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Abbotsford's new wakeboard park open to public on Saturday

Abbotsford's reputation as one of Canada's premier watersport destinations is being enhanced with addition of a cable park at Walmsley Lake.
James Balzer demonstrates how to wakeskate using the new cable-driven system at Abbotsford's Valley Wake Park on Thursday. Balzer

A new cable-driven wakeboard facility at Albert Dyck Park will enhance Abbotsford's reputation as one of Canada's premier watersports destinations.

That's the belief of Stu McKeown, owner of Valley Wake Park, which is set to open on Saturday.

Over the last several months, McKeown has overseen a redevelopment of the east end of Walmsley Lake, including new sand for the beach, the construction of a small operations building, and the installation of four six-metre-high metal towers on the shore.

Two electrically powered cable systems, roughly 700 feet each in length, are suspended between the towers, and are used to tow riders back and forth over jumps and other obstacles.

"Cable parks like this one are really make the sport accessible, just like skiing or snowboarding," McKeown explained.

"Now, all you need is your equipment – or you can rent it here – and your day pass, and you're ready to go. You don't need to spend $60,000 on a boat, $200 a day on gas and $1,000 a year on insurance. It takes that cost factor right out of it."

Cable parks have long been popular in Europe, and they're starting to pop up all over North America. Last year, cable wakeboarding was shortlisted by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion at the 2020 Summer Games, and while it didn't make the cut, it could be considered again for 2024.

"Three years ago there was only one park in Canada, in Quebec. Now there are 11," McKeown said, noting that Abbotsford's facility is one of just two in B.C., the other being in Kelowna. "You see the same sort of growth in the U.S."

McKeown's initial proposal for Walmsley Lake, which came before Abbotsford's parks and rec department in 2011, called for a five-tower loop on the western half of the lake which could have have accommodated nine riders at a time, but that plan was met with opposition from the Fraser Valley Water Ski Club (FVWSC).

FVWSC members had played an instrumental role in developing the manmade lake and has hosted numerous provincial, national and international competitions on the site over the years.

City council voiced concerns that the proposed cable park would squeeze out the water ski club, prompting McKeown to modify his plan to instead feature two separate two-tower systems on the east end of the lake, each accommodating one rider at a time. That allows the FVWSC to continue to use the west end.

Valley Wake Park has secured a five-year lease of the site from the city, and pays the municipality five per cent of gross revenues. Passes are $25 for an hour or $47 for a day, or $499 for a season pass.

"We would have liked to do a larger facility, but this accommodates everybody," McKeown noted.

"It's really a win-win for the city. Now they've got a tourism attraction to get people to Abbotsford, they get youth involved in a clean and healthy sport, and they also get revenue back."

McKeown believes the cable park will quickly become a tourist attraction, and said initial feedback has been "tremendous."

"Through our social media – our Twitter, our Facebook – along with emails and contacts, it's been amazing how many people are saying, 'When are you open, when are you open?'" he marvelled.

"I've got people from Washington calling and emailing about coming up. The closest one (south of the border) would be in Sacramento, so there's quite the gap in Washington and Oregon right now. People travel all over the world to come to cable parks."

James Balzer, a 29-year-old Abbotsford native who has been a professional wakeboard and wakeskate rider for the past decade, said that adding a cable facility is a huge boon to the local watersports community.

"It's really nice to have one here close to home, finally," he said. "To be able to come out here and ride on a daily basis is really a privilege.

"It's going to be the best way for kids to get out on the water. You don't have to have a boat anymore – you can just show up and ride. We're really going to see a lot of young talent developing that we hadn't seen before."

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