Sunday, July 01, 2012

Laker Kids: On-Water Ideas and Off-Water Adventures

Smith Mountain Lake attracts wake sport enthusiasts galore as it continues to become known for its outstanding sporting conditions. Is your child interested in skiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing or wakeskating? The SML community offers an outlet for involvement in each sport as well as opportunities for sailing, paddleboarding, fishing and more.

    Learn the ways of the wakeboard with coach Chris Bittinger. An avid boarder and competitor, Bittinger enjoys helping others experience the thrill of the ride.

“I will teach both kids and adults about wake boarding, surfing, skating and skiing. Basically, anything you can do behind a boat, I will teach,” said Bittinger. “Through my Wake Up business, I show customers how to do the sport, give them techniques they can practice at home on land and tips on how to pull a wakeboarder behind your boat.”

Bittinger offers a range of coaching packages, including a one-hour lesson using the customer’s boat ($75), one hour using his Mastercraft wake boat ($150), a half day ($500) or full day for a single or group ($1,000).

For more information on private lessons, group lessons or a family wake-sport outing, contact Bittinger at 540-355-1038 or wakeupsml@hotmail.com.

    William and Andrew Kettlety enjoy wakeboarding, tubing and fishing while at their home on Smith Mountain Lake, but the 12-year-old twin brothers are crazy about water skiing.

“Our favorite part about water skiing is getting outside on the lake and skiing with our friends,” said Andrew. “We usually go to either Silver Creek cove, the slalom ski courses at Bull Run Creek or Gills Creek.”

The brothers, along with dad Richard, are members of the SML Water Ski Club. Club president Todd Rowland said the group’s youth participants are as young as 5.

“We have a lot of families involved,” Rowland said. “Our events are always open to the public. Interestingly, a lot of vacationers contact us and want to connect with our group while they’re here. They can come and watch at our events or, if they have time to volunteer, we’ll try to accommodate them.”

William Kettlety said kids at Smith Mountain Lake are sure to enjoy trying out the sport of skiing if they’re interested.

 “Skiing is fun and good exercise,” he said. “If you’re a beginner, the main thing to remember is to keep trying hard and have fun.”

Ready to get on the water with a pair of skis? Check out the SML Water Ski Club’s website at smlwater-ski.org for more information.

    Introducing a child to the sport of sailing is a win for everyone involved. They will be captivated riding a sailboat through the water as they are challenged by learning how to operate it. Sharing the experience with mom, dad or a sibling can create memories of a lifetime.

Pete Phillip, Blackwater Yacht Racing Association (BYRA) member and owner of the Smith Mountain Lake Sailing School, encourages sailing lessons with a licensed instructor where students will learn about safety, navigation, wind conditions and how to prepare properly for a sailboat excursion.

“You want the experience to be fun and something you’ll want to come back and do again,” said Phillip. “Our school caters to novice sailors.”

Another way to experience sailing at SML is through a chartered sailboat ride with Phillip. Family members can relax and enjoy the fun of sailing and quality time together.
Want to make sailing memories with your kids? Contact Phillip at 540-719-0009 or visit smithmountainlakesailing.com or smithmountainlakesailingcharters.com.

    One of the more recent water sports to catch on at SML is paddleboarding. The surf-inspired activity allows board riders to coast comfortably over the water, using a long paddle for momentum. They can also practice yoga-like stretching, strength and balance exercises on the board. Luke Hopkins, owner of Stride, a paddleboard manufacturing and sales company that covers Virginia and North Carolina, offers group paddleboarding clinics at Smith Mountain Lake.

Hopkins said children have a natural advantage on a paddleboard.

“Kids have a lower center of gravity and are extremely agile, so right off they’re really good at paddleboarding. It is harder to keep their attention though, so we let them be creative and play around and have fun. It’s an activity that is growing very quickly because parents can go paddleboarding with their young children on the board and children love it,” said Hopkins.

Take a paddle boarding expedition with your family by renting paddle boards from a local marina, purchasing one at Wake Zone Water Sports at Bridgewater Plaza, or participating in a group clinic with Hopkins by calling 540-315-4441.

