Hero stories often begin the same way. A small town; a young, kind-hearted, inconspicuous but talented athlete; and a dream of becoming something great. All of these ingredients (and more) are included in Mary Morgan Howell’s story. And as the two time consecutive Nautique Masters champion and current and reigning World Champion at only 18 years, it is clear that Mary Morgan’s story still has a lot to be written.
Already a hero in many people’s eyes, her quick and steady rise to the top of women’s wakeboarding has been turning a lot of heads from people all across of the sport: from other riders, her impressive riding has landed her on top of many podiums lately; from industry brands, she has quickly picked up many of the top sponsors the sport has to offer; and from the fans, she has not only impressed people with her riding, but also with her incredibly positive attitude and remarkable faith has given her a sort of “wakeboarding’s sweetheart” persona.
We decided to sit down with MMH and find out more about her “Rise” in the sport, her new pro model board with Ronix, and what she has in store for the future.
MH: Hey Mary Morgan! Thanks for spending a little time with me. Would you mind starting us off by telling everyone who you are, where you’re from and how you started wakeboarding?
MMH: Hey Mark! Thanks so much for having me! My name is Mary Morgan Howell, I’m 18 years old and I am from Dothan, AL and grew up riding at Compass Lake in northern FL. My dad grew up participating in all types of watersports, so he always knew that he wanted our family to grow up around the water. Then around my sixth birthday he taught me how to wakeboard and I just loved it!
MH: And when did you begin to take it seriously?
MMH: When I was coming up in the sport our state had really active presence with the INT tournaments. So our local dealer at the time hosted one of the Alabama INT stops, and we decided to enter it when I was eight years old. I can still remember my first contest and I was so nervous! My mouth was so dry, my legs were shaking, I was a wreck. But we ended up learning so much through early contests and it really helped to prepare us for the more serious contests down the line.
Then when I was ten years old, I told my parents that I really enjoyed wakeboarding and wanted to take it more seriously. So my parents prayed a ton about it and ultimately after my 6th grade year at school, my parents decided to homeschool me in order to make my school/athletic life much easier for us. And from that point on, I was focused whole-heartedly on becoming the wakeboarder that I knew I could be.
MH: Obviously it can be super difficult for a young child to stay passionate and focused on one thing over the years. What was your motivation to continue pursuing wakeboarding among the other distractions of being a young girl?
MMH: I know it sounds strange, but I always felt closest to God whenever I was on the water. Like when I am riding, I often feel like He is right there beside me. So for me, being on the water was always motivated by desiring to be closer to God. And then the more time I spent on the water, the better rider I became. Now I just feel like I want to become the best wakeboarder I can be because it means that get to spend more time with the Lord whenever I’m on the water!
In addition to that, I have always been motivated and inspired by the other women in the sport as well. I remember when I was about 12 years old watching Dallas Friday ride and just being so in awe of her riding! I got her board, the Ronix Limelight and tried to ride just like her for a long time. She was definitely a big inspiration for me and many of the other girls that were coming up in the sport around my same time.
MH: How did your relationship with Ronix start?
MMH: The local dealer that was closest to us happened to have a ton of Ronix stuff in their pro shop and my first board was a Ronix. So some of it was just by chance that I started riding Ronix from the very beginning. But then as I started to do well in some of the local contests and began traveling to some of the larger contests across the country, I got connected with the regional Ronix rep and they started sending me some boards each year. Then when I was 18 years old in my senior year of high school, I got a call from Paul O’Brien. And he asked me if I would be interested in helping Ronix design a high-end women’s specific wakeboard! I was shocked! And of course I said “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
MH: Wow! At 18 years old, that must have felt like a dream-come-true! What did the process look like of helping to design the board with Ronix?
MMH: Since Ronix didn’t have an advanced women’s specific shape at the time, I had been riding the RXT and really loved it! So my first thought was that I wanted to develop a women’s version of the RXT. That’s when I began speaking with Mike Ferraro every week and went through about 7 prototypes that blended the RXT and the ONE rocker lines, while keeping a lightweight profile. The first time I rode the final prototype, I was really doubting that I could ever like a board better than RXT. But I instantly fell in love with this board the second I got on it, and I knew that it was perfectly designed for me and my riding style. It has the perfect amount of pop and consistency, and it is so light under my feet. In fact, after a couple sets I landed my first 720 ever! It has seriously progressed my riding so much since I’ve been on it.
MH: How did the name of your board come about?
MMH: We had a list of different names that we had been brainstorming. And ultimately we landed on the name “Rise” because we knew that this board was going to rise the level of women’s wakeboarding. While we were making this board we took it around and let women from all different skill levels ride the Rise, and all of them absolutely loved it! It is just so cool that this board that has meant so much to me and my riding, can also give so much confidence to other girls and women who want to rise their own level of riding.
MH: This has been an absolute pleasure catching up with you. Is there anyone you’d like to thank or shoutout?
MMH: Thank you so much for asking that! First and foremost, I have to thank Jesus Christ. He continues to lead me every day and I am so thankful for His presence and I want to share that with as many people as I can! Next my parents and specifically my Dad. He is the hardest working person I know and he and my mom and my sisters have sacrificed so much for me to be where I am. I truly couldn’t do it without them! Obviously my sponsors Ronix, Nautique, and O’Neill. It has been so cool to be apart of such an amazing team and companies who continue to believe in me and help me progress in this amazing sport!