Born and bred in Minnesota, Nial Romanek has an innate inclination toward both riding on metal and spending time on the water. Of course, he excels at both. In his twenties, Nial made the move to Tahoe where he continued to build one of the most technical bags of rail tricks out there, while filming venerated video parts (including this one and this one, to name just a few). In recent seasons, he’s been captivated by the backcountry, chasing snowy steeps all over–Montana, Alaska, Japan, Chile, and of course, right in his Sierra backyard. Now on the Rome Snowboards roster, Nial’s been stepping out bounds and stepping up his game even further with each passing winter. But back to the water. In the off-season, Nial is a licensed boat captain running charters on Lake Tahoe. Becoming a captain is no small feat, so at the end of summer we checked in with Nial to learn a little bit about what it takes to be a captain. – Mary T. Walsh

How did you first get into boating? What we’re trying to say is, growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, would you say you chose a life at sea, or did the life at sea chose you?
Not sure with that one. I do love the water and I have been boating my whole life, so I guess a little bit of both. I did grow up on a lake and my parents had a small power boat that we use to rip around on. We would ski and wakeboard behind it. I probably started driving that around 14 or 15.

How did you become interested in becoming a captain?
Well, I was managing a boat rental company and I would always see the captains leave to go pick up their groups and I was like, “Damn, that seems like way more fun than what I’m doing and you make way more money.”

What is the test like to become a boat captain? Is it like a driver’s test where you have to parallel park the boat on a dock?
No, there’s no driving, which is weird. It’s a lot of rules and signals–from what different symbols and flags mean to different lights you use, to how far off shore you can dump shit, if its ground up or whole (and by shit I mean actual shit, like waste). Lots of stuff like that.

Is Christine Savage considered your first mate now? Is this a loaded question?
Haha, she is sometimes when we go cruising, but she has a lot to learn.

What’s a normal day in the summer look like doing charters on Lake Tahoe?
Well for me, I just run power boats or boats that are for recreation, so boats you can wakeboard, ski, or tube behind. My day is really dependent on who the client is and what they want to do. I could take a family out to go do water sports, or it could be a bachelorette group that wants to get hammered and make fools of themselves. Either way its pretty fun, because you never know what you’re going to get out there.

When snowboarding, you wake up in the morning, check the snowfall, the temperature, etc. What’s the first thing you check when you wake up when you’re going out on the lake?
Well for Tahoe, it’s definitely wind and the wind direction. That plays a huge part in figuring out which part of the lake I will be bringing clients to.

Nial 5-0’s the tank at Snowboy’s The High Project at Mtn High. January 2021. p: Walsh

What’s an interesting fact about Lake Tahoe that you’ve learned that most folks may not know about?
Hmm. The average depth of Tahoe is 1000 feet.

You’re licensed for a variety of boats, including really large vessels, right? How large a boat could you captain?
It goes by tonnage when the boat is filled with water. I know, super confusing. Don’t ask me why, but I can drive boats way bigger than I would ever want to.

What’s your favorite boat to pilot, currently?
A nice, expensive one that I don’t have to pay for all the upkeep on.

What’s your favorite boat to pilot, currently?
A nice, expensive one that I don’t have to pay for all the upkeep on.

So, is portside backside? Or are we using surfing terms since we are out on the water?
No, it’s just a name for a side of the boat. If you are looking toward the front of the boat (the bow), portside is the left side of the boat. With smaller boats, normally they have the helm on the starboard side, which is the right side, so I guess you could think of it as backside ’cause its harder to see and things are more blind over on the portside with boats like that.

Does your boat have camber or reverse camber or are you more of a TBT guy?
Early rise in the front then flat the rest of the way through. We also got a lot of TBT up front, but we don’t use it in the back.

What’s your favorite knot?
Probably the bowline knot. It’s a pretty useful knot on the boat and in life. It makes it so you can have a loop at the end of the line, but if it goes under load you can still get the knot out.

Nial Romanek captaining a boat on Lake Tahoe
Cruising on Lake Tahoe. p: Walsh

Who is your favorite character on Below Deck Med and why?
Maybe Bobby because he’s just such an idiot with the ladies.

How long do you think you could survive in a boat if you were lost at sea?
We aint getting lost!! I need to go find some wood to knock on. Haha.

Is it true that the captain has to go down with the ship? If so, why? Shouldn’t the captain be allowed to get on a rescue boat along with everyone else?
Technically, no, but you are responsible for everyone on the boat, so in theory, you should be the last one off the boat if it is sinking.

Favorite movie that has to do with boating?

What is the most useful ability from snowboarding that you can apply to being a boat captain?
Balance. The boat’s always rocking, so you need to get those sea legs going.

Do you have any plans or aspirations to captain a boat in a different area, or do a big mission across the Atlantic or anything like that?
Hmm, maybe. I always thought it would be sick to drive a tugboat. But that would mean I would probably have to live in a city or close by, and well, I hate the city, so who knows.

Last but not least, any nautical wisdom you can leave us with?
Well, your compass isn’t always accurate. There are this things called “deviations,” so watch out for that. You could think you’re going north, but you may actually be going more west or something, depending on your boat and where you are at on Earth. But most important: Shit sinks, so don’t let it.