Winter Promises: A Look at Summer’s Potential
Cover story of Badger Sportsman Magazine, June 2012
During the frozen heart of winter, when our Wisconsinite souls are to some degree or other freezer burned, the concept of summer exists as a dream. It serves as that extra push, that necessary fuel used to complete the icicle-ridden journey of winter one more time. With our hands in our pockets and our bodies hunched for warmth, the remorseless winter wind reminds us of the unspoken freedom that comes from wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals. Under such unforgiving conditions, we make a secret promise to ourselves: we internally whisper that during the upcoming summer, we will utilize every chance we get to take the boat out with a cooler of beer and a friend, to finally learn how to water ski, or to teach little Jack how to grill out like a man. In spite of the glowing optimism felt during such promises, you will still probably fail. Yes, unfortunately, those summer plans are completed as rarely as New Year’s Resolutions because we humans are creatures of pattern and if you haven’t learned how to water ski in these past 20 years, odds are that this summer isn’t going to be the one, but it could be. I encourage you to make this the summer you try something new.
Life is about asking questions and finding their answers. For instance, is canoeing in the dawning light of a sunrise all that it’s cracked up to be? How difficult is it to row during an adrenaline-inducing rainstorm? Does it feel better to catch a musky from a kayak than from a boat? Does salmon somehow taste better simply because you caught it? Is that trout hole really as amazing as your brother-in-law said it is? Can I wakeboard better than my son? Wait- what the heck is wakeboarding? The downside to most of these questions is that their answers aren’t on Wikipedia, nor can you find them on the DNR website. Instead they are things that can only be answered through experiencing them. This summer, you could experience the answers to these questions and many others like it.
Sometimes we get lucky: the universe takes a look at your bucket list and says, “I’m going to give him a little nudge.” A couple days later your buddy informs you that he’s got an open spot on a trip up north and is, coincidentally, headed to a lake that you’ve always wanted to fish at and he mysteriously found an untouched case of your favorite beer in his parking space that morning. Since your boss told you to take the weekend off due to the A+ work you’ve been putting in, you practically have to join this friend. You go, you catch the perch of a lifetime, have some good laughs, and at the end of the weekend you take a pen and scratch it off your bucket list. Sometimes, though, the universe isn’t on our side; this is when work and planning become necessary. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have little encouragement from friends.
When I hear people tell me their winter dreams, when they discuss the shiny things they are going to do in the upcoming summer, I tell them, “Go for it.” The tics and tocs of summer pass by quicker than those of any other season, and are therefore the most precious. They are meant to be forcefully seized at every available chance. The sight of a sunset reflecting off of a glassy lake, the pull of a four pound catfish, and the satisfaction of a summer well spent are things rarely experienced by those who let the universe dictate how they spend their time. So, as a passionate request, please don’t waste it.
I think that everyone, including myself, could use the occasional reminder on the importance of the summer suns. One of the ways in which I enjoy this time of the year is through wakeboarding with my buddies.
Wakeboarding is just about the coolest thing you can do on the water–cooler than water skiing, cooler than tubing, and definitely cooler than boogey boarding. If Back to the Future 2 & 3 had taken place near a lake, Marty McFly would’ve ditched the floating skateboard in a second. If Fonzie had jumped the shark on a wakeboard instead of skis, the show might have lasted another 10 years. At its core, wakeboarding is snowboarding on water and if someone can snowboard, wakeboarding will be a breeze.
Once all of the necessary elements are collected, get in the water and go for it! My words of wisdom: getting up is the hardest part, so don’t become discouraged if you fail on your first 5 or 25 tries. However, I do not recommend ignoring any pain you feel in this sometimes grueling process. Once, my friend Steve failed to heed this advice and was renamed “Edward Blisterhands” for the remainder of the wakeboarding weekend.
Once up and riding, you will officially be wakeboarding (although not officially a wakeboarder–that takes a while). The summer wind will be blowing back your hair and slowly you will begin the travel back and forth across the wakes in a pendulum-like fashion. There are many great feelings in this sport, and I have two favorites. The first is hitting the wake and jumping. For a few milliseconds, you become nothing more than a flying object connected by a rope to a driving motor; it is an indescribably delicious feeling. My second favorite sensation occurs when one rides as far as possible to the side, where the hand of the pendulum reaches the end of its arc. While at this angle, it’s possible to reach your hand down and touch the water. The pleasure of this sensation is doubled when it is a windless day and the lake is glassy.
Overall, it’s a great sport for the body too. Twenty minutes of riding and I guarantee that you will be sore the next day (and unless you attempt something foolish like jumping an island, the sore will be a good sore). Wakeboarding is a sport that is beneficial for the body, the soul, and is a cool way to spend a day; I highly recommend trying it out.
One of my other summer activities is fishing. In truth I’m not the most hardcore fisherman. I don’t know which lures work for which fish, I don’t know many of the good Wisconsin fishing spots, and it’s not the end of the world if they aren’t biting - but I do enjoy fishing. It took me a while, approximately 20 years, but I learned.
For three of the past four years, I have lived in the heart of the UW Madison college campus and although it has a fun atmosphere, it is obnoxiously and claustrophobically noisy. Silence was a lofty desire and unless a pair of high-grade, noise-cancelling headphones were available, along with about 80 yards of thick wall padding, absolute quiet was an impossible find. Don’t get me wrong: Madison is an exciting and adventure-filled place, but the persistent sounds of traffic, road work, and drunken party chants begin to wear down the soul’s layers.
At the end of my freshman year of college, my father and brother took me fishing in Canada. The cabins we stayed in were inaccessible by car and the notion of “traffic,” as well as “noise” in general, practically became abstract concepts. For the first time in a year, my soul could feel the silence, but that was only half of what made this experience what it was. The other half was spending ten hours a day fishing on a boat.
After being surrounded daily by thousands of classmates and feeling as if I were in a perpetual crowd, being one of two people visible for 300 yards in any direction reinstated a sense of importance in me; I was no longer just another person in a crowd, but finally an individual again, an individual with a simple purpose. Ayn Rand, a 1950’s philosopher, wrote that “the most depraved type of human being… (is) a man without a purpose.” Casting a line thousands of times per day to catch walleyes and northerns gave me a specific, simple, and rewarding purpose for the first time in a long while. So what if I wasn’t analyzing the nuances of 19th century literature or exploring the intricacies of microeconomics–purposes and goals need not be cerebral or complex. Sometimes, it’s just about catching fish.
If, during the remainder of the summer, you have a chance to get out on the water, please do; whether it be for wakeboarding, fishing, or sunbathing on a giant piece of drift wood. Maybe try something you’ve been meaning to for a long time. It’s possible you’ll hate it and be miserable, but probably not–and you’ll never know unless you try.