The first time the legendary World Champion facetimed me back, it was half past noon in Sydney. She looked dazzling through the phone screen, with her signature red hair pinned up into a mom-bun while she juggled two small children in the midst of a hot day. There was no time to waste. I sat up straight…
Amber Wing retired from competitive wakeboarding not long ago, yet the fast-talking star has got more energy than a supernova. Here is the story of the gifted and delicate Australian beauty who chased the summer across two continents for a decade and a half, riding with the guts and brains of a Super “Shero”.
In 1998, Amber Wing was 15 yrs old when she tried wakeboarding for the first time. She was on a waterski holiday with a friend from gymnastics.
“I asked my Dad for a Wakeboard for Christmas that year, he bought me a Freemotion Journey. This got me on the water behind our family ski boat and my love for the sport began.”
Amber was extremely focused on Gymnastics, training up to 40 hours a week with the upcoming Olympic games in Sydney in her dreams, but early in the 2000 season she severely broke her ankle and her olympic hopes came to halt.
“I needed to channel my energy and athletic fitness somewhere, and that somewhere became Wakeboarding.”
Every morning at 6am Amber woke her parents up and asked them to tow her on the river. She rode whenever and wherever she could.
“I was hooked. I asked my Dad for a better board for Christmas, they bought me a second hand LF 128 Trip with Ultra Suctions.”
In 2001 she landed her first invert, the Tantrum, and immediately rose to the top. By the end of the 2001/2002 Australian summer, Amber won the local, state and nationals in Junior Women and won Junior Women at the Asian Australasians in Japan.
A turning point in her career was when she headed to Orlando for a two week stay to compete in the WWA Worlds.
Back in Australia, at the Planet X Wake Event in Sydney, she met Emily Copeland, Lauren Harf and Cathy Williams and ended up placing 4th in Open Women finals, the highest placed Australian female at the time.
“It was my first major accomplishment.”
After winning the Australian Championships, Amber headed to Florida for her first pro season. On the way, she stopped in Portland and competed in her first Tour Stop and ended up placing 4th.
Amber spent the summer riding as much as she could while being the cook at the World Wakeboard Center. At the end of her first year on the pro tour, she received an invitation to compete at the elite NBC Gravity Games.
“I was super happy with my start and felt confident for the future.”
Unfortunately, at nineteen years old, Amber had a right ACL reconstruction, and at twenty… left ACL reconstructive surgery.
“I blew both knees out young. Call me reckless or overconfident.”
Her first injury was wake-skating. She tore her Left ACL when she had just come home from her second trip to Florida in 2003 and it was heartbreaking.
“I took this on the chin, I was 20 yrs old, I didn’t drink or party for six months and became super focused on coming back stronger and better than ever”
She recovered quickly and when the 2004 season started she was back on the water and living at the World Wakeboard Center. The secluded paradise where she had started as a cook and was now a coach.
“To finish the season on the podium, I felt like I made it back.”
During the summer Amber moved into the Wakeboard Camp riding and shooting with Ben Greenwood, Aaron Reed, Kurt Robertson and Keith Lyman daily. Training with them availed her plenty of opportunities to be on photoshoots and learn to ride for the camera from the sport’s best. At the end of the season, she signed with Liquid Force and placed 5th at the World Championships and 3rd at US Open in Kauai.
Afterward, Wing flew home and spent the summer filming and shooting on the road with the Aussie boys.
“I had just signed with Liquid Force, it was my first season with them, my first trip to Lake Powell, also they made the Cadence board for me. Only being cleared to carve, I flew to Lake Powell from Australia for the photoshoot, it was super important to me…”
During the film trip, she blew her right ACL.
“This was devastating but quite the reality check at the same time. It made me remember how quickly things could get taken away from me, and to be cautious of the line of progression, push limits but don’t push too hard.”
When asked what kept her going, she is quick to reply, “I loved the challenge. I was used to injury, 15 years as a gymnast you learn about injury, recovery and progression.”
Wing returned crestfallen to Australia after the shoot and moved to Cairns for the Australian winter, living and training with Angelika Schriber, who was a junior boat rider at the time.
“I built my strength back up at the cable park and we rode Angelika’s boat up at the dam. Worlds were in Australia 2005 so it made sense to me to train and get strong in my home country and give it my best shot at worlds”
Amber quickly went from carving, to wake jumps, to 180’s and inverts during the first week, onto the riskier tricks that she needed for Worlds by the second week back.
Placing second at the World Wakeboarding Championships in 2005, fresh off a second knee reconstruction was a huge accomplishment for Amber, who knew what it took to return to the top.
