Big Island summer

STORY BY KARA NESVIG | PHOTOS BY COURTNEY PERRY | Updated 8/1/2013

Get purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka's go-to party spot.

Close your eyes and repeat after me: Lake Minnetonka. For some, those two words conjure up a sun-dappled water paradise, the place where one can take a Prince-endorsed “purifying” dip, a grand summer tradition of sun ’n’ fun with family and friends.

For others, the very idea sounds like hell, with boats full of rich-kid bros in Oakleys spraying beer at chicks falling out of their bikini tops, and divorced dads attempting to recapture their youth in flashy speedboats.

Guess what? It’s both.

Minnesotans love our summers. We wait for the cold to finally end. When the sun comes out and the lakes thaw, boats are freed from their garage prisons and docked at cabins and marinas. We eagerly shed our winter layers and race to the water. For some, that’s Calhoun and Harriet, or perhaps a cabin Up North. But for many others, it’s Minnetonka.

Lake Minnetonka is probably our most famous body of water, save for the boring old Mississippi. Kim Kardashian didn’t care about the Boundary Waters, did she? No. She was out on Minnetonka’s notorious Big Island with then-fiancé Kris Humphries. Lake Minnetonka comes with its own special lore; remember when that handful of Vikings got in big trouble for allegedly doing naughty stuff on a houseboat in 2005? There’s a reason KDWB hosts its Booty Cruise out there.

Lake Minnetonka is quite large, spanning about 125 miles of shoreline. The suburbs of Excelsior, Wayzata, Minnetonka, Deephaven, Orono and Mound ring the shore, and many of their affluent residents build lavish houses on the lake. Their children grow up on the water in tricked-out pontoon boats. They know the terrain intimately.

“It’s like the Hamptons is to New York,” said Braden Solum, who grew up in Deephaven and sails on Minnetonka. “There’s a lot of money out here, sure, but it didn’t make me jaded. It made me appreciate it 10 times more. The towns on the lake are like little Norman Rockwell towns.”

So: What if you’re an outsider with a yearning to get out on this famous lake, stranded with no boat of your own and no friend willing to take you along? I’ve been there.

I grew up with lake culture, spending many hours of my youth on a boat on big Detroit Lake, about 200 miles from Minneapolis. Detroit’s sandbar is where the parties happen, but it was nothing like the mythical Big Island. I’d heard tales of the debauchery that goes on out there: people hooking up in the water, cocaine, cougars. You name it, I’ve heard it and I’m sure you have, too. I have an appetite for adventure, so I wanted to see it for myself.

Last summer, I rounded up my flirtiest, chattiest girlfriends and we headed to the lake. Scratch that — we headed to Lord Fletcher’s, a restaurant/bar with adjoining docks for boats to pull right up should the need for a cocktail arise.

Lake Minnetonka is basically anchored by Fletcher’s on the north end and Maynard’s in Excelsior on the south side. If you’re a single girl who wants to get on a boat, these are the spots where you should be hanging out. There was no shortage of men who bought us Grape Apes and Bud Light Limes, offered to take us out and handed me their numbers. We met college bros and bouncers, dudes who invited us to hang out with them after-bar. One even got lucky with one of my girlfriends. Both bars are party central; Fletcher’s has a volleyball court while Maynard’s has outdoor TVs. Locals like to hop between the two.

But once you’re out on the lake on someone’s boat, you’re stuck there. I didn’t feel 100 percent safe just hopping on a random Joe’s boat and getting Natalee Holloway’ed, so this year we decided to rent a pontoon of our own from Metro Lakes Marina in Mound. With a passel of trusty girlfriends (and one boy!), my brother, and a 22-year-old hired captain named Tyler Theis (of Deephaven by way of Texas), not to mention coolers full of beer and two full bottles of vodka, we hit the water on a sunny, gorgeous Sunday. “I’m just gonna smile all day,” said my brother, leaning back against his seat and taking a big drink of Grain Belt. “This is the American Dream.” On a boat with a bunch of hot chicks on a sunny summer day? Probably. *

Our handsome young captain has spent the past six summers driving boats around the lake, so he knew exactly where to take us. He told me he’d seen a lot of crazy things in his time, but wasn’t sure how much he should share. I get it, Tyler. (He did tell me he once gassed up Kris Humphries’ boat.)

