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Wakeboarding is newest feature at SunWest Park

George Malacos, 11, launches off the start dock of the full-size cable system at SunWest Park.
George Malacos, 11, launches off the start dock of the full-size cable system at SunWest Park.
Published Aug. 25, 2017

HUDSON — Wakeboarding, a cross between water-skiing and surfing, is a popular and fast-growing sport for thrill-seekers of all ages.

In recent years, cable wake parks have popped up across the country. But until recently, for those living in Pasco and Hernando counties, the nearest wakeboard park required a drive to either Tampa or Orlando.

That all changed this summer when SunWest Park opened its newest attraction — a wake park with three cable systems, offering thrills for those wishing to learn how to wakeboard and also for expert boarders.

Don't own a wakeboard? No problem. The park provides all of the equipment — board, helmet, life jacket. Visitors may also bring their own equipment, but should make sure their life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard-approved.

Located on a spring-fed brackish lake, SunWest Park offers a variety of activities, including an aqua park, paddleboarding and kayaking, as well as a beach area for swimming, picnic tables and a shaded pavilion. The new wakeboard/cable park allows wakeboarders to surf without the use of a boat. There are two System 2.0 cables, which are ideal for learners, and a full-size cable system that is appealing to more experienced wakeboarders.

The System 2.0 is a two-tower cable system that allows wakeboarders to surf without the use of a boat. The cable is a straight stretch that has an operator controlling the direction and speed at all times, which can be adjusted to run as slow as 6 mph and as fast as 20 mph. The operator can also stop it when a rider falls and bring the handle back to pick them up.

"This is ideal for repeat tries without having to swim back," said Sarah Stone, SunWest's events and marketing director. "It's a very controlled environment and a great tool for learners."

The full-size cable runs continuously in a circle similar to a ski lift. And like a ski lift, an operator can stop it in an emergency. It is a faster ride than the 2.0 system, traveling at a speed of 19 to 20 mph, but can be adjusted to go as slow as 13 mph. Users grab a handle that circles around. Should they have a wipeout, they have to swim back and start over.

"I've seen 6-year-olds and 40-year-olds do well," Stone said. "But it isn't best for beginners. If you wipe out, you'll have to swim to a floating dock, then walk all the way back and get back in line."

The faster full-size cable allows for the use of different features, such as kickers, a transition box and elements to doing tricks. Riders can curve out away from the overhead cable to shorten the length of their rope, or take advantage of the slack loosening and tightening at each tower.

Spearheaded by SunWest Park operator Patrick Panakos, the cable park has been a goal for about four years, before SunWest opened. The three cable systems opened to campers in June and to the public on July 3.

"(Panakos) has been in the wakeboard world for years," Stone said. "He is sort of an icon in the industry."

Clinics and learning sessions are offered. All ages are welcome. In fact, Stone said, the park has had adults well into their 70s and children as young as 4.

"One of the things we love to do, in addition to teaching a new sport, is encourage people to push the limits," Stone said.

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