06/25/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Brandi Barnett
Photos: Alexis LeClair
Villa Lagos - Private Water Ski and Wakeboard Lakes
Eric Pettinger's love of water skiing can be traced back to his time growing up in Red Bluff when he’d zoom across the Sacramento River.
The 60-year-old former two-time U.S. slalom water ski champion would happily return to those boyhood days on the river and on Lake Red Bluff except for one thing: he owns a lake dedicated to water skiing. And a lake dedicated to wakeboarding.
“It was fun. I really enjoyed it,” Pettinger says of his childhood exploits. “But once you get to a private lake with 85-degree water and optimum conditions, it’s hard to go back.”
Pettinger built Villa Lagos in 1998, carving the two lakes out of a 68-acre oat field. The project was undertaken partly out of convenience—he says it was getting too hard to stage water ski competitions on public lakes—and to provide the best possible skiing conditions.
For years, Pettinger dreamed of creating a lake dedicated to water skiing, where athletes could glide across glass-smooth water free of anglers, houseboats, buoys and other obstacles. What he didn’t have was a location.
“You start out with the idea and then you’re always looking for property, and then one day you stumble across a piece,” he says. In this case, it was a field of winter oats near Gerber, eight miles southwest of Red Bluff. “We started measuring things off and ended up buying some equipment.”
The end result was a pair of lakes open year-round to skiers and wakeboard riders.
“The original plan was to have two slalom lakes and have homeowners on one and members on another,” Pettinger says.
“As wakeboarding started becoming more popular, we decided to make the second one a wakeboard lake. It’s a little bit deeper, no islands and a little wider in the center.”
To keep the water as smooth as possible, Pettinger oriented both lakes to align with the prevailing winds and ringed them with trees to provide wind breaks. On the water ski lake, which is between five and eight feet deep, softened banks help prevent wakes from bouncing back to the lake’s center.
The wakeboard lake is a couple feet deeper to create larger wakes, and it features rails, kickers and sliders—features typically found in skateboard parks—to give users more options. “Wakeboarders do grinds on the rails and a lot of inverts and spins off the kickers, and even off the sliders. It’s really amazing what they’re able to do. These kids have amazing balance,” Pettinger says.
Villa Lagos is served by the El Camino Irrigation District and both lakes were filled well before California’s current water shortage. “Once they’re full, it takes a minimum amount of water to maintain them. We seal them up pretty good. Like everything else, water is money,” Pettinger says.
The move toward private lakes started in Southern California in 1968 and has spread north. Pettinger says there are about 20 private lakes in the Chico-Orland-Redding area, “but people just don’t notice them because they’re tucked away.”
More and more, the people who skied on public lakes like Shasta and Whiskeytown are opting for private lakes and Pettinger says wakeboarders are beginning to follow suit. “Wakeboarding is coming on very strong. Young people in the sport are leaning toward the wakeboard side. You don’t notice the water skiing as much because those people are off on private lakes.”
Business at Villa Lagos picks up during the warmer months, with a lot of users coming from the San Francisco Bay Area and even locally from Lake Almanor. “Even though they live by a lake, they’re coming here for the perfect conditions,” Pettinger says.
Interest in Villa Lagos also picked up in 2012 when a federal court judge ordered the Bureau of Reclamation to permanently raise the gates of the Red Bluff Diversion Dam, effectively ending Lake Red Bluff’s 46-year run. (The lake was formed when the gates were lowered to fill the Tehama-Colusa Canal.)
“With the lake closing, water skiing and recreation has gone away, and we’ve been able to fill that void for local enthusiasts,” Pettinger says. The lakes have also been a popular training ground for Chico State University’s wakeboard team, which won the Collegiate Wakeboard National Championship in 2012.
Nor Cal Hot August Nights, the summer’s first INT-sanctioned ski and wakeboard competition, will be held Aug. 2-3 at Villa Lagos. Additional events are tentatively scheduled for September and October.
8301 State Highway 99W, Gerber
For annual membership and day-use information, call (530) 527-2600