    Reeling in a big one is the type of water fun some kids dream about. Smith Mountain Lake is a perfect place to enjoy a family fishing trip or a relaxing cast-off from the dock. Local fishing guide Kenny Short, owner of Kenny’s Striper Guide Service, has been helping locals and guests hook stripers at SML since 2002. Short said summer is the time for families to book a trip in hopes of making a memorable catch.

“The kids get excited, the little ones like to play with the bait,” said Short. “I get a lot of repeat families who had so much fun they can’t wait to go back out. It’s an activity that gets kids out on the water and that the whole family can participate in.”

Dale Wilson, who has operated Captain Dale Wilson’s Smith Mountain Lake Guide Service since 1972, said he recommends getting kids started as early as 6 or 7 years old, depending on the individual child’s attention span.

“If you get them started at an early age, fishing is something they can potentially enjoy for the rest of their lives. And having a good first experience can make all the difference,” said Wilson, a former high school teacher. “I like to see kids have fun and learn something.”

And while most professional guides provide the fishing equipment, parents need to bring snacks, sunscreen and a fishing license for each qualifying person. Out-of-state participants 12 years or older are required to have a license. A Virginia resident 16 years or older needs a license, which can be purchased at area marinas, tackle shops and other retail stores. Fees vary. Visit www.dgif.virginia.gov for details.

To find a list of fishing guide services at SML, pick up a copy of the 2012 Laker Out & About, available in racks around the region and at the Visitor Center at Bridgewater Plaza.

    Towing inflatables is a popular way to give children a thrilling ride while the adults capture their ecstatic expressions on camera. Local marinas and sporting goods retailers offer big, bouncy pull-behinds for rent or purchase in all shapes, color and sizes.

Magnum Boating at Indian Pointe Marina and Bridgewater Marina are two locations that sell and rent inflatables. Bridgewater Marina managing partner Roy Enslow, one of the community’s leading water safety advocates, said inflatables are safe for children as long as you keep a few rules in mind.

•    Always, even if you are over 13 years of age, wear a lifejacket when using a tube or other towable.

•    Make sure your towable is properly stowed when not in use and the boat is underway so it doesn’t bounce around or hit someone sitting in the boat.
•    Keep everyone seated inside the boat when someone is being towed.

•    Make sure you have an observer to watch whoever is on the inflatable and to alert the driver if he or she needs to slow down or stop. The observer should be at least 10 years of age.
•    Inflatables should only be used during daylight hours, never in the dark.

•    Lastly, whoever is using the inflatable is considered a passenger on the towing vessel. If your boat has a maximum capacity of 12, you can NOT have 12 people on your boat plus someone being pulled on an inflatable. Doing so exceeds your boat’s maximum capacity, which is dangerous and can put all your passengers at risk.


    Families craving some sand, water and sun time can find satisfaction at one of Smith Mountain Lake’s two public beach areas, each a fixture of the community’s main parks.

This 1,248-acre state park, located in Bedford County, offers one of the prime locations for a great view of SML’s mountain and lake beauty. The largest of the two beaches, its 500-foot span can accommodate up to 1,000 people, watched over by trained lifeguards. There’s also volleyball, a playground, picnic pavilion, on-site restrooms and snack vending machines nearby. Swimming fees are $3 on weekdays and $4 on weekends. 540-297-6066, virginiastateparks.gov

SML Community Park in Franklin County offers a beach spot open daily from June through August, complete with a guarded sandy beach, buoyed swimming area and free admission. A large picnic shelter and on-site restrooms are available. 540-483-9293, franklincountyva.org/parks

    Safety on the water is a vital part of enjoying recreation at Smith Mountain Lake. To help parents and children understand the importance of wearing a properly fitting life jacket while participating in any lake activity, Bridgewater Marina managing partner Roy Enslow and his wife, MG, founded the Life Jackets are Lifesavers program in 2010.

