Planning a Cable Park takes a lot more than sketching out some radical cable courses with the latest obstacles and jumps and a tasty snack bar. The factors to be considered and balanced can be bewildering in their complexity. It's definitely in your best interest to work with an experienced consultant who knows the ins and outs of building and who has overseen the development of several successful cable wakeboard operations.
Most of your regular customers will want to stay within 30 minutes of home. Longer commutes require a more significant chunk of time, and the prospect of devoting several hours of driving will quickly knock that activity off the priority list. It may be a truism, but the closer you are to a population center, the better your traffic will be. The site you choose should be visible, accessible, and convenient to use.
You have many options in choosing cable manufacturers and packages, but in the end, they break down into two basic types of systems: two-tower cables and full-size cable (FSC) systems. A relatively new spin on the two-tower system is called System 2.0.
Two-tower cables are suitable for anything from a small private setup in your backyard to large feature frameworks designed for daring tricks and jumps. These systems are generally less expensive and occupy less space, so it's not uncommon for a wakeboard park to start small with a couple and work their way up to an FSC. Two-tower systems offer a there-and-back trip in a straight line. You may find the length of courses ranging from shorter than 200' to nearly 1000'. A cable can begin to feel sloppy and loose on spans over 700' however, so some cable systems are upgradeable to packages that provide variable tension support.
System 2.0 is a modified two-tower system that uses two cables to pull a single rider. This configuration allows greater tension and a smooth pull, making this system ideal for beginners just getting the hang of starting out and for more experienced riders who can practice new air tricks by shortening up the tow line. Even better, single riders can travel back and forth along the line by following a path resembling a figure 8, allowing them to hit the same feature over and over and perfect a new move.
Full-Size Cable (FSC) refers to a circular course where the rider completes a series of full loops and finishes at the starting point. FSCs will generally have five or six towers. Of course, the course doesn't need to be a perfectly regular pentagon or hexagon. Sides and angles are often distorted to allow for complex obstacles or crazy air tricks. Some park operators prefer to keep that part flexible and reconfigure the course regularly to present a new view and fresh challenges. Some people envision an even larger eight-tower system with two starting platforms and dual motors. Someday that might represent the ultimate flexibility for cable park operators.
Whichever application you choose, you'll need to allow adequate space for the course and the structures. Two-tower systems need to allow for the cable's lateral reach, the course's length, plus an appropriate safety buffer (50' to 75') all around the route. Depending on their primary use, two-tower configurations will generally run between 400' and 700' long and should permit the cable operator to view the entire length easily. There are cable manufacturers that offer setups longer than 700'. Still, it's worth doing some test runs on an active system since exceptionally long cables can feel sloppy or loose, and an upgraded cable tensioner may be necessary.
When you're considering a cable system for your park, you'll find several different manufacturers plus any number of configurations and packages available to purchase. Initial costs and long-term maintenance expenses will likely narrow your choice to a few that meet your specs. After that, it's probably worth talking to other experienced operators about the quality of the system, ease of use, and warranties. Whatever else you do, be sure to ask about training and customer service when you're comparing your options. An expensive, state-of-the-art system loses its value very quickly if you're unable to reach competent tech support on a holiday weekend because the "comprehensive training" didn't include solutions for a minor technical snafu.
Layout and Facilities
A central elliptical course is a typical configuration you'll see for a large wakeboard park. You'll often see an island in the middle too. Why is that? Water breaks and wave attenuation are essential considerations in the design since smooth water is one of the big draws for a cable park. Picture a round lake with riders circling it repeatedly in one direction, stirring the water with the pull of their skis and wakeboards. It starts to sound like a drain, doesn't it? Islands are placed in the center of these courses to break up the wave attenuation that creates whirlpool-like disturbances. Don't overlook this element - rough water is bad for business, and the sensation of being sucked down a drain isn't appealing either.
When you're planning your park, remember that not everyone wakeboards. Make sure you include several things to do for everyone who comes to your site. For one thing, friends, family, and fellow riders taking a break will want to keep an eye on the action. Make sure to welcome them with comfortable seating in multiple locations with a good view, adequate shade, and plenty of clean, odor-free receptacles for trash. Permanent restroom facilities with active ventilation will leave a far better impression than a questionable line of port-a-potties.
Visitors Add Value
Aside from the lake and cable setup, seats and shade for visitors, and the all-important sanitary facilities for your visitors, there's lots of potential to add value and additional income streams to your cable wake park business. Equipment rentals and sales, a restaurant or snack bar, an area suitable to rent out for parties, or a kid-friendly area like a sprinkler park all can produce revenue and improve your visitors' experience. Then, how about access to clean shower facilities and even some spa-like add-ons like fluffy heated towels and hair dryers for a happy conclusion to a day on the water?
The Wet Stuff
If you're dreaming of a wakeboard park near a gorgeous existing lake that's big enough, clean enough, and not too busy, you might be in luck. You'll have to arrange for exclusive rights to a section of shoreline that's just the proper depth and pretty close to the ideal shape for your cable configuration. You'll need to lease land to build your facilities and parking. You'll need to sink supports for your towers, so they're at the same level above the water, and you'll need to make allowances for wildlife and ensure that your activities are not damaging the local ecosystem. To establish a suitable lease, you'll need to figure out who owns the shoreline (The utility company that built the dam? The federal government? The state park system?). Then, you'll need to obtain a mountain of permits, take extra steps to ensure the water quality is optimal, and if regular testing shows an elevated presence of e-coli, you'll have no choice but to shut down until the lake returns to a safe condition. It's a complicated process.
On the other hand, if your dream is to open a glorious cable wake park just outside of Tucson, Arizona, you're going to have some different challenges. A minuscule 0.3% of the state's total area is covered with water, and virtually none of it is near Tucson. You may also want to avoid the headaches of using an established lake owned by someone or you may just want the design control of a custom configuration. So that poses a question - how do you open a wakeboarding park where the perfect body of water doesn't exist? The simple answer is -- you build one.
Artificial lakes are created every day, and they run the gamut from giant reservoirs that defy the imagination to farm ponds of an acre or less. These lakes are often formed by damming an existing waterway (see the Hoover Dam project and Lake Mead) or pouring reclaimed water into a hole in the ground. (Ok, so it's not quite that simple.)
To build an artificial lake, you'll still need to lease or purchase land, get construction permits, plan for water quality and perhaps file environmental impact statements. You'll need to figure out how you're going to fill the lake and maintain the water levels without negatively impacting existing water supplies, and you'll need to construct the lake itself. It's not a simple walk in the park, but it's substantially less complex than the alternative.