Lake Powell is the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States, situated on the border between Utah and Arizona… and completely off radar for windsurfing! Kevin Pritchard gets his redneck boots on for a sideways look at its beautiful scenery.
Words Kevin Pritchard // Photos Christine Suits
Eight world titles… check. Winning the Aloha Classic in 2000… check. Winning the Aloha Classic in 2017… check. Windsurfing on Lake Powell… never done it, let alone foiling on Lake Powell. I am pretty sure that no one in the world has windsurf foiled there before and lo and behold I dreamt it, manifested it, wanted to do it, call it whatever you want, but boy did it ever happen.
It all started when my friend Eric Sanford sent me some photos of Lake Powell, and I was like, “Why do you always send me the photos after you go?” It’s been my dream to do a unique foil photo story, so when I saw the photos he sent me, I was on it. I had to foil on this incredible lake. Little did I know it was going to turn into one of the best trips of my life.
It started out like this; there was no swell on any forecast; what should we do? My photographer friend and I had just wrapped up an epic 10 day trip to Baja and were hungry for more. “Let’s go to Lake Powell and do a photo story,” I suggested. How about checking the forecast? Nah, I heard that you can windsurf foil in no wind, should be fine.
So, we took a quick peek at Google maps and decided to repack my Sprinter van with bikes, boards, camera gear, and a fresh appetite for the unknown. After hearing so many rave reviews of Zion National Park, I figured we could check it out on the way there. That way, if all else failed, we could score some photos and a few bike rides in some sick terrain.
“No one in the world has windsurf foiled there before.”
First stop… well, you have to drive by Las Vegas to get out to Utah when your van is stored in Southern California. Was it on the plan to stop in Las Vegas for a travel story? Nope! Did we… well… of course we did! I checked the price of a quaint hotel on the strip, $50 bucks. After 10 days in Baja, 50 dollars worth of showering seemed like a good investment. But, after the long drive and even longer shower, it took some motivation to step out onto the strip. So we hit the local liquor store, grabbed some Don Julio and lemonade, downed some margaritas that would knock your socks off, and finally found the motivation needed to hit the town.
We stepped outside into 100 degree heat with thousands of other spirited tourists. BAM – this is Vegas! Slot machines, flashing lights, people begging you to come into their bars; it’s like no other. After a few more margaritas and a couple of slot machines, I texted a local friend asking what we should do with a single night in Sin City. He said, “You can’t leave Vegas without going to see 100 of the most beautiful women dance right in front of you!”, to which I saw his point. “Oh,” he added, “by the way, strippers are the loneliest people in the world.” Made sense. Fast forward 8 hours, I wake up tied to the bed with a bunch of one-dollar bills spread all over the room, a full bathtub, the headache of my life, and the cleaning lady politely waltzing into the hotel room, taking a glimpse at what I am sure is a familiar sight, then promptly leaving after hanging up the “please do not disturb sign” on her way out. Other than that, I’m not really sure what happened, or maybe what happens in Vegas really should just stay there.
Second stop, Zion. I don’t think I really got to experience Zion to the fullest. Having a hangover the size of Texas, hiking on hot red rocks with other tourists didn’t scream “fun” at the time. But when in Zion, you have to check it out. And it was awesome. We picked off some really amazing little hikes. The four hour hikes were off the list due to the high probability of death through dehydration, so we went for some more simple hikes that were attainable. And boy when I looked up at those magical rocks, the hangover slipped away, and the utter beauty and awesomeness of this majestic place started to present itself. I couldn’t shake the thought of, “How did this happen? And why??” I couldn’t fathom the beauty. No words or photos can do it justice. As it goes, with the sun sinking down over the red canyons, the claw of the hangover started to release, and the awe of this raw world sunk in. It was time for a ‘near the grave’ deep sleep, under a thick blanket of stars in the middle of the Utah desert.
With a solid bike ride in the morning, it was time to press on, and head over to Lake Powell. Or so we thought. When you’re in this part of the country though, you cannot help but pull over to stop to take photos…and more photos… and more photos. The three-hour drive from Zion to the lake took about 8 hours as well as an overnight camp and tons of hikes along the way. Views and curves, rocks on rocks, and towering mountains, you really can’t take it all in in one trip. We didn’t even scratch the surface.
We eventually did make it to Lake Powell. Well, it turns out that it isn’t a real lake at all, but a 128 mile long man-made reservoir, comprised of many veins and tributaries. This place has so many different beaches, nooks, in’s and outs, and peaks and valleys that we really had no idea where to go. And guess what the weather conditions were? Glassy. Not a breath of wind. Zero, zip, nada. No chance. I was like, “Shoot, I just hauled all this gear, and there is no chance this is going to happen,” especially after seeing all the people with their ski boats, jet skis, and houseboats, all enjoying a typically calm day on this unique desert oasis. So, we kept checking our phones and crossing our fingers for an updated weather forecast, all the while driving around looking for potential spots to sail. I went and spoke to one of the park rangers and innocently asked, “Is there any access for windsurfers around here?” She replied with a very confident “NO. My son’s a windsurfer, and he NEVER windsurfs here. He goes to Hood River. I am a sailor as well, and it’s too gusty with all the mountains and turns to be any good for windsurfing,” she explained. I was a little disappointed, but what she didn’t know was that I had a new MFC foil and the new Ezzy Hydra.