    “The program promotes child boating safety by rewarding children who are wearing life jackets,” said Roy Enslow. “We give a lifesaver candy, symbolic of a lifesaver ring, to any child wearing a properly fitting lifejacket.”

    Enslow said the program’s message has been expounded by a presence at regional events and media attention.

    “For the past three summers, the program has been kicked off at the annual [Southwest Virginia] Boat Show and lasted the entire summer. It has encouraged numerous articles in local publications, reminding parents of the importance of their children wearing life jackets. So far, the program has been extremely effective in promoting boating safety, especially with children,” he said.

Enslow provided a few suggestions for parents in regard to child safety while on the water. 

Make sure each child’s life jacket fits properly and is zipped and clipped.

Federal law requires that all children under the age of 13 wear a lifejacket while on the water, but you are never too old to wear a one.

Assign an adult to make sure the size and weight of the lifejacket fits each child correctly and to make sure they are behaving in a safe manner during every boat outing.

Consider assigning each child a seat on the boat to make it easier to keep track of where they are at all times.

When the weather isn’t cooperating or you need a break from on-water activities, Smith Mountain Lake offers a wide variety of land-based experiences to entertain kids and adults. A round of mini-golf, a movie on the big screen or a hands-on educational outing is only the beginning of what your family can enjoy while at the lake.

    A hole-in-one for fun, Bridgewater Plaza at Hales Ford Bridge offers a diverse range of activities in addition to dining and shopping options.

Kids love to fly high on the bungee trampoline at The Midway. Located at the center of Bridgewater Plaza’s outdoor hot spots, The Midway presents a mini-carnival for indoor/outdoor games and prizes. Kim Wills brought daughters Katelyn and Claira and a few friends to the amusement center during a day trip from Roanoke.

“I think Bridgewater Plaza is a great place to come. There are plenty of things for kids to do, and even though there is a bar near The Midway, no one is rowdy and everyone is respectful,” said Wills.

Claira, 5, said her favorite part of The Midway is the bungee trampoline, a sentiment echoed by her sister and their friends. The business also offers a 30-foot rock-climbing wall, basketball toss, ring toss and goblet toss games.

Harbortown Mini Golf includes 18 holes of creative putt-putt challenges elevated 15 feet over the lake. Open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, the course is one of the plaza’s oldest and most-visited attractions and a great activity for all ages. Cost for a round is $5 for children, $6 for adults.

Fun-N-Games Arcade is a kid’s paradise when it comes to rainy-day destinations. The indoor arcade is full of video games, rides for small children, skee-ball and more. Eight-year-old Anna Larsen couldn’t get enough of the simulated motorcycle course during a Saturday afternoon outing.

“The motorcycles are hard because I’m still too little to ride them well, but they’re my favorite,” she said. “I’ve won prizes at the crocodile game. [The arcade] is kind of like Chuck-E-Cheese, but there are more games.”

Feeding the carp that reside at the docks near Bridgewater Marina is an SML tradition for many families. Kids get a kick out of throwing popcorn and waffle cone to the frenzied fish that are in constant congregation. Visit the marina store for fish-feeding options, or try the Ice Cream Cottage for free pieces of waffle cone after the marina store closes.

Harbortown Mini Golf: 540-814-1613
The Midway: 540-352-7136
Fun-N-Games Arcade: 540-721-5959
Bridgewater Marina: 540-721-1639

Hot Shots offers something for every member of the family. Summertime attractions such as the bumper boats pool, cannonball air-blaster and mini golf course are perfect off-water fun-in-the-sun activities to try. An indoor area offers arcade games, pool table, televisions and casual food options, including ice cream and a coffee bar. 13360 B.T. Washington Hwy., Moneta. 540-719-1547, smlhotshots.com

Both fascinating and fun, Booker T. Washington National Monument is a park dedicated to the memory of historic figure Booker T. Washington. Washington grew up as a slave on what was a Franklin County tobacco farm and overcame insurmountable odds to become an influential statesman and founder of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The monument, part of the National Parks Service, offers site tours, educational activities, documentaries and instructional programs catering to family visits and children’s education. There is also a variety of animals for the kids to see, including horses, chickens and pigs. 12130 B.T. Washington Hwy., Hardy. (540) 721-2094, nps.gov/bowa

