In the Wakeboarding arena, everyone knows who Dana Preble is. Who could forget the first girl who landed the dangerous Air Raley and grabbed the Hoochie Glide back when only a few guys were up for the face-plant? What nobody knows is the catastrophic way in which her amazing career ended and how Dana’s relentless spirit continues to fight adversity like a champion up to this day.
During her pioneering years, Dana’s challenge was consistency. Her fearless riding style and competitive nature gave her more than enough tricks to win, if she could pull it together. Dana often went too big and fell short. In the summer of 1999, she had been steadily rising through the ranks, and, after years of struggling, the consistency finally came. Dana Preble was on fire. She had been landing 720’s and had added a KGB to her pass. At the finals of the Tour Stop in Germany, Preble stood up both her passes and so did all her competitors! When everyone rode at their best, Dana had her first big win! The next stop was London, this time Dana was seeded first.
Here is the story of one of our sport’s greatest athletes in her own words.
I believe that every person on the earth has a special gift or destiny that only they can discover and manifest. Most people struggle to discover who they are and unfold their destiny. I was lucky; I knew from age 3 that I was born to waterski. My name is Dana Preble and I am a 2016 Inductee into the Wakeboard Hall of Fame.
How did that happen? It all starts when I was two years old and sitting on top of my father’s shoulders while he water-skied. By age 3, my parents had me skiing on my very own two skis! My father’s family spent their summers water skiing on a small inland lake in Michigan, Klinger Lake, and so that opportunity was passed down to my generation as well.
While other kids wanted to engage in all sorts of summer activities, for me it was all about playing in and on the water all day long. When my 3rd-grade teacher had my class write a paper on “What you want to be when you grow up”, my paper was on my dream of becoming a Professional Water-Skier.
From the moment I woke up, to the moment I collapsed exhausted into bed at night, there was nothing that gave me more joy than learning how to perform tricks behind a ski boat. I was fortunate to have a supportive mother that was willing to drag me around the lake all day! She still wakeboards at age 77, by the way.
Sure, like all kids, I had other interests. I enjoyed being a gymnast, diving and certainly loved snow skiing as well. But when I finally had to make a choice and concentrate all my efforts on my future career, the choice was easy – I was all about water skiing.
During my junior year of high school, I was presented with the opportunity to move to Florida so I could train and water ski year-round with my coach Russell Gay (Top Trick Skier in the World several times and 1993 World Wakeboarder Champion). I jumped at the opportunity to follow my dream of becoming a Professional Water-Skier!!
As a freshman, I was the water ski captain at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. It was during those years that I competed in 3 event skiing, but also found my true Passion on the water WAKEBOARDING! I was summoned to the lake for a study break one evening to try the new Hyperlite board complete with foot straps and 3 fins. It was fun but too heavy and bulky to do a flip on. I was almost waterskiing on the Professional level at that time and was happily sponsored by Denny Kidder’s company, KD Watersports.
That summer, Tony Finn came out to Russell’s lake to do a photo shoot with a few Wake Tech boards to try, and WOW, I was landing flips immediately! Tony, with his sheer excitement and rambunctious enthusiasm, offered to sponsor me, put me in some mags, and go on tour. Despite his tempting offer, I remained loyal to my ski sponsor and tried KDs version of the wakeboard. I’ll never forget receiving an oversized box in the mail labeled “Water Board” stamped with KD’s version of what would eventually be the new Blind Side Wakeboard AND my first big contract ever!! It was official, my childhood dream had come true.
I was a Professional Wakeboarder. That summer in 1995, I competed and WON all 4 National Competitions in Trick, Slalom, Jump, and Wakeboard. I hung my skis up and dedicated all my future efforts strictly to Wakeboarding. Sure, I had random jobs at various restaurants/bars and became the Marketing Director at Masterline Ropes and Handles to keep me financially afloat, but eventually, I was able to support myself solely from sponsorship money and incentives!
Wakeboarding was my job, my life, and my passion! In those early days, there was no separate women’s professional wakeboard division. Russell and the motley “crew” of guys I lived with that summer at Russell’s house, inspired me to challenge against the men at the 1993 Cypress Gardens Tour Stop. It was a thrilling experience to finally compete at a Pro Tour Competition, meeting the top skiers and wakeboarders from all over the World.
