The Gravel Tour

Have you heard of the Gravel Tour yet? If not, you should. This event is a lot more influential than you might think. Yes, it's a local contest in Orlando with multiple stops, but it's not just any local contest. Sponsored in part by the world famous proshop, Performance Ski & Surf, this series is unlike any you have ever seen. In fact, I went undercover to give you the juicy details. Check it out!

What is the Gravel Tour?

We could answer this question for you, but it wouldn't mean as much coming from us — so we went to the source. We caught up with Bill Porter, the owner of Performance Ski & Surf, and asked him a few questions to get you properly informed about this Orlando based grassroots competition series.

What is the Gravel Tour? How and when did it start?

Bill Porter: The actual events to the best of my knowledge started in 1999, but the name "Gravel Tour" didn't start till the year 2000. Being a part of the original members of OWC — both Rene and Herb both wanted us to host events to bring new riders to the park and provide a venue to help foster the growth of wakeboarding — and now, looking back some 14 plus years later, I feel we have done that. I would say that a good majority of the top pro athletes competing have ridden in one of our wakeboard series, and for many, I think if you asked them, it helped shape their riding careers in some way.

"Gravel tour was a huge factor on my career in wakeboarding, not only did it allow me to understand the pressure of a contest at a young age, but it also gave me a chance to shine in front of an audience and potential sponsors."— Adam Errington

What is your favorite part about the Gravel Tour?

Bill Porter: Seeing the progress of riders. When I go and look at the historical photos of the riders who have grown up in our events who have gone on to being the world's elite riders. I take a great deal of pride in that, but beyond that knowing that I can impact the lives of families through our events. Its truly amazing to see the real family interaction that happens at a Gravel Tour Event — not only between single families, but many families who get together at the events to have a great time collectively. Thats truly rewarding, and for me, being able to also gain some really great relationships with some really great people who share a common passion in the sport we love to do!

Steel Lafferty and Daniel Powers — 1st and 2nd place

Do you have a favorite memory over the years that sticks out?

Bill Porter: Well, honestly there are a couple, but one of the most recent was having both Darin Shapiro and Shaun Murray ride head to head against each other in an exhibition. Mainly because these are two guys who have been so integral since day one in our shop and the sport of wakeboarding, and now some 14 plus years later they are back and riding amazing. It was like a time warp.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Bill Porter: The biggest thing is to take time to thank some of the people who really have helped make this event what it is. I'm sure I'll forget some but here are some of the key ones in no special order: Danny Kennedy, Fred Rabe, Brad Smith, Randy Holihan, Travis Moye, Tim Jeffries, Dave Soria, Jim Powers, Kyle Rattray, Dave Soria, Chancee Cook, Danielle Holt, Herb O'brien, Rene Hoffman, Bill Yeargin, Walt Meloon, Jeff Husby, John & Nikki Worcester, Robbie Holihan, Danny Amir, Tony Teske, Joey Losson, Brett Hargrave, Eddie Beverly, and also my wife Sarah — she has been SO patient with me doing these through the years, and all the others again I may have forgotten.

Gravel Tour Stop #2 | Photo by John Liscomb

We plan to dive deeper into the Gravel Tour with some "secret shopper" style investigation to see what it's like to attend one of the stops. Click the links at the bottom of each page to continue on through the article for more from behind the scenes, rider interviews and photo galleries. Enjoy!

Secret Shopper

So here's where this got interesting for me. I went undercover and entered this contest myself to get the full experience. Having been living in Florida since 2010, I have ventured out a time or two to the Gravel Tour in the past, but I figured I'd refresh my memory to give you the most up-to-date information possible.

Photo by Andy Worrall

First of all, I had a lot more fun than I expected. Not that I thought it wouldn't be fun, but I'm typically a wreck at contests. This one however, ended up being a great time on all accounts. I got to hang out with some people I hadn't seen in a while and on top of that, I met some new people that I enjoyed getting to know.

Now let's talk about just how crazy good the kids who ride the Gravel Tour are in comparison to anywhere else in the country. At any other local event anywhere else on earth, I would compete in the "Outlaw" division. I probably wouldn't win (especially after falling twice like I did here), but If I landed all of my tricks, I'd have a pretty good chance at the podium, or even the first place spot. At the Gravel Tour in the heart of Orlando, however, I sit comfortably in the advanced division. The reason is because, frankly, I don't ride well enough. You might see a 720 or a mobe or two in the advanced division on occasion, whereas, in the Outlaw division, if you don't have a 900 or some mobe 5 variations, you're chance at the podium is pretty slim. It's like a local practice session for the Jr Pro Men to compete on a worldwide stage. It's fun to watch and can be very telling for their successes during larger competitions throughout the year.

As for my riding, I fell twice but still managed to place third in my division. Regardless, the short set I had on that wake was a real treat. The wake was huge and clean with a transition that harbored an extremely large amount of water. After I rode, I just wanted to get back up and ride that wake again — So much fun.

Photo by Andy Worrall

Overall, I had a great time. Walking away from that event, I told myself that I'd make a point to get out to more stops as the season progresses. After all, I am still trying to progress my riding on a personal level, and there's no better way to light a fire under your riding than to have a contest date on your calendar that you've got to be ready for.

The Riders

I caught up with a few of the riders from stop #2 and asked them a few questions about their experience. I tried to sample the market as best I could with the Outlaw winner, a first-time competitor, and an experienced Boys division rider. Get to know them a bit. Some of them may end up being big names some day.

