Winter, spring, summer or fall, if you’re a sports fan, you’re sure to find a sporting event to participate in or watch in Okoboji.
From bike rides to ice fishing, to tennis tournaments to winter games, many of the area’s long-standing events have evolved over time and grown with more participants, said Kiley Zankowski, director of marketing and events for the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber of Commerce.
The sporting events the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber now operates has expanded include a variety of different sporting events, including triathalons, marathons, a 10K and a 5K during the University of Okoboji Homecoming Weekend the third Saturday of July. Last year the event had 700 registered athletes from 19 different states.
Another large-drawing event includes the variety of sporting events during the University of Okoboji Winter Games weekend in January, which includes broomball, an indoor pickleball tournament, a 5K fun run, and a cribbage tournament, along others.
While there are a number of participants who return year-after-year, a lot of new faces spring up, as well, she said.
“We love to poll our participants to see who has participated before, and we do often hear of new people coming to the Iowa Great Lakes for the first time to participate in these events,” Zankowski said.
For anglers of all skill levels, the Iowa Great Lakes offers a number of opportunities to catch some fish all year round.
Walleye Weekend – held the first full weekend in May- has typically drawn some of the biggest crowds of all the events the chamber hosts, Zankowski said. The event, now in its 41st year, offers participants a chance to catch one of 10 tagged walleyes worth $41,000, as well as other prizes.
Last year, the event drew in participants from over a dozen states.
The Iowa Great Lakes Fishing Club – a local non-profit organization with a focus on introducing youth to fishing – hosts a variety of events all year long for both children and adults.
This includes adult/child tournaments, fishing clinics and seminars and more.
“I would say our main goal is that we educate the public, and especially children, on opportunities to fish,” said Dean Jacobsen, treasurer for the Iowa Great Lakes Fishing Club.
Jacobsen said over 600 children have participated in events in 2022.
The club’s focus is engaging the public on the joy of fishing, and helping to educate, said Paul Daniels, social media manager for the Iowa Great Lakes Fishing Club.
Some of the partnerships the club is most proud of includes a kids’ ice fishing tournament at Camp Autumn each year – which also acts as a fundraiser event – as well as several events with Lakeside Labs, the Iowa State Extension and other organizations.
“Whether it be people that have never fished before, or haven’t fished for years, any way we can try to get people educated on fishing to increase the likelihood that they will go out and do it on their own is pretty important,” he said. “Also having new people, we’re always trying to engage a new set of people. Fishing is about fun and being outdoors, and we’re always wanting to make sure people have a good time at our events.”
If your backhand is ready to compete, the University of Okoboji World Tennis Classic is not one to be missed.
Now in its 43rd year, the Classic has become extremely popular, with 70-80 people attending each year. Out of those, 30-40 are returning players, said Brian Richter, tournament coordinator.
The event, hosted by The Three Sons, is held at Speier Park each year, and offers players options to play singles, doubles and for all age divisions, up to age 70 and above. Spectators are also more than welcome to come watch and cheer the players on.
“There’s really something for everyone,” he said.
Over the years, Richter said the event has seen players from all over the United States, even from different counties.
The key to a successful event? A strong backing from both the local businesses and the numerous volunteers, event organizers say.
“The local business community and all of the volunteers really helps these events run smoothly,” Zankowski said.
Organizers of these events all agree, the perk of participating or watching events in Okoboji, is there’s so much to see and do before the event or after it’s over, so it’s fun to stay for the whole weekend – or week.
“What’s so unique about coming to Okoboji, is because of the uniqueness of the bodies of water, and the tremendous way these bodies of water are managed, the fishing is really second-to-none to a lot of places,” Daniels said. “The variety of fish you can catch, the quantity, the quality, and just the crystal clear water at times. On top of that, the lakes are embedded in such a great area, where if the fishing isn’t great, you can go to Arnold’s Park, or various bars, restaurants, events, concerts. It’s just such a unique area.”
“The big draw for people is all the different things you can do at the lakes,” he said. “There are so many things going on with Arnold’s Park, restaurants, boating. There’s always something to see or do.”
Story by Beth Fraser