The Thomas Herman Effect

Thomas Herman's triple flip takes wakeboarding to new heights.
Thomas Herman attempting his backflip
Thomas Herman: Mid-flight. Courtesy Bryan Soderlind/Red Bull Content Pool

Progression is arguably the most important aspect of wakeboarding. Progression can take the form of landing a new trick all together or adding a unique touch on an existing trick. Either path can open the door to an offshoot of ideas and development that builds over time. Then there are the more rare, giant leaps in progression that make the wakeboarding history books, a moment in time burned into the minds of wakeboarding enthusiasts. In a contest format set to raise the bar on what can be done on a wakeboard, a new chapter of wakeboarding was created at the Red Bull Double or Nothing on a lake in downtown Orlando. 

In the early days of wakeboarding, the double up was utilized to give the rider more airtime to complete an extra 180 degree spin or to put a grab on a trick that was otherwise rushed off of the small boat wakes of the time. Inboard competition boats were essentially slalom ski boats that were designed to create the smallest wake possible for skiing at 30+ mph, but at slower speeds like 18 to 20 mph, wakeboarders and trick skiers could get some lift out of the wake. When the original wakeboard pioneers realized that timing a roller created while turning around at the end of a pass to hit when it combines with the boat wake, the sport saw a deluge of new tricks. 

The boats continued to get bigger and heavier, the engines, transmissions and propellers continued to push more weight that would displace more water and the wakes persistently grew to a point where the double up was no longer a necessity for progression. In fact, many riders started to shy away from hitting double ups on a regular basis since the wakes were big enough to learn new tricks without it and the looming fear of injury. It is a safe bet that the most injuries to occur at the pro level over the last 3 decades have been during a double up attempt. 

Thomas Herman celebrating
Thomas Herman, Supra Boats rider, jubilant after performing a triple back flip, at the 2023 Red Bull Double or Nothing. Courtesy Bryan Soderlind/Red Bull Content Pool

While the wake straight from the boat provides a very predictable and consistent pop, the double is highly unpredictable and relies heavily on the driver to create a solid set-roller, then approach at an optimal angle. Even more unique about the double up is that every rider prefers a little something different. Some riders like the angle “T-ed up” or closer to a 90 degree approach, while other prefer a more “open” or easier pocket to get into. Even in perfect conditions, the double up is a volatile beast that produces a stunt-like kick that is very difficult to control.

Considered the GOAT, Parks Bonifay leveraged the double up to launch him into legendary status through his illustrious career. It only makes sense that this event was the brainchild of Parks and Red Bull, giving riders the motivation to return focus to the double up and test the edge of progression in a winner take all format. The first inaugural event was in 2004 and it was an instant success. The event took a few years off and while it has maintained the exclusivity of only including riders that Parks deems worthy, he has added the chance for riders to earn a wildcard.  This year that was Rookie Jamie Huser and snowboard cross-over athlete Fynn Bullock.

Read Next: Women to Ride as Red Bull Double or Nothing 2023 Comes Back to Orlando

For the first time ever, the women had a chance to push the double up progression with Meagan Ethell and Jamie Lopina earning invites. “It is just really cool to be a part of the 10th anniversary. The women haven’t really made double ups a part of their regular riding so getting to use this stage to help inspire the younger girls is exciting.” Both Ethell and Lopina approach the sport in a similar fashion with attention to detail, learning tricks switch and regular and focusing on linking smooth stylish tricks. The contest approach is where they start to depart. Ethell being one of the most decorated, consistent athletes in the sport has taken down every major title numerous times. Lopina on the other hand has had top podium finishes but chooses to set up her passes in ways that feel good for her, but might cost her higher finishes. If you watch each of them ride you might guess that they train together. “We ride together sometimes but not all the time, I love the way she rides and she really pushes it for the girls.” said Ethell of her fellow competitor.

The virality of the triple flip barrier being broken down will ensure that the most eyeballs ever will be on this year’s Double or Nothing. Speculation on what kinds of tricks will be attempted next year.