Smith Mountain Lake State Park
Treat the family to endless outdoor activities at Bedford County’s 1,248-acre Smith Mountain Lake State Park. The kids will love all the adventures to be had at this camping getaway complete with handicap-accessible fishing pier, 14 miles of hiking trails, children’s programs, campfires, geocaching, musical performances, osprey hikes and more. 540-297-6066, virginiastateparks.gov

Smith Mountain Lake Community Park
Smith Mountain Lake Community Park is a 37-acre retreat for families in Franklin County with a playground facility, scenic hiking trails and spacious handicap-accessible fishing pier. A large picnic shelter and on-site restrooms are available. 540-483-9293, franklincountyva.org/parks

    Take the kids on an expedition at Westlake Safari Mini Golf. Your little ones will want one, two, three go-rounds at this family-friendly activity in the heart of Westlake, near Joe’s Pizza. 130 Scruggs Rd., Moneta. 540-721-2234

The Smith Mountain Lake area boasts two public courses for the golf lovers in your family. Mariners Landing Golf & Country Club in Huddleston features an 18-hole semi-private course designed by Robert Trent Jones that is open year-round. 540-297-7888, marinerslandinggolf.com

The Westlake Golf & Country Club is an 18-hole course designed by Virginia native Russell Breeden. Semi-private, the course is open to the public daily. 540-721-4214, golfthewestlake.com

Taking in a showing of the latest hit movie is a great way to get in some family time and break up the intensity of on-the-water activities. Children are favored guests at the SML area’s two movie theaters.

Westlake Cinema is a four-plex movie theater with stadium seating, concessions and lobby-area arcade games open daily throughout the summer. The theater features first-run movies, a state-of-the-art sound system and Real D 3D technology. Ticket prices range from $7.50 to $9.50. For show times, pricing details and more, visit westlakecinema.com or call 540-721-6326.

The retro-style drive-in theater on a spacious countryside plot in Bedford County offers a variety of kiddo favorites, including children’s movie picks beginning at dusk on weekends, amusement rides, concessions and a playground area. Arrive early to select your drive-in spot and treat the family to a timeless tradition they’ll not soon forget. Adult movie tickets are $7, kids 11 and under are $3 with 4 and under free. 540-296-1480, mayberrydrivein.com

If you have the time to venture outside of Smith Mountain Lake’s immediate area, following are a few family-friendly activities located just a short drive away.

Natural Bridge of Virginia
Natural Bridge is a captivating natural attraction a little over an hour’s drive north of Smith Mountain Lake in Rockbridge County. Visit the bridge and its many fascinating attractions, including an indoor butterfly garden, toy museum and wax museum. 800- 533-1410, naturalbridgeva.com

Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest
Expose your kids to some interesting history at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, located less than an hour east of SML in Forest. Rich in history, Poplar Forest was built as a retreat for our nation’s third president and offers guided and self-guided tours, exhibits and the chance to watch meticulous historic restoration in progress. 434-525-1806, poplarforest.org

National D-Day Memorial
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, about 30 minutes from the lake, is a sobering and fascinating tribute to all allied forces who participated in the invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, during World War II. The site offers tours and numerous special events throughout the summer. 800-351-3329, dday.org

Taubman Museum of Art
Your kids will be captivated by the youth-oriented Art Venture studio, gallery treasure hunts and art activity bags for kids offered on Saturdays. The museum is a striking structure in downtown Roanoke, about 45 minutes from most parts of SML. 540-342-5760, taubmanmuseum.org

Virginia Museum of Transportation
Kids and parents get an engaging experience seeing and learning about the history of rail transportation at this downtown Roanoke museum. Explore steam and diesel engines, cabooses, model trains and hands-on exhibits. There’s also a gallery of vintage cars, gift shop and more. 540-342-5670, vmt.org