Wakeboarding Thrills in Crystal Lake, Illinois
One minute, you're crouched in a cannonball position in the water. The next, a system of towropes and cables pulls you up onto a sleek board for a smooth ride at 20 mph, water spraying behind you.
This is the trending sport of wakeboarding, a mix of water-skiing and snowboarding. Other places, you can try it behind a boat, but at The Quarry Cable Park in Crystal Lake, Illinois, electrically driven cables get you going.
Even if you've never managed a successful ride on water skis, you have a good shot at getting vertical here, thanks to the system's even pulling speed. "This is a lazy man's sport," says wakeboard pro Timmy Burnier. "You really just relax and let the rope do the work."
He's part of a team that will outfit you with a board, life vest and helmet, then talk you through the art of getting up and finding your flow. Shell out a little extra for private lessons, and you'll get a headset for on-the-fly instructions and tips to go from zero to practically pro in an afternoon. Later, take a shot at the ramps and jumps along the course.
The park's name is a nod to the gravel mine that formed the lake, but it belies what you'll find now: a deep, fresh body of water and landscaped grounds dotted with mature trees, native coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. A chill outpost includes a pro shop and restaurant with a mash-up ski lodge-surf shop vibe.
The park is open from mid-May through mid-October. You can get out on the water for a couple of hours for $65, gear included. Lessons start at $30. On June 8, riding and instruction are free; just plan on some long lines.
Throughout the season, you'll find a family atmosphere with lots of kids, tweens and teens by day. Evenings, enjoy the lakeside bar and grill, a beach fire pit, sand volleyball and beanbag tossing, as well as live music on weekends.
Three Oaks Recreation Area (which includes the cable park) also offers a second lake with a lifeguard-protected beach. Also find rentals, scuba diving, fishing and a splash pad.