Surf Expo 2023

Surf Expo keeps the hearts of wakeboarding and wakesurfing beating.
Surf Expo 2023
The Fall 2023 Surf Expo was a success. Next Surf Expo is January 10-12, 2024, in the Orange County Convention Center, West Concourse. Courtesy Surf Expo

It would be hard to find a passionate board rider who is not fully aware of the Surf Expo legacy and what the industry show means to the board sports community.  A healthy Surf Expo held in Orlando, FL can typically be a reflection of the state of manufacturers, key retailers and overall relevance to the masses. The exclusivity of the floor itself has always given the exhibitors, buyers, and media a sense of importance as the show has never been open to the general public. It is no secret that Surf Expo has faced extraordinary challenges over the last 10 years with all major conferences taking the COVID hiatus as well as unfortunate luck with early fall hurricanes that have impacted Florida. Regardless of volatility in market conditions, returning the show to its peak attendance has proven to be a steep hill to climb.

For towed water sports, sharing the stage with major surf brands and influential companies put us at the forefront of what was considered cool. Brands like Quiksilver, Billabong and O’Neill were actively building up their wake programs due to the growing attention on the sport. Wake athletes shared product needs like wetsuits and boardshorts as well as taste in apparel with existing surf teams, so it made a lot of sense for the companies to leverage wake athletes to get their products into the inland shops across Middle America. The movement gave the brands a reason to take meetings with wakeshops at the show to write orders for the upcoming seasons.

The team at Surf Expo has responded to the change in how shop buyers approach the process as well as spinning up new areas of focus to keep the show relevant to growing categories. While towed water sports has unfortunately moved away from full engagement and bringing large teams, a few brands came out to show their products and keep the heartbeat of wake sports beating. 

Radar/Ronix has long been known as an ultimate supporter of the wake community, continuing to invest in core events like Surf Expo and always looking to strengthen their dealer relationships. Legendary Ronix athletes Parks Bonifay and Erik Ruck along with team rider Jake Pelot were on hand to walk through the 2024 line.

The buzz amongst the world of park riding is all about Trent Stuckey right now. Winning most major categories at all of the big park events while also dropping some of the hardest hitting video edits on the web, Trent earning a pro-model from one of the top teams in the sport was a foregone conclusion. His new board, the Utopia Variable Flex allows for the easiest tip and tail flex in Ronix’s park board line-up due to the ultra thin profile, vertical wood construction, and relaxed continuous rocker. Stuckey’s deliberate intention in the way he rides is apparent in every clip and contest pass that he produces. It stands to reason that his same attention to detail and commitment to progression can be felt in his new signature board.

On display were two new wake surf shapes, the High Voltage Core Beaux Skimmer and the Flyweight Pro DNA Traditional.

The construction of the Flyweight Pro DNA utilizes USA S-Glass, a new fiberglass layup that boasts a poppier and lively feel with added carbon reinforcements for the fins when they are under the most demand. The evolution of the shape is where Ronix has gone through many prototype iterations, looking to strike the balance of what top pros look for in a competition worthy board while allowing intermediate and beginner riders a forgiving feel to look forward to their next ride. The test group during the prototyping process varied widely to cover all levels and after a few years, the Flyweight Pro DNA adds a fast, fun, usable surfstyle board to Ronix’s lineup

The new shape inspired by Beaux Wildman is on the other end of the spectrum. Intentionally high end and high performing (read: not for the first timer), the Ronix crew leveraged their local Seattle aerospace connections to develop a material with higher tensile strength while reducing weight and thickness. The cutting edge tech is compounded with a dual rockerline, lightning fast on the rails while remaining more mellow through the middle of the board. If you have ever seen Beaux ride a wakeboard, wakesurfer or foil it makes sense that his board would be as controlled and aggressive as he is.

Foil at Surf Expo
The Ronix Flyweight Pro Mod 84 Foilboard on display at Surf Expo. Ben Greenwood

Foiling cannot be ignored and the industry is responding with more and more manufacturers offering their take on an activity that has seen a massive influx of new participants over the last 5 years. While the Air Chair has been a part of towed water sports for 30+ years, the sit-down version of today’s trend paved the way for wing design and mast length/setup. Mike Murphy is credited with pushing the early days of the Air Chair and his dedication and influence on watermen all over the world has assuredly shaped where we are today. It was as though there was a 2 and a half decade long smoldering pilot light before the explosion of foiling as we know it today.

The foil option on display was the Flyweight Pro Mod 84, an homage to the year 1984 when Murphy and Herb O’Brien (founder of Ronix/Radar) originally started modifying foils to work for their Air Chair concept. This initiative builds off of their aptly named “727 Project”. 7/27 was the birth date of both Herb O’Brien and his father Ed, who was an aeronautical engineer who worked on iconic wartime aircraft like the B17, B47, and you guessed it, the 727. 

Within the foil setup, the board itself is a conduit to the end goal of relying on the lift and glide of the foil to produce the feeling of hovering or floating. The lighter and faster the board is when in contact with the water, the easier it will be to achieve a glide while at the same time reducing the amount of drag the rider feels if the board touches down. All of these thoughts were intentionally addressed in the R&D process, as are most product releases from Ronix. 

Yamaha boat at Surf Expo
Yamaha “owned” the floor at Surf Expo 2023, as far as boatbuilders go. Ben Greenwood

Yamaha Boats owned the floor for boat manufacturers. Wakeskating icon Danny Hampson manned the booth and shared his deep knowledge of the Yamaha line and just how versatile jet boats have become. The 222XD Wake Series looks like a fun and multi-faceted machine that has plenty of features. With a price tag with only 5 digits, there is a refreshing option for more families to spend time together and experience towed water sports. 

One of the attention-grabbing features is the DRiVE system which allows for easier maneuvering while docking. Eliminating the need to move the throttle forward and reverse, the 222XD can be nestled into position by utilizing conveniently placed paddles at the captain’s fingertips, located just behind the steering wheel. 

A pro-sized wake or wave won’t be in the cards but there are many advantages if a multi-faceted vessel is desired. Take for instance the 19″ draft of the 222XD vs the 30″ draft of top end wake boats, giving Yamaha owners more places to explore while finding the next spot to park up.

While this year’s show didn’t have the same wow-factor compared to the high water mark of years passed, Surf Expo continues to be a staple of the board sports. One thing to count on in the unpredictable future is that the Surf Expo brand will continue to evolve and adjust to the ever changing world.