City council ponders a ban on electric surfboards

Matt Scherer got a loan from the city to start a new business. Now some city council members are trying to ban it.

click to enlarge City council ponders a ban on electric surfboards
Springfield firefighter Matt Scherer received a low-interest loan from the city to start a new business offering electric surfboard lessons on Lake Springfield. Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath, who represents the area around the lake, has introduced an ordinance to ban the use of such devices.

A group of Springfield city council members are looking to foil the hydrofoil.

The hydrofoil in question is owned by Matt Scherer, an entrepreneur who wants to offer electric surfboard lessons on Lake Springfield.

Scherer said he took out a $27,000 loan from the city of Springfield to start the business but now the city's council members are eyeing outlawing the watercraft at the city's lake.

According to Surfer Today, electric surfboards are specially designed boards powered by lithium-ion batteries that allow riders to glide across any water body at high speeds. They are equipped with an electric jet-propulsion system activated by a wireless handheld remote control and don't rely solely on the energy of waves to gain speed.

Scherer, who is a city firefighter, purchased the surfboard and began offering lessons last summer on Lake Springfield as well as lakes in Decatur and Clinton.

In order to drum up interest in the endeavor, he said he rode the watercraft throughout Lake Springfield, and this apparently angered folks with homes on the lake as well as nearby clubs.

"I guess this all started on the California coast or something, but it's a new product for Illinois," said Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath, who is sponsoring the ordinance to ban such devices. "So here in Illinois, they're not even on their radar yet. Our CWLP people did some research and found out that there is a high capacity of accidents and things like that.

"And we're pretty concerned with the safety of them. We've had a lot of calls from homeowners and from homeowners' associations who are obviously opposed to them. I've also had calls from people that are in the council of clubs out at the lake who believe this is a too dangerous situation."

City Water, Light and Power administers Lake Springfield.

The ordinance banning electric surfboards was to be voted on Jan. 30, but Redpath temporarily pulled it from the agenda and expects it to return for a vote this month.

Scherer said he has repeatedly sought to discuss the matter with Redpath but said the alderman has not returned any of his calls.

He said he is willing to work with members of the city council to restrict the use of the electric surfboards to certain coves or to make other compromises.

He added some of the information provided to council members about the personal watercraft is inaccurate. The accidents that they have been informed about involve surfboards pulled behind motorboats – not self-powered ones like he uses, Scherer said.

Scherer said he remains perplexed as to why the city would have provided him with a low-interest loan to start the business if it did not want him to operate the watercraft on the lake.

"Well, I was perplexed by it, too," Redpath said. "We had no idea the mayor did this. He has spending authority up to $50,000 that he can use without city council approval. And I don't know that the mayor realized the whole extent of this vehicle that he wants to put on the lake. I have brought it to his attention and CWLP has talked to the mayor about it, too. So, I think it slipped through cracks."

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at