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North Hills Monthly

Boating is More Than Just Floating

Mar 31, 2016 10:25AM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Boating has always been a favorite pastime for Pittsburghers who love to make good use of the city’s three beautiful rivers. Fishing and relaxing used to be the norm, but in the past few years, boating has taken an adventurous twist.

According to Laurel and Mark Kopaczynski of Eastern H2O in Fox Chapel, wake surfing has become the hottest new sport to splash down in the three rivers area. “Wake surfing is freestyle surfing on the wake of the boat with no rope or anything, like a surfer on the ocean,” explained Mark, adding that wake surfing can be done anywhere you can take a boat. “You can start off by being towed through the water with a rope and then let go, or some guys just step off the boat and onto the board and freestyle surf.” Quality wake surf boards cost approximately $500, and the folks at Eastern H2O will let you demo their boards until you find the perfect one.

“If you want to cruise around and ride the waves, you’ll want to buy a cruiser-style board,” added Laurel. “Skim-style surfers are smaller boards that are mostly geared for doing tricks.”

The next hottest sport on Pittsburgh rivers is wakeboarding, which was practically unheard of in Pittsburgh until 2001. In fact, several local wakeboarders have become so proficient in the sport that they’ve gone on to compete in amateur competitions around the world.

Becky Miller, 22, of Shaler has been wakeboarding for the past 15 years and won the 2014 National and World Amateur Championships. “There are so many opportunities in Pittsburgh for great wakeboarding, and because it’s such a social sport, it’s really enticing people to want to be a part of our friendly boating community,” she said, noting that her family was one of the first on the Allegheny River to start riding the wake.

“Every year we get more and more people into wakeboarding and wake surfing,” said Mark, adding that the sport appeals to all ages. “Wake surfing lets you feel like you’re surfing on the ocean, but it’s closer to home.”

According to the Kopaczynskis, wakeboarding and surfing are relatively safe, family-oriented sports. “You can buy one board for the family and everyone can share it,” said Mark.

Water skiing is still popular, and anyone buying a motor boat might consider buying this rather inexpensive piece of equipment. “Water skis are a great first purchase, along with boating tubes and knee boards,” Laurel recommended, noting that a good pair of skis will cost approximately $150 and tubes will cost the same.

Boaters who want to relax on the water should check out a new product called the Original WaterMat. “This is a big mat (6 x 18 ft.) you take on your boat, and when you’re ready, you can roll it out and lay it out on the water, like a personal dock,” Laurel explained, noting that the floating party mats cost approximately $500. “Little kids can run across the top of it, and as many people as possible can get on it.”

Don’t have a boat? Not a problem! Inexpensive options abound including renting kayaks, canoes and paddleboats from an organization like Venture Outdoors (, which has a rental office at North Park’s Boathouse that is open from Memorial Day until October.

Another option to buying or renting a boat is purchasing a paddle board. According to the Kopaczynskis, paddle boarding has become a popular way to get out on the water for relaxation and exercise. “It’s a great workout,” said Laurel. “Paddle boarding is good for your arms and especially good for your core because you’re balancing while you’re trying to paddle. You’ll definitely feel it the next day.”

To get decent performance, she recommends spending about $800. “You want the board to be thinner and longer, because thick, short boards don’t perform well. You’ll also want to get a board with a gel coat,” she said. The length of a board is based on your weight; bigger people need a bigger board.

Paddle boards are great for people who don’t want the expense of owning a boat, but still want to get out on the water. “Some people outfit them with a tackle box and fishing gear,” said Mark, recommending that beginners wear a life jacket. “When you first learn to paddleboard, you’re going to get wet.” 

If you do buy a boat, you can find all sort of interesting information at, which is a great resource for all things boating in the Pittsburgh area. And remember; anyone born on or after January 1, 1982 must have a safety certificate if they want to operate a vessel over 25 horsepower. To that end, Eastern H2O hosts certification classes for $40. They also offer free safety classes for kayak, canoe and paddleboards.

You can also find Pennsylvania Fish & Board Commission-approved online boating class information and tests at and more information at