Walking into Surf Expo this year you could still feel the same awesome vibes of the past, but there was an undertone of worry due to the approach of Hurricane Irma. Despite this, a majority of the wake industry was still there for what was now two days of Surf Expo. Then, around 2:00 PM on the first day everyone was informed that the show would now conclude at 6:00 PM that night, thus allowing everybody more time to pack up and leave if necessary. This instantly meant that Wake Awards was now the final party of Surf Expo.
If you have ever been to Wake Awards in the past, then you know it’s the party that kicks off the rest of Surf Expo for the wake industry. Wake Awards is the congregation of the top athletes and industry leaders and honors all the epic things that have gone down in the last 365 days of wake. Although this year’s Surf Expo literally had a dark cloud hanging over it named Irma, the party and celebration could not be stopped.
Prior to Wake Awards, the night started with the 2017 Supra Boats Pro Wakeboard Tour Awards, and the energy in the room only grew from there. One of the first awards of the night was to honor Dean Smith, who recently announced his retirement in competitive wakeboarding with the conclusion of this season.
“Someone asked me, an hour ago, when retirement was going to start feeling real,” said Dean. “Well, it feels real right now.”
If you weren’t able to attend Wake Awards this year, then you missed one hell of a good time. The party started with Bob Soven taking the master of ceremonies position from the one and only Dano the Mano. Bob’s title as MC was short lived though when Dano quickly came on stage and choke slammed Bob into submission, WWE style. Dano went on to win The Golden Mic Award for his service of six consecutive years as the Wake Awards MC.
The level of stoke in the room had highs, such as when all the boys from Valdosta Wake Compound came on stage as a collective to accept a new award for this year, Best Video Short/ Series for their film, “The Coalition.” It also had more somber moments, like Carro Djupso’s and Josh Palma’s memorial speeches for Benjamin Hoppe and Chuck Morrow, respectively.
This Wake Awards also seemed to be the year for the West Coast crew. Three of the most prestigious awards went to those who call California home. Tyler Higham took home the Check Out Award presented by Rockford Fosgate. Rodrigo Donoso accepted Best Photographer for his third consecutive year, via FaceTime due to his flight being cancelled. And this year Wake Awards brought back its Legend Award, which rightfully went to the OG of WSR, Randall Harris.
The loudest cheers of the night came when it was time to announce Best Web Video. Some suspected Ben Leclair’s video “Natural Playground” won, but nobody saw it coming when Ben came through the back door to accept his award in person. Thanks to a small group of people keeping it a secret, Ben was able to surprise all of his friends who had no idea he was coming from Canada. This had to be the loudest moment of the night, with the entire crowd on their feet welcoming their friend back into the mix, many of whom hadn’t seen him since his accident last fall.
When it came time to announce Park & Rail Rider of the year, Daniel Grant was called to stage to receive the award. The entire crowd awaited to hear what kind of on-the-fly speech he would give this year. The audience was not disappointed. He once again pounded his fists on the podium and chanted some type of tribal-meets-techno chant similar to last year.
Each year that wakeboarding evolves and grows, it seems that riders focus on a specific discipline more and more. This has led to more technical tricks being done on both cable and boat, but less riders who cross over into both sides. This year with the crazy new tricks being done on boat, we felt it was important to bring back the award of Best Boat Rider, which was given to none other than Harley Clifford.
We also thought there needed to be a new award this year: the Full Scope Award. This award was designed to go to a rider who kills it on a wakeboard in all disciplines, whether it’s behind a boat, on the cable, pulled by a winch, or some new age device that you haven’t even heard of yet. This award went to Guenther Oka, who proved to everyone this year that you don’t need to commit to just one discipline to be great at the sport.
There were also repeat winners of Best awards. Meagan Ethell won Best Female Rider for the fourth consecutive year and Reed Hansen won Best Wakeskater for his third time.
When it came to Indmar Trick of the Year, this year has to be one of the heaviest hitting years in wakeboarding history. There were more double flips, 1080s, and unique mind blowers than ever before. Watching the reel of tricks from the contenders were nothing short of jaw dropping. The room kept erupting with applause after each trick flashed across the screen. Indmar Wakeskate Trick of the Year went to Travis Doran for his kickflip frontboard back big. Indmar Female Trick of the Year was awarded to Anna Nikstad for her KGB 5 off the kicker. The final award of the night was the Indmar Male Trick of the Year, going to Steel Lafferty for his switch mute double backmobe off the double up. Steel quickly brought Rusty Malinoski and Parks Bonifay on stage to help him accept the award, as he was nearly speechless from excitement.
“I thought I might have had it with the double tantrum to blind,” said Steel “but when Harley stuck one as well, I knew I had to come up with something else.”
Despite the weather working against us and some of our friends not being able to make it to the party, this was a Wake Awards that will go down in the history books. There was more heavy riding this year than we have ever seen in the past, and Irma wasn’t going to stop us from honoring that. As always, none of this would be possible without the amazing support from our sponsors. A huge thank you to the following for making it all happen this year: Malibu Boats, Surf Expo, WSIA, Indmar Marine Engines, Wet Sounds Marine Audio, Acme Marine, Rockford Fosgate Marine Audio, SeaDek, ZF Marine, Fuse Lenses & LearnWake.