- By Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
Holy egg-frying sidewalks and melting asphalt; it’s hot out there.
That makes sticking to a regular exercise program a challenge — unless it involves water, of course. In an effort to help keep you fit and cool, we’ve rounded up information on some of our favorite water-based sports. Grab your swimsuit and read on.
At NLand Surf Park, surfers sign up to ride one of three waves: the beginner-size “bay” wave, the intermediate “inside” wave or the head-high “reef” wave, where you can channel Laird Hamilton while swooshing across a lagoon the size of nine football fields. Sure, the lagoon lacks some of the mystique of the ocean, where surfers spend long hours waiting for the perfect wave to materialize. But the consistency and frequency of the manufactured version, and the absence of dangerous currents and sharks, make it an excellent place to perfect technique.
If you go: NLand Surf Park is at 4836 E. Texas 71 in Del Valle. Cost is $60 to $90 for a one-hour session. For more information, go to nlandsurfpark.com or call 512-806-1900.
Early most mornings, reed-slim boats skim like water bugs up and down Lady Bird Lake. Austin’s a hotbed of rowing, with collegiate teams training here during winter months and local athletes training year-round. We’re even home to several regattas, including the PumpkinHead each fall. Even beginners can take classes to learn proper technique.
If you go: The Austin Rowing Club (74 Trinity Street, austinrowing.org), Texas Rowing Center ( 1541 West Cesar Chavez, texasrowingcenter.com) and the Rowing Dock (2418 Stratford Drive, rowingdock.com) all offer rowing instruction.
KAYAKING or CANOEING
Whether you prefer placid, turtle-filled lakes or tumbling white-water rivers, you can find water to test your kayaking or canoeing skills within an hour or two of Austin.
So far this year, I’ve paddled the Llano River near Castell, the Pedernales River from Johnson City toward Pedernales State Park, the San Marcos River east of Interstate 35 and Mexican Creek northwest of San Antonio. For mellow paddling right in town, there’s always Lady Bird Lake or Lake Austin. Check conditions before you start. The LCRA’s hydromet site posts flow rates in Central Texas, and the U.S. Geological Survey website and the American Whitewater site are helpful.
If you go: The Olympic Outdoor Center, 602 North Interstate 35 in San Marcos, rents kayaks and offers instruction; kayakinstruction.org. Multiple Austin companies offer rentals and instruction, including the Texas Rowing Center ( 1541 West Cesar Chavez St., texasrowingcenter.com), the Rowing Dock (2418 Stratford Drive, rowingdock.com), the Expedition School (34 Robert Martinez Jr. St., expeditionschool.com), and Congress Avenue Kayaks (in the Waller Creek Boathouse, 74 Trinity Street, congresskayaks.com).
No matter how high the temperature climbs, it always feel like you’re jumping into a snow cone when you plunge into the San Marcos River. Add a mask, fins and snorkel, and you can get an up-close view of what lives in that chilly water — more than a dozen species of fish, from carp to bass and sunfish, call the river home. You’ll see turtles, too, and patches of Texas wild rice, an endangered plant species that waves in the current.
If you go: Snorkel Texas offers one-hour snorkeling tours of the San Marcos River between Sewell Park and Rio Vista Park every Saturday. Cost is $50 ($10 for wetsuit rental) and includes shuttle. Tours meet at the Olympic Outdoor Center, 602 North Interstate 35 in San Marcos; call 210-415-5115 or go to snorkeltx.com.
I’d water-skied on friends’ boats a few times when I was a kid but never really learned to ski until I turned 40, when a friend volunteered to teach me how to run a slalom course on Lake Austin. I got hooked — so hooked that my husband and I bought a used ski boat. During the summer months, we venture onto Lake Austin at dawn to catch a quick pre-work run as the sun rises.
If you go: Water Ski Lake Austin offers water-ski instruction (slalom, two skis or no skis) for $200 per hour for up to eight people, with a two-hour minimum; call 512-656-1957 or go to waterskilakeaustin.com.
Rather hang 10 behind a boat? Wake surfers use a tow rope to get up behind a boat, then drop the rope and surf the wave the boat creates. Advantages over traditional surfing? No sticky salt water, skin-shredding coral reefs or men in gray suits, otherwise known as sharks. Factor in plenty of easy lake access and warm weather, and voila — Austin’s becoming a Hill Country Honolulu.
If you go: Water Ski Lake Austin offers wake surfing instruction for $200 per hour for up to eight people, with a two-hour minimum. Cost includes boat, driver and gas; call 512-656-1957 or go to waterskilakeaustin.com.
Turns out boats are optional in the wakeboard world. All you really need is a private lake outfitted with a motorized cable system to tow you through smooth water, or a day pass to a cable ski lake.
At Texas Ski Ranch on Interstate 35 near New Braunfels, which opened more than a decade ago, wakeboarders zip around a manufactured lake while sunbathers bask on lounge chairs at a landlocked beach. At Quest ATX, on a 130-acre patch of countryside southeast of downtown Austin, six metal towers support a moving cable that pulls wakeboarders over obstacles including wedge-shaped “kickers” that launch them high in the air.
At JetSurf Academy ATX, you can hop on a “surfboard” with a tiny gas-powered engine tucked inside it and zoom around the lake like someone from a water-themed episode of “The Jetsons.” Think personal watercraft crossed with a wakeboard, add a hint of dirt-slinging, engine-buzzing motorbike, and you’ve got the idea. Jetsurf boards can attain top speeds of 35 miles per hour.
If you go: Cost is $125 for first-time riders and $85 for repeat riders and includes onshore education and training, plus one hour of ride time ($60 for a 30-minute “discovery session”); jetsurfatx.com
Like to bike, but it’s just too hot? Try pedaling a hydrobike on Lady Bird Lake. The bike looks like a single-speed bicycle mounted on a pair of skinny yellow pontoons. You crank the pedals, which turn a prop, which sends you gliding up and down the river. The bikes are equipped with cup holders and a storage bin big enough to stash a small bag, cellphone, camera and snacks.
If you go: Austin Water Bikes operates off a folding table set up near the hike-and-bike trail behind the Hyatt Regency Austin at 2008 Barton Springs Road. Cost is $17 per hour; austinwaterbikes.com.
For a more Zen experience on the water, try stand-up paddleboarding. Stand or kneel atop what looks like a sturdy surfboard as you glide down the lake, propelling yourself with a paddle that looks like an extra-large iced-tea spoon. It’s all the rage right now, and you’ll likely see more SUPs than kayaks or canoes on the lake.
If you go: The Texas Rowing Center ( 1541 West Cesar Chavez St., texasrowingcenter.com), the Rowing Dock (2418 Stratford Drive, rowingdock.com), and Epic SUP (2200 South Lakeshore Blvd., epicsup.com), all rent stand-up paddleboards.
Climbing rock cliffs can strike terror into the hearts of people who, like me, harbor a fear of heights. But put that climbing wall over a nice blue-green patch of deep water, and I’m all in. In deep-water soloing, a form of rock climbing done over water without ropes or harnesses, a fall means plopping into a lake, river or ocean instead of bone-crunching terra firma. Austin rock climbing guide service Rock About Climbing Adventures offers deep-water solo excursions, usually out of Pace Bend Park on Lake Travis.
If you go: Rock About Climbing Adventures offers deep-water soloing trips for $95 per hour for a group of up to seven (three-hour minimum required); rock-about.com.