What started as a hobby has turned into much more for Kelly Hand and her sunrise surf crew.
Kelly Hand found her passion — in the middle of Lake Erie.
“It changes people somehow,” she says. “I’m not even sure how to explain it. Everybody who comes out loves it so much.”
Kelly is talking about wake surfing. And she’s good at it, recently taking home first place in the 35-and-up age group at a Competitive Wake Surfing Association tournament held in Napa Valley, California. It was the first competition the 51-year-old entered but, she says, not her last.
Wake surfing is sort of like wakeboarding, Kelly explains, but there is no rope. Instead, surfers ride the wake created by the boat.
“It’s a whole thing,” she says. “There are boats specifically designed to be wake surfing boats. You can weight them down with thousands of pounds of water in the ballast.”
The extra weight allows the boat to create bigger waves. By adjusting a tab on the boat, Kelly explains, you can create waves on either the right or the left side of the boat.
Besides the technical differences, Kelly says the experience is just different.
"Wake surfing is more like ocean surfing, only the boat makes the wave and you can ride that wave continuously, without a rope, behind the boat," she explains. "Peoples jaws drop when they see it because it’s almost like a magic trick. It’s far mellower than wakeboarding, a totally different vibe."
Kelly and her husband, Jason, began wake surfing about 10 years ago and quickly collected a core crew of about eight people who meet most mornings near Marblehead, Ohio, when the weather is cooperative and have dubbed themselves the Sunrise Surf Crew.
“We are just a group of friends who love to surf,” says Kelly, who welcomes people to connect with her group on its Instagram page. “We’re constantly having friends of friends join us. We’ve probably taught 200 people how to surf.”
Kelly says she likes how the sport requires both strength and balance — and she draws on her past experiences swimming competitively, doing yoga and rock climbing to excel at it.
Up next for Kelly? A competition in March in Arizona.
“I’d like to just be able to compete at a higher level,” she says. “There are a whole host of tricks that I could learn to do. I’m just looking forward to learning a lot more.”
But Kelly's ultimate quest is to make it to the top wake surfing competition in the world next September, which she'd have to be ranked in the top eight to quality for.
"That would be a big jump," she says. "But that is my goal."