Make a Splash on Madison's Lakes

There's water, water everywhere. So get in it, near it or on it and celebrate summer.

May 20, 2011

The Mad City Ski Team

The Mad City Ski Team

Lake Legends

Stop by Law Park on a summer Sunday evening to see the Mad City Ski Team. Skiers of all ages (team members range from seven to fifty-plus) entertain audiences with pyramids, jumps, barefoot skiing and other tricks all season long. In addition to the weekly free shows, the Mad City Ski Team offers Learn to Ski clinics as well as a disabled skier clinic. madcityskiteam.com

Surf’s Up

Born in Hawaii, stand-up paddle surfing has made its way to Madison. It is pretty much what the name implies—the paddler stands on a board, similar to a surfboard, and paddles across the water. Paddleboard Specialists provides lessons on Lake Wingra and Wingra Boats offers an innovative blend of two fitness trends with stand-up paddle/yoga classes. paddleboardspecialists.com, wingraboats.com

Crew Cuts

Miss the days of college crew? The Mendota Rowing Club has been teaching adults and high-school students to row for thirty-five years. With classes and competitive teams that practice out of the Bernard-Hoover boathouse on Lake Mendota, the club attracts serious racers. Even the recreational rowers are committed, attending practices at 5:30 a.m. mendotarowingclub.com

Something Fishy

Professional angler Joe Okada offers half- and full-day fishing charters on the Yahara River system (also known as Lakes Mendota, Monona, Upper Mud, Kegonsa, Lower Mud and Waubesa). He’ll help you hook Walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, muskie, perch, bluegill, crappie, catfish and whitebass. joeokada.com

What a Trip

You don’t have to own a boat to get out on Madison’s lakes. Madison School and Community Recreation’s Pontoon Program offers pontoon rentals, drop-in pontoon rides and specialty cruises, including fireworks or geology trips, among others. mscr.org

Tiki Time

Christy’s Landing on Lake Waubesa and the East Side Club on Lake Monona both have docks, tiki bars and live music in the summer. So boat in for Sunday brunch or a Friday fish fry, because it’s not really lake living until you set sail for a meal. christyslanding.net, esbma.com

Class Acts

Rutabaga offers full slate of classes and themed trips, camps and outings. Get your feet wet at the free Thursday evening group paddles or the women-only Water Divas Night on the Water on Tuesday. Other options include kayak and coffee early in the morning and full moon paddles at the other end of the day. rutabaga.com

Dinner with a View

The Betty Lou public cruises on Lakes Monona and Mendota have been getting Madisonians out onto the water for years. Sightseeing and dinner outings showcase the shoreline and the stars while guests enjoy refreshments. Options include ice cream socials, Chinese buffets, and beer-lovers sails. betty-lou-cruises.com

Row, Run, Row Your Boat

A uniquely Madison event, Paddle and Portage takes athletes from James Madison Park to Olin Park via 1.5-mile paddles on both city lakes and a 1-mile jaunt across the Isthmus. No canoe? No problem. Rentals are allowed at this July 16 race. paddleandportage.org

Sweet Spot

Arguably the favorite spot for locals to sit lakeside and watch the world go by, the Memorial Union Terrace is iconic Madison whether you went to school here or not. Grab a beer. Find a chair (good luck on summer Fridays). Listen to the live music (five nights a week in the summer). Watch the sun set. Really, does it get any better? union.wisc.edu

Set Sail

Hoofers has been turning landlubbers into sailors since 1939. With affordable fees, unlimited free lessons, unlimited boat use and a fleet of more than 120 boats and sail boards, Hoofers makes it possible for just about anyone to get at the helm. hoofersailing.org

Water Warriors

You don’t have to be an Ironman to participate in the Fleet Feet Aquathon series, but it’s a good place to spot one. At each of five summertime Thursday night races at Warner Park Beach, athletes swim 1,000 and run 5,000 meters. Despite being chip-timed, the events are low-key, festive and fun—there are even prizes for the worst swim time at each event. racedayeventsllc.com

Barge Party

A floating drive-thru? You bet. The Barge offers up brats, grilled cheese, burgers and more at the southern end of the Yahara River near “Gilligan’s Island” between lakes Monona and Waubesa. Often visible from the Beltline in Monona, the Barge fuels lake lovers on summer Saturdays and Sundays.

Dragons on the Water

The Capital Lakes DragonFest returns to Vilas Park on Lake Wingra on June 25. TEAMSurvivor Madison brought dragon boating, a paddle sport popular among cancer survivors, to Dane County last year. The twenty-four-person teams (including a drummer) row narrow, forty-foot boats that resemble—you guessed it—dragons. The event draws hundreds of paddlers and more than a thousand spectators. capitallakesdragonfest.com

Life’s a Beach

There are twenty—yes, twenty—beaches in Dane County. Madison has thirteen; ten with lifeguards. But can you swim in them? The Department of Public Heath for Madison and Dane County monitors water quality. So visit their website before you grab your Speedo and goggles. The word on the street is that Governor Nelson State Park is particularly sandy and kid friendly, yet not at all crowded.

Give it a Tri

With sprint and Olympic distances, a relay, and a kids’ splash-and-dash aquathlon, the Capitol View Triathlon on June 12 welcomes athletes of just about every caliber. capitolviewevents.com

Park and Play 

James Madison Park is twelve-acre urban greenspace that lures students and city folk to soak up the sunshine or watch the day slip away behind the waters of Lake Mendota. cityofmadison.com/parks/parks/park.cfm?id=1241

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