So you think you can Wakeskate?
Editor's note: This is the third part in a series about extreme sports.
WACOUTA - Nestled in between the lush valleys of the Mississippi River lives Lake Pepin. Glimpses of the past merge with modern-day thrills, making the lake a lifelong oasis for visitors and residents alike.
The self-proclaimed "birthplace of waterskiing" holds a massive history of tall tales, tragedy, triumphs and, for the aqua-crazed, water sports.
Lake Pepin dweller Kyle Mehrkens has resided in Wacouta his entire life. With four generations of family's history rooted to the area, it's no wonder why the river is his focal point.
"Everything I do is on water," Mehrkens said, looking out the massive front window of his family's home at the calm liquid horizon. "Being here on this lake and being a part of it has influenced what I do."
Kept in the family from generation to generation, the Mehrkens' lakefront property once operated as a fishing haven - Larson's Resort, from 1938 to 1970. Keeping in the tradition of the family's fascination with the water, Mehrkens' fix for aquatic exploration began in high school as he technically advanced from waterskiing to boarding. In 2001, he was introduced to wakeskating.
"It's basically like skateboarding on water," Mehrkens said.
Although having never tried the sport on solid surface, he wasted no time before trying the new marine sport.
The boards, manufactured from maple to fiberglass, mimic the skateboard shape but are bigger in size. Riders are no longer confined to bindings used in wakeboarding: Grip tape-bound boards open endless possibilities with free feet.
"Being involved in wakeskating from its birth really makes me appreciate the evolution of waterskiing and its roots on this lake." Mehrkens said.
"Whether I realized it or not, I have always brought my love for water and the sport wherever I go," he said.
A summer spent working overseas in Germany proved his passion. After graduating from Hamline University in 2006 with a degree in physics, Mehrkens' ambition landed him at a Wasserskipark Pfullendorf, a German mecca for extreme sports.
Working at the camp, he said, gave him invaluable information and an understanding of the sport's possibilities. That led to his latest project, an electrically powered automatic wakeboard winch offering a non-operated pull that allows the boarder to ride independently.
"I want to leave an impact on water sports as much as Ralph Samuelson did for waterskiing." Mehrkens said, referring to the first man to waterski on Lake Pepin, or anywhere else for that matter.
Unlike with downhill skiing or skateboarding, wakeboarding -- until now -- involved two people. After all, someone had to provide the propulsion using a jet ski or motor boat. The winch system is anchored to the shore, so Mehrkens can go solo.
"This is a solution to feed my need for water," he said.
Utilizing the source he lives next to -- whether by name (he owns and operates Lake Pepin Technology), for sport or simply for quiet contemplation as the sun reflects off the river outside his window, Mehrkens' connection with the water is evident through every facet of his life.
"Lake Pepin is definitely fuel for inspiration." Mehrkens said