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Sports and Salt
Experience "sort of stunning" sunsets and workout your core at the Great Salt Lake.
By Kelan Lyons
Mention to a Utahn that you're going to spend some time in the city's namesake body of water, and the response is invariably the same: a scrunched-up nose, a look of disdain and some version of the words, Why would you want to do that?
"The lake itself does tend to get a bad rap. People always want to talk about the smell and the bugs," Dave Ghizzone, owner of Gonzo Boat Rentals and Tours, says, though he swears the odor comes from nearby Farmington Bay. Smell be damned, the Great Salt Lake is an underrated spot in the hot summer months for boating, rowing or, for the truly bold, taking a dip. With unbeatable vistas of mountains and magnificent sunsets, braving the bugs and smell is worth it. Plus, Ghizzone says, "Once you're out on the main body of water, there's really no odor at all."
Ditch your preconceptions and get out on the water. Here are some suggestions:
Pedal boats are a great way to kill an afternoon on the water. "They're not very fast, but they are a lot of fun, especially on a calm day," Ghizzone says of the watercrafts. His business rents out four-seater pedal boats, which Ghizzone describes as "kind of a legacy thing" for the Great Salt Lake and "more of a family activity"; children are allowed to join adults, he says, provided they wear a life jacket. The boats are tough to tip over, and peddling isn't difficult because, thanks to the salt, the boats sit up higher on the water, making them great options for weekend warriors who want to spend time with their kids.
Fearful landlubbers, take note: The chances of your boat taking on water in the GSL are low. "You don't have to worry about sinking because the water's so dense," Dave Shearer, the state park's harbor master, says, though he warns sailors to pay attention to weather forecasts. "If the wind picks up, you can get some pretty quick waves out there," he says, but "average daily conditions out here are very good." Shearer recommends prospective boaters check out Sailfest, held in June by the Great Sale Lake Yacht Club, or contact Gonzo Boat Rentals and Tours. "There's plenty of opportunities to get out on the water," he says.
Stand Up Paddleboarding
A cross between surfing and kayaking, stand up paddleboarding is more commonly known by its acronym, SUP, not to be confused with the greeting. SUPers stand on a board and use a paddle to navigate the water, giving their bodies—especially their cores—a full workout while doing their best not to lose their balance and stay dry. Trent Hickman, owner and operator of Park City SUP, says the views GSL SUPers get of the Wasatch Mountain Range, not to mention the sunsets, "can be sort of stunning." Hickman says he doesn't think the saltiness makes SUPing any harder, but, "if it's highly windy or choppy, that can make it incredibly difficult."
Amanda Green, co-owner of Green Adventure Sport Rentals, compared her Great Salt Lake kayaking experience to "paddling through cough syrup." (Ghizzone says there's less resistance in the water because of the salt, rejecting Green's cough syrup comparison, unless you're paddling through waves. And Hickman says the difficulty of paddling through the lake "can be subjective.") Using a kayak, Green says, "you can still have the beauty of seeing everything, but not the itchiness of the salt ... I like it because I don't like to swim." Green encourages potential kayakers not to worry about winged menaces: bugs hug the shoreline, she says, but they're not as prevalent farther out on the water.
Dubbed the "polar opposite of kayaking" by Great Salt Lake Rowing president Irene Lysenko, rowing is a full-body workout in which participants face backward—not forward, as in kayaking—and use a combination of legwork and teamwork to glide through the water while taking in some breathtaking views. "It's incredibly beautiful," Lysenko says. "You just can't beat the sunsets. Beginners, head to the Great Salt Lake Marina on Saturday, June 2 for National Learn to Row Day, where you'll get free rowing education and experience. Those looking for a series of classes should check out the GSLR's lessons page. The best part? "It's low-impact," Lysenko says. "You can row forever. You never age out of it."
Swimming, or, for the less ambitious, floating
To get as close as humanly possible to Jesus' water-walking feat, just lie back. "You can float effortlessly," Shearer, the harbor master, says, thanks to the lake's high salt concentration. Prospective floaters should head to the lake's northern arm, since it's twice as salty as the arm to the south. Visit the popular Bridger Bay Beach to lie back, gaze at the sky and meditate to the sound of the birds as you float in the water's salty embrace. Or, if you're an open-water swimmer, brave the brine flies and shrimp and do some freestyle with a backdrop much prettier than your standard swimming pool or body of open water and soak it all it. This, my friends, is summer in Utah.