The starting dock piqued my interest with so many guys from different backgrounds. I expected the former 3 event skiers that had become wakeboarders like Russell, Darin, and Jeremy Kovak but there were others- skaters like Byerly, show skiers like Dean Lavelle and Zane Schwenk and colorful characters like Gator ( I had no idea where he came from). I placed somewhere around 14th… not too bad for a Girl.
Over the years, I was privileged to work with the inventors and early adopters of our sport. Blind Side worked closely with me to design the Dana Preble pro-model wakeboard and create amazingly comfortable and secure boots instead of the first-generation foot straps. This signature board, with my G-Bolt signature fin remains a prized possession that currently hangs on the wall of my Yoga Studio.
Ten Foot Pole, the early version of a tower, made me a custom pole to match my boat, and Gravity Skateboards designed a long board to match my Pro Model wakeboard. I typically had a photo shoot scheduled once a week with Josh Letchworth, as his photography career was just taking off. What a luxury to simply notify clothing and accessory companies of my photoshoot and boxes of samples, such as new Point Conception swimsuits, board shorts, and clothing from companies such as Roxy and Yaga would show up on my doorstep. The UPS driver (we called him the Brown Santa) knew me by name and also knew to look for me at the dock and lake before leaving a package.
It was a little slice of Heaven! In the beginning, I skied behind my mom’s Ski Nautique which could only create small wakes. So, we overloaded it with people, sandbags, cement tables, you name it, until the invention of fat sacs, which in modern times is now known as the ballast system on true wakeboard boats! My very first new boat was a Hydrodyne. They gave me my first new gorgeous boat in 1996 complete with the “Perfect Pass”- a cruise control for the boat which turned out to be essential to my training.
Prior to having the Perfect Pass, I found out the hard way, that just because you are a good wakeboarder or my friend did NOT make you a good boat driver – as was proven by biting a hole in my face and chipping my front teeth learning to master my first Air Raley (hi Sarah; still love you). Unfortunately, that was only the first of the many more serious injuries to follow over the years. I was the first girl to land my signature trick, the Air Raley, and it became the key to gaining more publicity and sponsors.
Before I knew it, I was signing sponsorship contracts: Masterline Ropes and Handles, Master Craft, NeilPryde, Flojos Shoes, Yaga, Point Conception Swimwear, Revo, Freestyle, Ten Foot Pole, Rainbow Fins and then G-Bolts, and Performance Ski and Surf. In short, I was living my dream; a dream that certainly didn’t have a high probability of becoming true and yet it did. I achieved the highest honors in my sport, winning or placing top 3 in most Professional Competition, Masters, and XGames; but it wasn’t all about my competition status or my World rankings. After all, women got NONE or certainly UNEQUAL pay at competitions, so I focused more on promoting my sponsors that paid me!
For me, it was more about enjoying the sport that I love, traveling adventurously around the world, and promoting my sponsors, women’s sports and Wakeboarding in general. I often flew to new cities a couple days early for Pre-Press opportunities and Promotional Events with local newspapers, shops, restaurants, and radio stations. I met amazing new friends and fans, while teaching clinics and promoting my signature board around the world. Uncountable hours were spent in the boat coaching, driving, and riding for photoshoots in tropical places.
In the Winter, I worked for sponsors at boats shows and would stay a couple extra days to “cross train” at various ski slopes out West. The only downfall to cross training was when I shattered my wrist snowboarding in February of 1997. I had tried to do a grabbed-spin, coming off a mogul as if I were on a wakeboard. I woke up on the slope with people all around bringing me, as they brought me back to consciousness and loaded me on a sled to go to the ER! Ouch! Luckily, one of Olympic downhill surgeons was on call that day and verified that my wrist was in 25 pieces! Panic struck when I woke up with pins and an external fixator on my arm, as I thought that my life and career was over.
Alas, it was not; just the first step of my future path to learn about holistic medicine, yoga and meditation. It took many hours of painful wrenching PT, Chinese and homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, yoga and meditation to heal me just in time to compete on the Pro Tour that year. When I wasn’t training, traveling, or competing, there was still an endless amount work to do. World Publications hired me as a Contributing Editor to cover wakeboarding in Water Ski Magazine.
