Austin Schram of Neenah, Wisconsin performs a flip while competing in the Junior Men’s division semi finals on opening day of the 2018 Nautique WWA Wakeboard National Championship event at Monroe’s Lake Tye on Wednesday, July 25.
The sport has its ups and downs
MONROE — Combine the tricks of skateboarding, the challenges of snowboarding and the thrills of waterskiing, and you have wakeboarding, a whirlwind of a sport that touched down again in Monroe last week.
The unique athletic display at Lake Tye was the 2018 Nautique World Wake Association (WWA) Wakeboard National Championships, on the watery road to world finals in Japan.
The sport has ridden a growing wave of popularity nationwide in recent years and wakeboarding competitions have become a summer staple in Monroe. About 1,500 people have gathered in past years to watch athletes perform sophisticated stunts while being towed behind motorboats.
The WWA Championships brought about 200 male and female competitors across 20 divisions to town for four days.
The competitors were pulled by custom designed Nautique boats. They surfed the waves with finesse and power, performing eight to 12 flips, spins and glides in two 1,500 foot passes.
The challengers were vying for national titles and $67,500 in prize money.
Elite performers could take 180s all the way to three full rotations- 1080s- and show off unique moves like the tweety bird, the Vulcan and the Moby Dick. Some of the sport’s moves would be familiar to gymnasts, including backflips, somersaults and handstands, but wakeboarders did them while moving at about 20 mph across the lake.
All that excitement added up to about $1.1 million in economic impact over the four-day event according to city finance director Becky Hasart.
Spectators cheered on international athletes and local favorites, including master’s division competitor Eddie Roberts.
The Redmond-area resident has a passion for the water and the sport that began as a toddler. He said at 2 years old he was already kneeboarding with family and never stopped.
Roberts is a natural, but said that actually didn’t do him any favors. Being in the top echelon of his peers in the water just meant showing off more than learning, he said.
These days, Roberts alternates between home and Cancun where he teaches the sport to Club Med vacationers looking for unique recreation. Local customers provide practice opportunities, too, as they ask for demonstrations with their lessons. Wapato Lake and Lake Chelan are popular training spots.
“It’s definitely the goal for me to be able to compete at (the world championships). I have to focus on the moment but having that goal behind my (training the) whole season, I look forward to doing well.”
Roberts was competing in the master’s division for 30- to 39-year-olds.
While the high of competition is compelling, the sport is not low impact and injuries can knock even veteran riders off their board for months.
“You do whatever you can to keep yourself strong and prevent injuries,” Roberts said. He’d taken a yoga class the night before to stay loose.
But it’s “pretty typical once you get into my division, the older divisions, that everyone has had injuries… I’m up to six surgeries, both of my knees, my elbows and one shattered ankle,” Roberts said.
But the experienced wakeboarder made a surprising discovery: Every time he was injured, he would go through physical therapy and find he performed better than before.
The WWA Championships were no exception: Roberts took second in the competitive Master’s division, securing a spot at the world finals in Japan.
The 2018 WWA Nautique Wakeboard World Championships are Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 in Miyoshi City, Japan.
Fans who missed the action can tune into NBC for coverage of the national and world championships later this year.
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