On the eve of defending his unlikely title, world champion Rob Evans insists that ice surfing’s a surefire hit. Now …


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Dispatches, March 1998

Lights, Action, Cameras?
On the eve of defending his unlikely title, world champion Rob Evans insists that ice surfing’s a surefire hit. Now if only the cable honchos would listen.

Oh, would that he’d ridden to glory in some less obscure sport. Maybe then Rob Evans would be afforded the spoils that a world champion deserves: you know, the endorsements, the dough, the chicks. But sadly, as the planet’s top ice surfer
— and the first-ever American champ — Evans accrues no such perks. In fact, as he prepares to fly into Gizycko, Poland, to defend his title at the upcoming Ice & Snow Sailing World Championships, he’ll be riding a board he jury-rigged himself in his parents’ basement, and the audience of about 300 won’t even include a single kielbasa vendor, much less the
television cameras that surround so many similarly amped-up events back home. “Yeah, this is definitely a rinky-dink thing,” Evans, of Excelsior, Minnesota, admits with a Lake Wobegon gloom, “but it’s a total rush. You’re going so fast, and you’re so close to the ice, and there’s no noise — just you and the wind.”

Indeed, what cable-sports devotees will be missing in Gizycko is a high-speed spectacle that’s essentially boardsailing minus the waves. Ice surfers race on frozen lakes, and when the surface is hard and clear, they affix their boards to huge stainless-steel blades and slice along at speeds of up to 80 miles an hour. Alternatively, when the ice is piled with snow, they run the
ten-mile triangular course atop skis, traveling at a more sedate 40 or 50. Of course, there’s no telling what conditions will be like on Gizycko’s Great Masurian Lakes, but it is certain that the 80-strong field will include few Americans, since the sport, born in Estonia more than two decades ago, remains a largely European phenomenon.

This is a fact that the 34-year-old Evans, by day an entrepreneur who specializes in exporting auto parts and motor oil, vows to change. A world-class yachtsman and four-time member of the U.S. national sailing team, Evans picked up ice surfing nine years ago and for now,
because manufactured rigs are expensive (about $2,000) and rare, he and his Land o’ Lakes buds — the aptly named Steve Cool, who finished third in last year’s worlds, and Jeff Hotvet, who placed 11th — all design their own boards. “Our best ideas,” Evans concedes, “come during late-night sessions heavily inspired by alcohol.” Before last year’s championships, held in
Orillia, Ontario, the muses told Evans to pluck an old ski from his garage and glue it on top of his spruce frame for reinforcement. The contraption worked flawlessly, but this year, as part of his plan to bring ice surfing to the American masses, Evans plans to go high-tech. Teaming with Cool and Hotvet, he has sunk $3,000 into equipment they’ll use to mass-produce boards,
rigging, and sails. The corporate headquarters of their new company, IceWorks, will still be in the basement. But, assures Evans, “We’re going to make boards that are faster. Not a lot faster — but riders will go, you know, a little faster.” And then, maybe, at last, Rob Evans will get his due. — BILL DONAHUE

Photograph by Joe Michl