I was also my own sponsor and PR agent, travel agent, accountant, and yes, collection agency! In 1999, I was at the top of my game! For most of my wakeboarding years, I had coaches here and there, but most of my tricks were self-taught. A lot of it was trial and error, as I emulated the tricks that the men were landing. I physically got in great shape with a trainer at the gym and doing extensive cross training, Indo Boarding and yoga classes.
With my new strength and flexibility, I was able to “Go Bigger” than most of the other women. Eventually I ended going to West Palm Beach to train with Mike Ferraro, a well know “Hall of Famer” coach. In those days I was performing tricks that other girls couldn’t do, such as off-axis spins, a 720, a Krypt and a Tootsie Roll. I learned how to hit sliders and flip/spin off ramps. There was never a dull moment during those days. I loved participating at tournaments like XGames and Gravity Games, where I could meet athletes from other sports.
There are a few exciting highlights that come to mind. One year at the XGames I went to the hotel bar to pick up my lunch and there were some seriously tattooed guys there. I asked them innocently which sport they were in, and they laughingly explained with drinks in hand that they were in a band, The Foo Fighters, and paid for my lunch.
At the San Diego XGames, I was on a secret mission to demo a device that was placed on the sides of a ski boat to create bigger surf-like waves, another precursor to our modern wakeboard boats. A few other athletes were also called to join this excursion out on the waterway. As I climbed into the back seat of the boat with another guy named Tony, I noticed a big scar on his arm. He explained that he was a skateboarder and that he had fallen in the half-pipe while filming a GAP commercial. As he told me the story, the demo device on the boat snapped. We almost did the impossible and flipped a Ski Nautique over!! Yikes! Later, I realized that I almost flipped the boat over riding in the back with Tony Hawk.
One year at the Gravity Games, I was at the hotel gym warming up and riding a bike. A tall very fit woman sat down on the bike next to me and chatted a bit about volleyball. Later that day, I found out it was Gabrielle Reese, as she interviewed me inquisitively about wakeboarding. When in Hong Kong with my wetsuit sponsor, I spent some quality time with a couple of infamous Pro Windsurfers, Josh Stone and Jason Polakow.
I always loved meeting other top extreme sport athletes who were excited to see wakeboarding when they would show up for their events like: Glen Plake (pioneer of extreme snow skiing), Jeremy McGrath (motocross/supercross), Kelly Slater (surfer)and the Flying Tomato of snowboarding. It was also quite a vision to see “Shaq” on a jet ski halfway under water due to his size!! I just never knew who I would bump into next!
Unfortunately, my career sadly came to an end due to knee injuries. It was at the London Pro Tour Stop when my O’Brien wakeboard delaminated, tearing my ACL when I came off the wake. When I landed a big invert without my ACL, my knee was destroyed. I knew it was the end when my Orthopedic surgeon told me that if I want to walk when I’m 40, that I needed to retire from wakeboarding and completely change my lifestyle.
Devasted by the news, my true passion was left behind, as I began my first “real job” – a new career in sales in the corporate world. My journey after my wakeboarding career has had many ups and downs. Life as a Corporate Business Professional was, to put it mildly……not working for me at all!
It wasn’t until I became certified as a Yoga Teacher and refocused on a holistic healing path that my passionate self was rekindled gain. I struggled for over three years to keep both my leg and my life, secondary to an infected total knee prosthesis which started in 2017. It is a true miracle that I have survived (as described in Medical Miracles, by Richard Sarnat MD). Yet even amidst my struggle to heal, I truly believe that this part of my journey was still part of my destiny.
My future focus is to help teach other injured athletes how to heal, using the techniques that have proven so effective for me: yoga, meditation, breathwork and even building a relationship with the Angelic realm to receive a miracle cure. The story of my medical miracle has now been documented in a book called Medical Miracles, written by Richard L. Sarnat MD. Chapter 16 describes the three-year ordeal of how I literally came back from the dead time and time again due to a higher power. For those interested, this link takes you to Amazon to purchase and read this aspect of my journey: Medical Miracles Attributed to Master John Do… (Paperback) by Sarnat M.D., Richard L.
From my perspective, every moment of my life has been a miracle unto itself: from learning to ski, to helping develop the sport of wakeboarding, to surviving a life-threatening injury from the sport I love.
With the hope that what I have to say will inspire others to reach for their dream, embrace their destiny and enjoy their own miracle, I’m am happy to share the details of my journey.
Love to all, Dana