. Jen D Avatar
    Jen D

    I Love that they are adding this to Lumber Jack Days! I can’t wait to watch all of the local talent surf the St. Croix! 100% support this!!

    1. Daren Avatar
      Daren

      What a fantastic opportunity for Stillwater to host such a fun event. I am so excited to bring my family down to watch.

  10. John Kerschbaum Avatar
    John Kerschbaum

    This Sucks! It look like I will have to shut my business down for the week end. This hurt a small seasonal business…. Gondola Romantica.

  11. BillyB Avatar
    BillyB

    Two Thumbs Down!! Need to contact decision makers. A method for doing so would be helpful.

    If I read correctly, decision makers would be Stillwater City Council members, correct? (Seems like the river should be governed by a body interested and empowered to preserve it whether it be in the National Scenic River Area or not, rather than a city council with potentially conflicting priorities.) Anyway, if it is the city, must one live in Stillwater to even be listened to?

    What to do?

  12. Cap Avatar
    Cap

    With all the flooding that occurs annually and all the waves and weather since the last ice age, why do people think the wake boats are the primary issue? Haven’t people seen the size and number of the waves on every windy day? Any property that doesn’t have trees and scrub brush growing to the edge of the water has caused more erosion than any boat. Get off my lawn, Karen.

    Editor’s note: Waves from wake surf boats are much different than wind-driven waves, with far more energy in their first few hundred feet of travel, but generally not traveling as far as waves from wind.

  13. BillyB Avatar
    BillyB

    The direction of the waves is different as well with those generated by boats generally traveling much more directly toward shore.

  14. Bill Glampe Avatar
    Bill Glampe

    Whose brilliant idea is this??? Absolutely dumb!

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