Mike Dowdy wakeboarding in sea caves

Mike Dowdy rides Wake Superior

A big part of being the best in the business is being dynamic. It’s about being versatile, creative and curious. One-turn static ponies – although they’re really good at winning – don’t move people. It is the pioneers, the travelers, the astronauts who do it. 2016 Wake Masters Champion and Wakeboard World Champion Mike Dowdy is one of those athletes who refuses to rest after the season or keep their legs on the ice between competitions.

Dowdy is exploring. Like on a recent trip to an extraordinary corner of Lake Superior known as the Apostle Islands where, with the help of a gasoline winch and a speedboat, he found a few hidden lines that no one ‘had traveled before. We caught up with the man and got the story of this amazing trip.

Mike Dowdy walks through a freshwater sea cave

© Ryan Taylor

RedBull.com: This Great Lakes mission looked awesome. What is your connection with the place?

Mike Dowdy: I’m from Michigan, and when I was a kid we used to go on family vacations a lot to the Great Lakes and go to the beach. been to – but without a wakeboard. So transitioning that vibe into my career now is really cool.

Tell us about the Islands of the Apostles; it looks epic.

Basically, the Apostle Islands are a group of islands off Bayfield, Wisconsin in Lake Superior. These are a bunch of sandstone sea caves – I guess the water in Lake Superior has eroded [the stone], making all of these different islands, caves and features.

Come in, winch for Mike Dowdy.

Only one way to get in and out of a sea cave

© Ryan Taylor

Sea caves… in freshwater lakes?

Yes. [Laughs] That’s the technical term, or how I understand it.

So this mission was actually a pioneer-style trip?

Yeah, that was a total expedition style occasion. I’ve never really had the opportunity to wakeboard near the Great Lakes, let alone explore these kinds of natural features. So getting out with the boat, and even with the winch, it was really like exploring.

Dowdy usually finds himself competing instead of exploring places like this.

Dowdy was pulled by a winch to detach himself from the rock

© Ryan Taylor

Do you have your eyes on more places like this for future exploration?

Coincidentally, yes. I actually have a friend who just sent me pictures of a place in Iceland that looks so amazing. I don’t know for sure if he wasn’t “pioneer” or whatever, but it’s definitely a place with epic characteristics that I would really love to explore.

Return to the journey of the Apostle Islands. When you winched through these sea caves, how fast do you think you were moving?

I would say 20-23 mph which is pretty quick for the small size of these caves. It was pretty scary, actually. [Laughs]

Dowdy's technical grapples are the best on the market.

Mike Dowdy throws one last before calling him

© Ryan Taylor

Have you had any accidents or close calls in situations like this?

Nope. But I would say this specific trip was probably the most painful winching experience I have ever had. Mainly because the caves were so narrow the winches weren’t 100% accurate and the guy who operated the winch was on a cliff 30ft high. So we actually had a person in the water yelling at the guy who was operating the winch on the cliff, letting him know when I was ready in the water, who had to let the other guy know. It wasn’t the most ideal winch opportunity, but we made it work for sure.

This might be the only time you see a wakeboarder on a kayak.

Dowdy set up the winch then took the rope out in the kayak

© Ryan Taylor

What about kayaking? What was the deal with you in there?

We had to drag the winch 50 yards through dense forest and then the end point was that cliff that was about 30 feet above the water. The kayak just helped us get the winch tow rope onto the cliff. Then the boat got out and parked near the rock, that’s where I was jibbering when I did this input method. Basically I was winched to shore from the boat offshore… if that makes sense.

Mike Dowdy is the world's highest ranked wakeboarder.

After zooming in the caves, Dowdy went traditional

© Ryan Taylor

As a wakeboard world champion, what does your competition program look like?

I’m pretty much busy eight months a year from March to mid-September, traveling and competing all over the world. So this type of exploratory mission was such a cool change of pace and something that I don’t normally do – a really refreshing feeling of stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s something I don’t do a lot, but it’s something I can’t wait to do more for sure.

Dowdy grew up in the area but never really rode here.

Mike Dowdy slides in sunny Lake Superior

© Ryan Taylor

Does anyone else walk through caves like this in other parts of the world?

I don’t know for sure but not normally. Usually wakeboarding only takes place on normal public or private lakes, or wire yards and winch spots that guys fall down on.

I think the winch is more useful for places you can’t touch or can’t get close enough with a boat. So if there is a little bit of water with a handrail, you can use the winch to pull yourself in. Or in our case, there was a huge sandstone boulder that I wanted to bombard and we couldn’t get the boat close enough to shore. But the winch definitely got me close enough.


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