NeilPryde sent a small team of riders to test their new range of wetsuits and accessories… in South Dakota, USA. In the middle of nowhere. All I knew about the place was that Mont Rushmore is nearby and something about Dances With Wolves.
I didn’t know what to expect — I had heard about the wild nature and extreme conditions. Due to the warm winds coming up from Mexico and meeting the freezing Canadian fronts, the weather can be very fickle and change in a day. Dakota was unchartered territory for water sports.
I watched The Revenant on the plane, much of which was set in South Dakota, and this got me excited. There just wasn’t a lot of water there!
Day 1 - Arrival
After more than 20 hours of traveling I landed in Rapid City, the capital of South Dakota.
The airport was literally deserted apart from the passengers that arrived. No people, no security, no taxis. Even the free shuttle to town had gone home. After a few phone calls they promised to send one for us.
The date was April 27th. Even in northern Europe the days were warmer and nights balmy. Not on that day in Rapid City. It was 5 degrees Celsius and snowing. Heavily.
The team gathered in the historic Alex Johnson hotel in Rapid City — a charming downtown building designed in German tudor style and brimming with authentic Native American decor. Basically a lot of animal heads. The hotel is also apparently haunted — you can even book a Ghost Adventure Package stay.
The team gathered at the bar for a pre-shoot brief and a beer or two: Antoine Martin, a pro windsurfer, Melissa Gill, a pro water woman from Costa Rica, Alex Zenovic from the NP brand, photographer Christian Black, videographer Elliot Leboe and our local guide Dr. Bill Young. There was general concern (and excitement) about the weather forecast and plans were made.
The day started like the previous one finished — 5 degrees and snowing. We decided to head to the nearby Black HIlls and try just how good the new wind-chill-proof Armor-Skin material is.
But first we headed through the historic town of Deadwood. Yup, it’s not just an HBO series — it’s a real place. Wild Bill Hickok was allegedly shot in Deadwood at Saloon Number 10 while playing poker. This place has an amazing collection of guns and animal heads. It’s stunning and a real piece of midwest Americana.
Moving on, we traveled up to Terry Peak — with all our water gear and armed with wetsuits. Terry Peak has an elevation of 2153m and was completely covered in snowed when we arrived. The nearby ski slope was the perfect first test for the suits and to see how our boards work in snow. The suits kept us warm despite the chilly wind and fun was had by all.
On the way back, the beautiful winter scenery provided the perfect backdrop for some amazingly unusual photos.
We refuelled with some sausages at the German-themed Sled Haus before stopping off at Bill’s best friends’ amazing log house.
The place was like a museum — full of interesting trinkets, Native American artefacts, hunting rifles and the ubiquitous animal heads.
No wind today but what an amazing adventure so far.
The next day, the snow persisted.
We headed to Pactola Lake to try our luck with the wind, despite the freezing temperatures. Pactola Lake is the largest reservoir in the Black Hills of South Dakota and is created by the Pactola Dam.
We were greeted by little wind but amazing vistas of the lake, bordered with snow-covered coniferous trees.
After some SUP-ing to explore the lake, the wind picked up and I decided to try my luck with a Cabrinha Double Agent Foil. These things can go in nearly no wind but the few puffs weren’t enough on the day.
Instead, I went for a swim. The water was about 8 degrees and freezing! The warm wetsuit and booties kept most of the cold out but I couldn’t feel my hands after a minute in the water and my head felt as if I had just eaten three scoops of ice creams at once. Ouch.
Elliot spotted a bald eagle and we chased it around the lake for a while to get his Nat Geo shot.
Our daily burger fix was supplied by the healthily-titled Sugar Shack which supplies ‘the best burgers in the Hills’. A dubious statement but they did let me flip one or two.
On our return to the hotel we explored the nearby ‘art alley’. Dakota didn’t stop surprising us as it suddenly felt like we were in a back alley of New York. Antoine was especially at home with posing.
More and more snow.
We headed back into the Hills to explore another lake. Antoine and Meli took to some paddle boarding while I tried to test my limits by seeing for how long I can kite naked. There wasn’t enough wind for this but we got some shots for good measure. Antoine even managed to surf down a snowy slope and into the water on his iSUP.
We heard there might be more wind at the state’s biggest lake so we quickly packed our gear and took off — but not before stopping for another Sugar Shack grease refill.
As we drove south, the sky got darker but the wind was definitely picking up. When we arrived at Lake Angostura, it was howling. Angostura is actually a reservoir on the Cheyenne River, one of the bigger bodies of water in the area. I got my smallest FX kite and the Double Agent foil and jumped in as quickly as I could. Despite the moody skies the scenery was beautiful — and the water freezing. The good news was that the suits were working! We had a great session, in 20-30 knot winds and nine degree water.
Finally the weather started improving and there was wind on the horizon. On the way to our next destination, the beautiful Sylvan Lake, we stopped off to see Mount Rushmore, one of America’s most recognisable tourist spots. In glorious sunshine, we took in this magnificent monument and I got George Washington to wear an NP cap.
The road to Sylvan took us via The Needles — eroded granite pillars, towers and spires that create an unforgettable landscape. We threaded through the needles via a serpentine-like single lane road.
At Sylvan Lake we got to explore the area on our SUPs. Sylvan is nestled in the hills of Custer State Park at an elevation of 1873m — so any wind that you get is pretty gusty. This time we were lucky and I managed to get going on a foil, after some freezing moments in the water. I think I was probably the first kiteboarder to kite on this pristine lake and it was an incredible experience.
After Sylvan, we went home to pick up our camping gear and headed to the infamous Badlands for a night under the stars. But not before stopping for a drink at Bill’s friends’ amazing home — complete with an 1800’s saloon bar.
When we arrived at our Badlands camp site it was dark and we weren’t 100% sure where we were. At the break of dawn, we were struck by an unforgettable sight: an otherworldly, rocky landscape stretching as far as the eye can see. Beautiful morning light bounced of the eroded sedimentary rock generating a myriad of colours that warmed the crisp morning air.
After spending a good hour taking photos and enjoying the view we set off for some kiting. On the way I spotted a milky-white pond created by water mixing with white Badlands sand and thought it would be amazing to kite it.
We had to stop a few hundred metres from the pond so I pumped up my kite and ran down the road with it — much to the amusement of passing truck drivers. The pond was so shallow I had to take my fins off but the ride was wild — especially since I had to jump over some barbed wire to get going.
It was time to go home. This place was incredible and a trip of a lifetime. We got to experience four seasons in one week, saw buffaloes, elks and other wildlife, took in the most incredible scenery, and got to kite board some amazing places — what more could you ask for.