If you haven’t been to a wakeboarding event lately, go. You’re missing out on the best riding the we’ve ever seen in bibs. Case in point: I’m standing on the dock at the X-Games awaiting Darin Shapiro’s first run. All of the sudden he rails at the wake and launches a tantrum so far up and out that I’m wondering why in the hell a talent like Darin Shapiro is doing an ordinary (although super huge), ungrabbed tantrum in the middle of a competition run when everyone else is putting their butts on the line doing mobe after mobe after mobe. And then, before I know it, Darin’s turned the freakin’ thing to blind 15 feet out in the flats and is looking right at me. “He did NOT just do that,” I said out loud. But several people standing next to me assured me that he did, and that he had been doing it for weeks. That’s the new face of competition. Everything big, and everything to blind. Amazing.
Every year we try to tell you different things are going to happen with different people, and every year they do, to some extent, while the major players remain the relatively the same. This year is no exception. But while Darin, Shaun, Brannan and Parks are all vying for the Best of the Best, there’s plenty of action going on in the other two rings of the circus, and plenty of other people keeping it interesting. The finals dock on any given Sunday lately is changing face more often than Michael Jackson. Shawn Watson, Eric Ruck, Chad Sharpe, Brett Eisenhauer, Shane Bonifay. Even Chase Heavener has managed to make it in once or twice.
But the real draw in the competitive arena of 1999 doesn’t only lie in seeing the new mugs. It’s also in the new moves, the level of riding and the uncommon camaraderie on the dock. From the shoreline you can see Parks Bonifay’s entire head turn purple from all the G forces and misplaced blood after he sticks a half-cab double back roll. And you can see the other competitors on the platform bend their knees and cringe right before he lands it, trying to send him the karmic strength to ride it out. If you were in Germany, you would have witnessed Watson sticking the first 900 ever landed in competition (off axis no less, and just days after Tony Hawk landed his X-Games gem), and eight little guys in life jackets mobbing him as he came in just like Mark McGwire hitting a game winning long ball.
Struharik’s grabbing everything in sight, Schwenk is either landing every mobe known to man or about killing himself in the process, and Johnson’s consistency has got him perched nicely on the top of the tour standings. It’s getting better and better every weekend. There are still a few left to go by the time you read this, so if you were looking for the ultimate wakeboarding getaway, maybe you should think about hitting the road and partying with the pros for a weekend. Details about upcoming events and Pro Tour standings (as well as Triple Crown and World Cup points) are available at www.prowakeboardtour.com.
Meaghan Major and Emily Copeland, both 15, are rolling. And rolling and rolling. If you haven’t heard, Major has been an upset winner twice this year over perennial favorite Tara Hamilton, first taking the Atlanta Tour stop, and then cashing in big time with a $10,000 win at the X-Games. And Copeland has been right there with them, coming in second every Sunday for the first four tour events of the year and the X-Games (behind either Hamilton or Major), until breaking out for consecutive victories of her own in England (World Cup stop) and Portland.
Is Tara in trouble? Could be. Although Tara leads the tour race for points right now, Copeland is nipping at her heels, and the tables are finally starting to even out on the women’s side of the equation. It’s now a three-way dash to the season championship, with Hamilton and Copeland holding the biggest advantage, and Major needing to win another event or two to put the pressure back on.
So why the sudden spark of competitive juice from the two teen-age blondes? Maybe it’s because they were getting tired of the American tradition of monopoly and decided to do something about it. More likely, though, it’s because they’ve had people like Tara to prove to them that aggressive, smooth and controlled riding is not a pipe dream for women riders in this sport. It’s gonna be an interesting finish.