Taking on Tahoe

Ryan Salm

Like so many unique surf spots around the world, Lake Tahoe has its own vibe and culture. But fresh water or salt, high elevation or sea level, surfing's surfing.

Each fall, a growing fleet of Subarus sporting both surfboards and skis on their roof racks are popping up around Tahoe, piloted by some of the rarest dual-sport Tahoe athletes.

This is a crew that will not hesitate to duck dive through Tahoe's frigid, mile-high storm swell in the morning and shred powder in the afternoon on perfect fall storm days.

The weather patterns appear to be changing over the past couple of years. The autumn breeze has blown in wind swells that have the local population loading up its rides with gear not often seen in the basin -- surfboards. Not only that, a culture is popping up across Tahoe's north shore during the otherwise slow season.

"Just a few years ago, surfing on the lake was routinely a solo affair," says Scott Gaffney, a North Tahoe ski legend and filmmaker for Matchstick Productions. "Maybe you'd see that one guy you saw last time, but today the numbers have grown exponentially."

When the early winter storms flow in from the Pacific and the lake wind advisories pop up in our inboxes (sustained S-SW winds of 20-25 mph, with gusts to 55 mph), a handful of Tahoe hopefuls are ready for more than just the snow that will coat the mountains for ski season.

"Whenever the waves are up, my texts are buzzing and the phone is ringing," says Gaffney. "It might be on account of today's access to information, but far more people are keen to get in the water, even during the coldest midwinter storms. During a recent session, I counted eight people in the water at one break. That's a crowd when it comes to picking off waves in Nevada."

When we are lucky, the wind hits and stays sustained, creating enough swell to make rideable waves. When we are even luckier, some, such as local Brennan Lagasse, will get more than just a morning surf session.

"Skiing and surfing in the same day is simply an amazing way to celebrate life," says Lagasse. "To be able to surf and ski in the same day in Tahoe, as we've been able to do on a handful of days this fall, is something really special."

Lake Tahoe is often dubbed one of the premier sporting meccas of North America. With summer boasting staggering single-track, splitter hand cracks and pristine beaches and winter bringing about feet of fluffy powder, could paradise possibly get any sweeter?

"There's nothing like going from paddling around in the lake and then switching gears to snow mode, touring into a full-on powder day," says Lagasse. "The ability to experience both mediums in such a short span of time elicits a stoke that's like nothing else."

What the changing weather patterns, high winds and open minds have done is to create a new sporting medium that gets locals off the couch in an otherwise tedious time in the fall. It has people jumping into Tahoe's chilly waters and coming out with huge smiles and great stories.

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