Nationally ranked amateur and teen surfer Bethany Hamilton caught a wave Saturday indoors at the Kalahari Waterpark Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., as part of the 2004 FlowRider Summer Series competition. Top bodyboarders and participants of various skill levels competed for a spot at the U.S. Amateur FlowRider National Championships to be held in Texas this month. Hamilton, from Kauai, lost her arm in a shark attack last year.

Sport of kings gets
chlorine makeover

A Wisconsin resort hosts a surf contest
indoors with Bethany Hamilton on hand

LAKE DELTON, Wis. >> Nic Huebing thought he had to go to an ocean to catch a wave. Surfing in Wisconsin? Get real, dude.

The 24-year-old assistant manager at the Kalahari Resort and Convention center had to spend his summers in Florida to hang 10.

That was before May, when his bosses at the central Wisconsin resort opened the FlowRider, a contraption in the resort's indoor water park that blasts 50,000 gallons of water a minute up a man-made slope, creating "waves" for wannabe surfers and bodyboarders.

The ride got its official christening Saturday -- with help from Hawaii's Bethany Hamilton -- as Huebing and about 50 other people competed on it to win trips to the seventh annual FlowRider national championships in South Padre, Texas, at the end of this month.

"It's amazing," said Huebing, of Baraboo. "I've been snowboarding, skateboarding my whole life. I haven't found anything that simulates it."

The event had all the makings of a major surfing competition -- if you ignored the walls and roof.

Headlining it all was Hamilton, a top teenage surfer whose left arm was bitten off by a shark off Kauai last October. She has returned to competitive surfing, becoming a media star in the process.

The 14-year-old introduced herself to the crowd in a voice that was nearly a whisper despite her microphone.

"Hi, I'm Bethany," she said. "I just want to say welcome."

She took three tries at surfing the FlowRider before the competition began but wiped out each time. She didn't compete.

She declined an interview request and sat quietly through the competition, twirling her hair and chatting with the resort's lifeguards.

Her father, Tom Hamilton, said she was tired after a whirlwind of appearances during the last few months.

She just returned from Portugal, where she filmed what he called a documentary for Volvo. They plan to stop in Los Angeles where Bethany is scheduled to make an appearance at ESPN's X Games, and her autobiography, "Soul Surfer," is due out in October, he said.

Still, "we thought it might be fun to see another part of the country and experience an artificial wave," Tom Hamilton said. "Funny, most of the top guys here have never seen the ocean."

People as young as 5 signed up to compete in seven divisions.

Some did it as a lark, spinning and showing off for the judges before wiping out in spectacular crashes. Girls blew the crowd kisses. Guys flexed their biceps.

For Huebing, the summers spent surfing in Florida paid off. He won the men's stand-up division with three nearly mistake-free rides in the finals.

He said real surfing is easier. FlowRider boards are skinnier than normal surfboards and don't have a fin for balance. On the plus side, he said he doesn't have to paddle through waves to get set up.

"After a couple times on this, you can pretend you're a good surfer," he said. "It's really good for the imagination."

In Wisconsin, that will have to do.


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