Nic Rapa — 1st place, Outlaw division (overall winner)

Gravel Tour Stop #2 — Outlaw Podium | Photo by Andy Worrall

W: Tell us a little about yourself.

NR: My name is Nic Rapa, 17 years old from Sydney Australia. I started wakeboarding in October 2010. I'm currently living in Orlando Florida taking part in the 'endless summer'. I like to wakeboard, other things I like doing are hanging out with friends and family, and just having fun!

How long have you been competing?

I started competing in 2011. I haven't looked back since.

Who do you normally ride with?

I normally just ride with my mum, dad and sister, but if not it is with one of my best buddy's Cory Harris.

What tricks have you been working on lately?

I have not only been working on new tricks but I have also worked on changing the way I ride like taking more tricks into the flats and poking things differently. I also have tried to maintain a unique style that separates me from other riders.

Photo by John Liscomb

Was this your first time competing in the Gravel Tour? How many stops have you competed in?

This was my 2nd time competing in the Gravel Tour as I also competed in the first stop and was pumped to take out the win in the open division in both events.

How does the Gravel Tour compare to other contests that you've ridden in?

I see the Gravel Tour to be a really fun event. There are a heap of kids there, and its always great to see the sport evolving and to have kids that look up to you wanting to see you ride.

What kind of tricks does it take to win the Outlaw Division at the Gravel Tour?

The competitiveness in the outlaw division is pretty intense, there are a few JR Pro men riders who really know how to turn up the heat. I think to win the outlaw division you definitely have to be confident with the tricks you can land, as well as knowing what the judges want to see and how I can be different as a rider. My run definitely went the way I wanted it to go. I landed a few mobe 5 variations as well as a toeside 900 to start off my run.

Photo by Andy Worrall

What made you decide to come to the Gravel Tour and compete? Who came with you?

I am living in orlando and the Gravel Tour series are on so I thought it would be good competition experience and a good way to start getting my name as a Wakeboarder out there. My dad made the trip over for the first 2 weeks of my journey and then had to go back home.

Do you plan to compete in future Gravel Tour stops and go for the overall win?

Most definitely! the Gravel Tour is definitely a cool event to be apart of.

What are your future aspirations in the sport? Does the Gravel Tour play a part in that?

My goal is to become a well known rider, but known for doing things differently and being cool to watch. I will still ride the Gravel Tour to start off my American wakeboard season.

Anything else you'd like to add?

A huge thank you to everyone who helped and is a part of the Gavel Tour event!

Photo by Andy Worrall

Jared Franco — Newcomer / 1st place, Advanced

Photo by: Andy Worral

W: Tell us a little about yourself.

JF: I am 17 years old, and am from Boca Raton Florida. When I'm not riding I'm either playing ice hockey, DJing at clubs, or working on my boat.

Are you related to James Franco?

Yes I am, my dad, grandpa, and great grandpa are all named James Franco, however, none of them are in the acting business.

Was this your first time competing in the Gravel Tour? What did you think?

My first time and first real competition. I was a little nervous at first, but after sticking my hard tricks it was awesome. The only other competition I've ever been in was a team contest. I definitely like the individual competitions better, and I look forward to competing in the rest of the tour.

What was your favorite part about the Gravel Tour? What was the most surprising?

My favorite part was having the opportunity to ride on the boat side of OWC, because no matter how hard the wind is blowing the lake is always flat. The most surprising thing about this stop was winning first place and not falling on any of my tougher tricks.

Photo by Andy Worrall

What made you decide to come to the Gravel Tour and compete? Did you bring anyone with you?

I've been working at home trying to get good enough to start competing, and saw that gravel had many different skill groups, so I decided to give it a shot. For Stop 2 I brought the whole fam, mom dad and sister.

Do you plan to compete in future Gravel Tour stops and go for the overall win in your division?

I'm already working on new tricks to throw in my runs at Stops 3 and 4, and if everything goes well, yea I'd be stoked over an overall win in the advanced division.

Tyler Worrall — Up-and-comer / 2nd place, Boys division

Photo by Andy Worrall

W: Tell us a little about yourself.

TW: I am 12 years old. I live in Clermont FL. I wakeboard almost every day but when I'm not wake boarding in like to snowboard, golf, kiteboard, ect.

When did you first start riding?

I learned how to waterski when I was 4 and then strapped on a wakeboard when I was 5.

How long have you been competing?

I have been competing since I was 6 years old and my first contest was Gravel Tour.

Who do you normally ride with?

I get coached by Trevor Hansen but I also ride with Clayton Underwood, Brandon Judd, and Billy Park.

What tricks have you been working on lately?

I have been working on getting my tootsie roll and tantrum to blind consistent.

Photo by Andy Worrall

What kind of tricks does it take to win the the Boys Division at the Gravel Tour? What tricks are typically seen in your division?

To win the boys division it takes a couple of 540's, a few inverts, a pre mobe (inverts with backside 180's), and some style. Normally in the boys division everybody brings there A-game and everybody has at least two 360's and a few inverts.

What is your favorite part about the Gravel Tour?

My favorite part about about Gravel Tour is at the very last stop of the season when you get to pick a prize.

What are your future aspirations in the sport? Does the Gravel Tour play a part in that?

I hope to be pro one day. I think Gravel Tour helps me so much to get there because from the first stop to the last stop I progress so much!

Anything else you'd like to add?

For anybody that wants to start competing in wakeboarding, I would recommend the Gravel Tour to them for sure because it is such a awesome and fun contest!

Photo by Andy Worrall