Wakeboarding

This wakeboarder turns sea caves into a playground

© Ryan Taylor/Red Bull Content Pool
Written by Beau Flemister
Watch Wake Masters champion Mike Dowdy use his winch and some creativity to give new meaning to Wake Superior.
Wakeboarding · 3 min
Mike Dowdy rides Wake Superior
A big part of being best is being versatile, creative and curious. Static one-trick-ponies don’t move people, it's the pioneers that do. 2016 Wake Masters champion and world champion wakeboarder Mike Dowdy is one of those athletes.
Dowdy is always out there exploring, like on a recent trip to an extraordinary corner of America's Lake Superior known as the Apostle Islands. There, with the help of a gas-powered winch and speedboat, he found a few hidden lines no one's ever ridden before. Watch the incredible Wake Superior video above and then read on to find out more.
With the use of a high powered winch, Mike Dowdy wakeboards in natural natural caves found along the shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin, USA on July 11, 2017.
Mike Dowdy winches through a freshwater sea cave
This Great Lakes mission looked awesome. What's your connection to the place?
I'm from Michigan and as a kid we'd take family vacations out to the Great Lakes a lot so my connection as a kid was definitely exploring new places around there that I'd never been to – but without a wakeboard. Getting to transition that vibe into my career now is really cool.
Tell us about the Apostle Islands.
Basically, Apostle Islands is a group of islands in Lake Superior, off the coast of Bayfield, Wisconsin. They're a group of sandstone sea caves, and I guess the water from Lake Superior eroded the stone, making all these different islands, caves and features.
Mike Dowdy prepares to wakeboard in a natural cave found along the shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin, USA on July 10, 2017.
Only one way in and out of a sea cave
So sea caves in freshwater lakes?
Yeah. That’s the technical term or how I understand it.
Was this mission actually a pioneer-style trip then?
Yeah, this was a total expedition-style thing. I've never really had a chance to wakeboard near the Great Lakes, let alone explore these kinds of natural features. So to get out there with the boat, and then even with the winch, did feel a whole lot like exploring.
With the use of a high powered winch, Mike Dowdy wakeboards on natural features along the shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin, USA on July 10, 2017.
Dowdy was pulled by a winch to bank off the rock
Are there any other places like this you have in mind for future explorations?
Coincidentally, yes. I have a friend who just sent me some photos of a place in Iceland that looks so incredible. I don't know for sure if it hasn't been 'pioneered' or anything, but it's definitely a place with some epic features that I'd really love to explore.
Back to the Apostle Islands trip. When you were winching through those sea caves, how fast do you think you were moving?
I'd say 35kph (22mph), which is pretty quick for how small those caves are. It was pretty scary, actually.
Mike Dowdy wakeboards on Lake Superior along the shores of northern Wisconsin, USA on July 09, 2017.
Mike Dowdy blasts one last one before home
Any accidents or close calls in situations like that?
No, but I'd say that specific trip was probably the gnarliest experience I've ever had winching. Mainly because the caves were so narrow, the winches aren't 100 percent accurate, and the guy operating the winch was on a cliff 9m up. We actually had a person in the water yelling to the guy operating the winch on the cliff, letting him know when I was ready in the water. It wasn't the most ideal winch-occasion, but we made it work.
Mike Dowdy prepares to wakeboard on Lake Superior along the shores of northern Wisconsin, USA on July 10, 2017.
Dowdy set up the winch and kayaked the rope out
What about the kayak? What was the deal with that?
We had to trail the winch 50m into a dense forest, and then the end point was this cliff that was about 9m above the water. The kayak just helped us get the tow rope from the winch on the cliff. Then we had the boat go out and park by the rock, which was where I was jibbing when I did that method grab. Basically, I was getting winched toward shore from the boat offshore, if that makes sense.
Mike Dowdy wakeboards on Lake Superior along the shores of northern Wisconsin, USA on July 09, 2017.
After zooming in the caves, Dowdy went traditional
As a world champion wakeboarder, what does your contest schedule look like?
I'm pretty much occupied eight months of the year, from March to mid-September, traveling and competing all over the world. This type of exploratory mission was such a cool change of pace and something I don’t normally do – a really refreshing step outside of my comfort zone. It's something I don't do a lot, but I look forward to doing more, that's for sure.
Mike Dowdy wakeboards on Lake Superior along the shores of northern Wisconsin, USA on July 10, 2017.
Dowdy boardslides the Sun on Lake Superior
Does anyone else ride through caves like this in other parts of world?
I don't know for sure, but not normally. Usually wakeboarding just takes place on normal public or private lakes, or cable parks and winch spots guys stumble upon.
I think the winch is most useful for locations you can't hit or get close enough to with a boat. If there's a small bit of water with a handrail, you can use the winch to pull you into it. Or in our case, there was a massive sandstone rock I wanted to bomb into and we couldn't get the boat close enough to shore. But the winch sure got me close enough.