“There was something about Worlds, always the bridesmaid, never the bride lol.” Amber won in 2007, and basically every other year placed 2nd (7 times actually). If she wasn’t 2nd, she placed 3rd (3 times) in 15 years. Adding up an impressive total of 11 podium finishes at the World Championships with only 1 gold.
“This hurt a little…”
Winning the US Nationals was Amber’s thing, “The conditions always seemed to suit me, the bigger the wake the better I competed. It also was not always about winning for me, don’t get me wrong I love to win, I am super competitive.”
Amber was always driven to prove the boys wrong and to push women’s wakeboarding by landing tricks other girls weren’t trying.
She was the first girl to land a toeside 720, heelside 720, toeside 900, and right after her 30th birthday, she landed a double flip off the kicker at the cable park.
Her progressive drive to land new tricks took time away from practicing her “contest-run” consistency. She landed many things that she never put in, “The conditions and wake are not always perfect like in practice, so I didn’t chance the injury or the podium for the trick in a contest”
Her favorite tricks are Pete Roses, “They are such a great feeling trick”, backside 180’s with different grabs, and the Melon toeside 720, she loved that trick as well.
Amber fell in love with Dean Smith when she was 18. It was love at first sight.
“At my first Wakeboard contest, we became friends for life. We fell in love at 19 and then were friends until stars aligned again when were 26. We love Wakeboarding and being on the water, and we are looking forward to bring our family up on the boat on the same river we both grew up on.”
“2014 was the first year of my career that I started riding on auto pilot, thinking that I didn’t want to beat myself up anymore. 2013 was such a high of a year for me, but two sponsors did not renew my contracts due to restructuring”.
At 31 yrs old Amber felt deflated, having put so much hard work in but failing to receive a reward at contract renewal time.
“It was a crazy thing to process in my head.”
It took 6 months for Amber to get pregnant, which timed perfectly with riding the full 2014 season. Her son William was born in the middle of July.
“Dean and I flew to Australia to have him and Dean flew home for 4 weeks. William was an ‘Emergency C-Section’ baby.”
Dean flew to Florida when William was two weeks old, and later re-encountered his new family in Japan when the little jet-setter was just five and a half weeks old.
“Dean won the World Series Stop! It was magic!”
Mrs. Smith was not ready to retire, “In 2016 I came back and was as strong as ever, winning 4 events including the US Nationals and World Cup. I felt strong and happy to be back on the water at the top of my game with a 1 yr old in tow.”
Sadly, at the start of 2017, she broke her left ankle while competing in the Australian Open.
“The course had rollers, I missed the take-off on a Moby Dick and… This was my second reality check, I had an 18-month-old baby, a broken ankle, and my best friend’s wedding in Jackson Hole in 2 weeks.”
Devastated, she made it to the wedding, wearing a boot and taking blood thinners for the plane. She was in the middle of a Yoga 200hr teacher training so she practiced teaching in a moon boot.
“I was 34. That was though coming back. Broke it in January, made it back for Masters but was not where I wanted to be so decided to have another baby lol”
Jamison was born January 2018, “Those sleepless nights with Jamison in my arms, doing ankle rises, squats, and lunges. My ankle became stronger than ever and I was back in the gym and on the water after my second c-section”.
Determined to be back in time for the US season, Amber trained in Australia for 4 months. Then she took her two kids to Florida for six weeks to train and compete at the US Nationals.
“My goal was to compete in Monroe, Washington at the 2018 US Nationals. I just wanted to compete and announce my retirement. I can’t call it quits on an injury or pregnancy.”
Her last contest was the 2018 US Nationals, she retired from competitive wakeboarding after placing 6th in the finals with her 2.5 yr. old toddler and her 6-month-old baby in tow.
“Riding that Nationals was extremely emotional for me, winning my heat and making finals was all I could ask for. I was happy to head home to Australia with my two babies and raise my beautiful boys.”
To Amber, the most important victory in her career is her voice and exposure of the sport.
She was featured on various ESPN articles and attended the 34th Salute to Women’s Sport Foundation in New York where she met Billy Jean King and was inspired by all the women involved.
“Traveling around the world, inspiring women to wakeboard and to introduce them to sport for the first time, is what warmed my heart the most during my 15 year career.”
The person who inspires Amber the most is her mum. She was the first female Waterski Racing World Champion in England in 1979.
“She is always there for me, always gave me the advice I needed to stay focused, grounded and strong, but most of all to stay true to myself and what I wanted to achieve.”
Amber Wing-Smith will forever be remembered not only for her amazing capacity to succeed as a professional wakeboard champion, but for her powerful implied message – I can do this. You can do this – Her amazing courage remains a source of inspiration for athletes worldwide.