Soon we dropped anchor at Big Island and began making new friends. It’s as easy as a honk and a smile. “This side is the party side,” said the tattooed and muscled Nate Rietsma, who had motored out from St. Louis Park with some of his friends. We hooked our boat up to theirs and before I knew it, there was a chain of several boats all tied together — making it easy to hop from boat to boat. All you do is grab your beer, jump in and socialize.

We took shots of Captain Morgan on a boat called “Alotta Chaos,” filled with friendly gay men who peeked down my bikini top. (“If nobody asks me to take my top off, this day is a waste,” said my friend Chrissy.) “Is your brother gay?” one guy asked. “His shorts are kind of short.” They were not pleased to learn that my cute brother is straight.

We met a girl who had just been to Mexico to get married but returned with no ring or husband in sight. I successfully executed a bikini-top change, and no one batted an eye at the almost-topless girl on the boat.

Slightly emboldened by booze, I jumped onto the boat of Chris Brabant of Ramsey and chatted with him and his friend Josh Dallheimer of Maple Grove. Like true gentlemen, they immediately offered me a beer, which I obviously accepted. The two said they come out to the lake any chance they get in summer, specifically to Big Island. “The island is an adult environment, not a bunch of little kids at the beach,” Brabant said.

Around us, music was blasting, conversations were sparking and dudes were tossing a football from boat to boat. It was basically an aquatic frat party. The chill of the midsummer lake water didn’t stop anyone from wading around. A boy drinking from an almost-empty bottle of vodka was about to throw it in the lake, only to be stopped by his girlfriend. “Don’t litter!” She wailed. “I won’t … for you,” he replied. Where that bottle ended up I’ll never know.

“This is heaven on Earth,” Dallheimer said, surveying the scene. “On the 4th of July, it’s just straight boats. It’s like the State Fair between the boats. They should call it Sin Island.”

Big Island is so dear to its fans that it even has its own Twitter account, @BigIslandMN. Unfortunately, the true identity of the island could not be revealed at press time, but its creator tweets things like, “I’m soo parched. What day is it again?” to its 1,500-plus followers. I’m pretty sure it’s a bro because they’re always tweeting about hot chicks.

Everyone I met on Big Island that day was from out of town; I guess the locals stayed home. “Everyone’s view of the lake is a little different,” Solum said. “Sailors don’t like Big Island — too many people pissing in the water. The party scene, those are people coming from the city.”

Oops, that was us. And we’re gonna be back. Clouds began to roll in and as my luck would have it, we got caught in a freak rainstorm. Thank god Captain Tyler was at the wheel, steering us to safety. But it had been a perfect day — we’d gotten some sun, drank some beer and met some nice folks. How very Minnesotan.

Big Island Tips

Stay hydrated. Bring water!

“The Water Patrol is no joke,” says boater Chris Brabant. “If you’re at the island on a busy day, it might be a good idea to leave when the majority of the boats do so you don’t stand out.”

Don’t get on a boat with random strangers unless you feel super-comfortable with them.

Rent a boat. Get 10-plus friends and it’ll cost you about $30-$40 each for five hours of fun. Plus, if you get a captain, nobody has to stay sober enough to drive.

Smile and wave at other boats. That’s how you make friends.

Get out in the water. Jump in and go socialize with other boaters. Offering beer and/or shots is helpful here.

Stop at the bars. Maynard’s (685 Excelsior Blvd., Excelsior, 952-470-1800) has good cheese curds. Lord Fletcher’s (3746 Sunset Dr., Spring Lake Park, 952-471-8513) has gorgeous evening views.

Big Island Playlist

Songs we actually heard on the lake:

Kid Rock, “All Summer Long”

Florida Georgia Line, “Cruise”

Kanye West & company, “Mercy”

My Darkest Days, “Porn Star Dancing”

Chingy, “Holidae In”

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Scar Tissue”

The Mamas & the Papas, “California Dreamin’