“So many different beaches, nooks, in’s and outs, and peaks and valleys.”
I hadn’t tried either my foil board or the new Hydra sail yet in extremely light wind conditions, so I decided to explore the limits. Maybe it could work in three to four knots? I didn’t really know. The biggest Hydra David had in his shed that he could loan me was a 6.0. I figured if Kai Lenny can pump around sans sail and just a foil, that with a sail and some legwork you could get going in almost nothing. Finally, we settled on a spot, and just as we were parking, we felt a hint of a breeze. I quickly rigged up, got to the middle of the lake, and sure enough, just like the lady at the ranger station had said, the wind completely spun around and died.
As I was out there bobbing around like a duck on the bay, curious onlookers shot me puzzling glances from their motorboats. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Suddenly, my fearless photographer pulls up in a boat, camera in hand, chauffeured by an exuberant local named George, who is about as redneck as they come. “I thought maybe we could get you going on this thing tow-in style,” she said. There is no wind, and there’s probably not going to be any wind for my photo story, so sure, toss me the rope! I have never done tow-in windsurfing, but I know they do it in Europe with the freestylers, so why not? I wasn’t sure if any windsurfing magazines would run a story with me ‘windsurfing’ behind a boat with a beautiful background, but I was desperate to pull something off. George tosses me the rope, hits the gas, and bam! I have one hand on the rope, one hand on the boom, and just like that, the foil starts lifting off like a son of a bitch. George was stoked, having had no idea there was even a foil under the board before we got moving.
There I was, flying through this breathtaking backdrop. But as scenic and unique as the experience was, tow-in foiling with a windsurf sail is not easy. “Hurry take my picture,” I thought, and sure enough we got the shot. As we made our way around the lake and got some photos, I had to take a break; and well, George was drinking some beers so… well…. why not? A couple of beers on the very hot lake shouldn’t matter. When you’re in the water, you don’t realize how much you are sweating. So, like every redneck, you gotta keep drinking. George hit me with about a six-pack of ice-cold beers as we toured around. It was unbelievable. He told us about the history of the lake and all the fun things that you can do there, then kept driving us around the island to get a better shot.
We were having the best day ever; from no wind and no travel story, to a day on the boat with Captain George, the character of all characters. We all took a turn behind the boat wakeboarding and water-skiing, it was epic! Beers, boats, and babes! What more could you want…
“There I was, flying through this breathtaking backdrop.”
Wind. I still wanted wind. I needed it for this to all come together… and somehow my lucky streak continued into the evening as the wind began to pick up to a consistent 15 or so plus knots. I don’t know about you, but for me, foiling takes some concentration. After a six-pack of beer, getting loyal to the foil was all the more entertaining. But here we were, in one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever been to, with wind, afternoon/evening light, a foil, a photographer, and me; the overly buzzed athlete with a magical foil board. It was divine!!! The wind kept picking up and getting stronger and stronger.
Suddenly the 6.0 went from being underpowered to just right, to overpowered. But this was it!!! This is what I was dreaming of. For a few solid hours, I was powered up and gliding up and down the lake, shredding around with the most insane background ever. Upwind to the narrows, downwind to Lone Rock, and then even further downwind into the sunset amidst a sandstorm. I kept saying to myself, “Why do I deserve this???” I guess if you build it, they will come. I wrapped up the session with the foil singing through the water, feeling the heat of the desert through the warm gusts of sandy breeze, flying effortlessly through a utopian like terrain…it was beyond imagination. What a fantastic day on the water! Simply amazing.
Upon the sun setting, we had planned to head out to find a nice scenic camp spot, only to be greeted by our new neighbours, offering, you guessed it, more beers! “How the hell do you do that sail thingy majiggy with that there foil? Ain’t never seen me one of those. You need a beer for your hard work. You know, I used to windsurf twenty years ago.” So bonding over our love of beer and windsurfing, we decided to stay the night amongst “our people” and simply loved it. It just doesn’t get much better.
Around mid-morning, we started to gather our things and get going, only after taking our new friends up on the offer to go shred around the hilly sand dunes on their brand new Polaris Razor A.T.V. We had gotten the windsurf shots, and now it was time to keep exploring. We hit Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, “The Wave,” Monument Valley, Moab with the bikes, Arches National Park, Salt Lake City, and everywhere between. We ‘van-lifed’ hard, seeing some of the most incredible scenery on the planet. Stunning, incredible, unbelievable, is all I can say. Words can’t describe this countryside, but if you want to take a bit of advice from a pretty well travelled person, go pack your bags, rent a motorhome, toss the foil and bikes in, and set sail on land, and go explore. You will not be disappointed.
All of the windsurfing is at Lone Rock, Utah. Lone Rock Campground is accessed from RT 89. The mountain biking around Lake Powell is limitless. Within a two to three hour drive you can hit up Virgin, Utah which is very close to Zion. It is where they hold the Red Bull Rampage. If you drive the other direction you can hit up Moab, known for some of the best mountain biking in North America.
“Toss the foil and bikes in, and set sail on land.”