Get your feet wet with wakeboarding

By Marco Villano, Bryan Choinard

Utah is home to about two dozen lakes and reservoirs. It’s no surprise with the growing popularity of board sports worldwide that wakeboarding is quickly replacing traditional water skiing and becoming one of the hottest watersports in the state.

Most of Utah’s water sites offer wakeboarding amenities for pros and amateurs alike. The pro circuit offers tournaments throughout the summer for various levels of wakeboarders.

The top pros are in the Outlaw division where spectators can see the gnarliest tricks thrown today. For pros, the Outlaw division is followed by the advanced, intermediate, women’s and beginner divisions that give anyone the opportunity to compete.

The online home for Utah wakeboarders is wakeutah.com. The site is specifically organized for riders to talk about competitions, share good wake spots and discuss the best of the best. The site gives information about when and where competitions will be held as well as the top lakes and reservoirs for ideal wakeboarding sessions. They also have wakeboarder profiles that allow members to interact with people who have made wakeboarding their life.

Traditionally, wakeboarders are towed by boats, which allow them to hit the wakes made by the boat and catch some air. With the expansion of the sport comes groundbreaking innovation. Another towing option that is growing in popularity is a winch, a mechanical device that tows riders without the need of a boat. A winch allows riders to wakeboard anywhere there is water deep enough for a good session.

The most popular winching spots in Utah are parks that get huge puddles after rain storms, lakes that prohibit motorized boats, rivers that have waterfalls which allow riders to throw some big air tricks and even lakes that allow motorized boats. The wakeutah.com crew tours the state with its winch and a rail that it calls “Dewey’s rail.” Their search for any winch-worthy destination, combined with their ingenuity, has led to some spectacular wakeboarding sessions.

Compare winch-towing to the sport’s humble beginnings in the mid-1980s, and it’s clear to see wakeboarding has come a long way.

Herb O’Brien, who owned prominent water-skiing company H.O. Sports at the time, designed and distributed the first production-line wakeboard, which he dubbed the Hyperlite.

The first Hyperlite slightly resembled a surfboard in that it had a distinct nose and tail on the board as opposed to the twin-tip symmetrical shape that has become the norm in today’s sport. This twin-tip design was introduced by Jimmy Redmon in 1993. Redmon was also responsible for putting foot straps on boards for the first time years earlier. These two innovations are what got Redmon dubbed the “guru” of wakeboarding and have certainly shaped the sport into what it is today.

As the sport began to grow in the United States in the late ’80s, it was again Redmon who organized it by founding the World Wakeboarding Association in 1989. The WWA is now the sanctioning body for the sport worldwide. The WWA is responsible for the rules, formats and designs that protect the integrity and spirit of the sport to which Redmon devoted his life.

Today wakeboarding is the fastest growing watersport in Utah and the United States. You can find the best riders from around the world here in the states on the Pro Wakeboarding Tour. In 2008 the tour is made up of five tour stops. The PWT made stops this year in Georgia, Texas, Minnesota and Arizona with the tour finale coming up this weekend in Reno, Nev.

Phillip Soven, 2007 PWT champion, looks to defend his title as he leads the tour in points through the first four events with a perfect score of 400 (100 points possible for each stop). Events range from Pro Men’s and Women’s to Jr. Men’s. It all kicks off Friday at 10 a.m. with Jr. Men’s qualifying and wraps up Sunday with the Men’s finals.

Although finding a boat, Jet Ski or even winch might be the hardest challenge for locals looking to get their feet wet, wakeboarding at popular spots such as Jordanelle, Utah Lake, Deer Creek and Strawberry Reservoir are all within about a 90 minute drive of Salt Lake City.

[email protected]@chronicle.utah.edu