Get ready Tampa for "the biggest event in wakeboarding history."
This weekend, 36 of the top-ranked wakeboarders in the world will descend on Tampa to compete in the Red Bull Wake Open in the waterfront at the Tampa Convention Center. Performing tricks like the Double Backroll Mobe, the Half Cab Double Backroll, the Pete Rose and the Tweety Bird, the Red Bull athletes will showcase their bravado in three different types of events, a first in the sport’s history.
“I definitely would say this is one of the most important events for the wakeboarding community in the Tampa Bay and Orlando regions,” said Auburndale-resident J.D. Webb, who has been riding professionally for Red Bull for the past nine years. “There have been world championships in Orlando, but this is the first time a major event like this will be held in Tampa. Having Red Bull come in there, always trying to branch out and grow a variety of industries, including wakeboarding, is special for the Tampa Bay area. They definitely hit the nail on the head with this one because people are going to see riders pushing it to the next level.”
The Wake Open is one of 25 events featured on the Red Bull Signature Series televised by the NBC Sports Network throughout the year. The series features creatively enhanced competitions in wakeboarding, surfing, mountain biking, freestyle motocross and snowboarding.
The Open begins with the traditional style of riding behind a boat in a competition (closed to the public). This first set of the competition is only open to judges and sponsors and will be held at an undisclosed lake. After that, the event kicks off in grand style on Friday when spectators will witness the new age of the sport with riders being pulled by the Sesitec System 2.0 cable and launching themselves off a single 50-foot ramp to do an assortment of tricks. For the uninitiated, the cable system essentially is like taking the chair-lift cable system from a ski resort off a mountain, dropping wakeboarders in the middle of a lake and chairs are replaced with ropes and handles.
On Saturday, the internationally televised event on NBC will showcase the most exciting portion of the competition when riders will use the Sesitec System 2.0 to perform tricks and jumps on a water terrain park similar to a skateboard park. The semifinals last from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and the finals begin shortly after the completion of the semis.
After experiencing a downturn in popularity due to the economy, the cable system has allowed the sport to thrive over the past few years.
“It’s a huge step forward for the new age in wakeboarding and the revival of the sport,” said Matt Sexton, who started the Keys Cable and Adventure Park in Islamorada after graduating from Eckerd College. “From 2008 to 2010, wakeboarding died out because you basically needed an unlimited credit card to either buy a boat or rent one out to perfect your craft. As wakeboarding became more accessible because of cable parks, it’s developed an urban following and it’s grown the customer base and the popularity of the sport. Cable parks have been largely responsible for the rebirth of wakeboarding.”
McCormick’s Waterski Wakeboard and Cable Park, located in Seffner, just outside of Tampa, prospered during the recent economic downturn because of the financial accessibility created by the lower cost.
As far as the pros go, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins said the Wake Open comes at a good time for the tourism industry.
"After coming off some record numbers over the past year for tourism, the summer months are when things slow down for us in terms of visitors so this is a great chance to bring people into the area and also create a postcard on television for people watching around the country and the world," Higgins said. “It’s another chance for Tampa to showcase itself as one of the premier locations for every type of sporting event. The exposure for the community and the sport of wakeboarding will be positively impacted and sports in the Tampa Bay area as a whole will benefit."
During the event, there will be many sponsors at booths showcasing their gear and apparel. In addition, local DJ, Brandon Thomas (DJ Drop Top), will be performing throughout the weekend.
The national anthem will be sung by Shannon Magrane of Tampa, who finished eleventh on the eleventh season of American Idol.
Here is a list of athletes and other pertinent information about the event:
WHO: Wakeboarders from eight countries will head to Tampa on the most innovative playing field to date for the sport of wakeboarding. Of local interest, Florida born athletes are bolded below. As well, based on the facilities and opportunities the local area provides for wakeboarding, athletes have migrated to live in Florida for their sport (underlined).
Nico Von Lerchenfeld
WHAT TO EXPECT: Three categories of competition (Boat, Big Air and Park) will determine the best overall wakeboarder to be crowned Red Bull Wake Open Champion. The Boat segment will be towed by the 22-foot Malibu Wakesetter MXZ, and showcase an innovative, rider-influenced format. For the next two days, downtown Tampa will house the Big Air and Park competition as fans will watch riders launch off a 50-foot ramp to see who can pull the best trick. The new Sesitec System 2.0 will tow riders at precise speeds (up to 38 m.p.h.) through a rail park within short distances. This environmentally friendly cableway along with the boat will provide the ultimate pull to encourage riders to perform tricks never seen before in competition.