Once you’ve strapped in your feet, got a firm grip of the rope and made yourself comfortable, you’re ready to go. The boat’s engine starts, and within seconds you’re gliding across the water’s surface at 25 mph. Adrenaline flowing, you shift your weight, swing sideways and hit the boat’s wake, launching yourself several feet into the air. In the next few gravity-defying seconds, your goal is to pull off stunts, spins, grabs and tricks as audacious and graceful as humanly possible, before regaining composure to make a perfect landing. Exhilarating, electrifying, explosive – welcome to the world of wakeboarding.
When Californian surfer Tony Finn tied his board to the back of a boat some 25 years ago, little did he realise he was creating a sport that would go on to become a global phenomenon; one that would have over 3 million participants worldwide a quarter of a century later. Of course a lot has changed in the sport since then. For a start, the board that Finn used was not a wakeboard as we know it now, rather a ‘skurfer’ – a downsized surfboard lacking footstraps which, being difficult to control, initially failed to garner much public interest. In fact it wasn’t until the early 90s that the sport really started to take off, as the introduction of bindings and new technology allowing for a neutral buoyant, thin-edged board brought wakeboarding to the wider public.
Fast-forward to 2010 and wakeboarding is the world’s fastest growing watersport, with the number of newcomers continuing to rise year-on-year. Riders are often drawn to the sport’s cross-bred character – taking the best bits of waterskiing, surfing and snowboarding, it forges them together to create something that requires poise, finesse and flair, whilst still offering adrenalin-surging speeds and some seriously big air.
As the sport has continued to grow, it has also triggered a cultural revolution within watersports, and much like snowboarding immediately became seen as skiing’s younger, cooler sibling. Astonishingly, despite its relative expense, two thirds of all wakeboarders worldwide are under the age of 24.
It is this demographic that has helped spawn a handful of wakeboarding festivals worldwide, none more preeminent than Wakestock, which takes place far away from the sun-drenched glamour of California in the humble environs of Abersoch, Wales. Seeking to marry the thrills of the high-octane sport with the rush of live music, Wakestock offers festival-goers the opportunity to see world-class wakeboarding alongside some of the coolest musical acts in the world, with the likes of Maximo Park, The Ting Tings, Feeder and Plan B performing this summer. Now in it’s eleventh year, Wakestock’s growth from a capacity of 650 people in a yacht club car park in 2000 to a volume of over 25,000 wakeboard enthusiasts in 2010, epitomises the increasing popularity of the sport.
Wakeboarding’s continuing expansion also owes much to the development of new technology involving cables, and with the spread of ‘wakeparks’, which utilise overhead pulleys to tow riders along, boats are becoming increasingly obsolete as jumps (known as ‘kickers’) and rails (called ‘sliders’) make even the most ambitious stunts possible. Last year the gargantuan ‘Wake Lab’ made it’s debut in the States, and having become an instant success with riders and fans alike, it’s surely only a matter of time before the launch of something equally formidable in Britain.
With wakeboarding becoming more accessible and affordable, some daredevil riders are now seeking new ways to get their kicks, and there has recently been a surge in demand for ‘wakeskating’, a fusion of wakeboarding and skateboarding that goes back to basics, with rider not bound to board. With new developments like this happening all the time, no-one is quite sure what the next breakthrough will be, but with numbers ever-growing and technology constantly advancing, one thing’s for certain; as far as the evolution of the sport is concerned, this is only just the beginning.
Wakestock is this weekend 2, 3, 4th July.