Bryan Soderlind

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida - Day 2

The story of five wake athletes crossing the Sunshine State

Day 2: Runnin’ Locks and Chasing Waves

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Boating on the Okeechobee Canal is different than anywhere else.Bryan Soderlind

Upon waking up to a glassy river, we began to break down our tents and prep some breakfast. I randomly asked the group, “What songs does everyone have stuck in their heads?” Without skipping a beat, Bear let out a grizzled morning rendition of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What What Love Is,” and thus began the theme song for all of Day 2.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Classic Grubb.Bryan Soderlind
Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
The author getting in a morning slaysh.Bryan Soderlind

With the conditions staying calm, we loaded up and rode right away. Grubb and I were able to get our first sets in on the water and I kept having to pinch myself at the reality of the situation I found myself in. Here I was on a crazy trek across the Sunshine State getting to hang out and ride with some all-time legends, while it all gets documented by another. Yep, pretty awesome. Of course, nothing beats watching Grubb ride behind his boat on a wakeskate. The guy and his riding are both timeless. I followed him up and had some fun. Afterward, with the wind at our back, we were off and covering more ground.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Jake keeping it tight with a killer kickflip.Bryan Soderlind
Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Lock life.Bryan Soderlind

Our first stop was at a marina just as the boats were running low on fuel. We were greeted by the manager, who came down to the dock with a cane in one hand and a fresh Budweiser in the other. “You can’t be a job where you can crack a cold one on the dock,” he said with a wide grin. The marina was home to all sorts of boating characters, including the manager, who’d been living on a boat there with his wife for three years. Just about everyone we met at the had a similar story: living on boats in various states of operational upkeep with dreams of traveling waterways both near and far. The only thing holding them back might be a lack of resources to make their boats completely operational, or perhaps an underlying fear that their dock spot might not be waiting for them when they return. Thus, they end up staying at the marina and creating a unique community with a culture all its own. Like a jet stuck on a runway, ready to fly as soon as the pilot patches a few more holes with some duct tape he bought with the cash he made as a part time baggage handler.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
The marina was home to all sorts of boating characters.Bryan Soderlind

At any rate, the manager also played the guitar, and was able to provide Parks with an extra string after he broke his the night before. Thus, the trip provided for us again. We said our thank yous and made our way back out to the canal, wondering if the universe would continue to conspire in our favor.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Slices of life on the Okeechobee.Bryan Soderlind
Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Cruising the canal.Bryan Soderlind
Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Waiting on the next lock and looking to meet up with a yacht...Bryan Soderlind

When we got to the next lock we were surprised and excited to see a 60-foot yacht pull up next to us. Of course, Bear decided to make contact. “Hey, nice boat!” he yelled. “Does it throw up a pretty big wake.” The crew on board was younger, and complimentary of our wake boat combo, and told us that at 13 knots the wake was a monster. They agreed to meet up with us a little further down the river. The conspiring was continuing, and we were amping on it.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Rollers on rollers.Bryan Soderlind

Grubb had been foiling quite a bit before this trip, and had been kicking the idea of towing into another boat’s roller and hijacking their wave in his mind since before we left Orlando. But we soon realized 13 knots is almost 15 mph, and to catch up to a wave that is passing we would have to go closer to 20-25 mph to tow him in. If you’ve ever been on a foil you know how challenging that is, but Grubb looked ready for it. In the distance we saw the yacht getting into place. While a wake boat coming at you at around 15 MPH might not seem like much, it’s a whole different ball game with a 60-footer. As we lined up to tow Grubb in, I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’d never seen rollers like this on a river, they had to be close to five feet high. We carried speed through the giants and Grubb instinctively dropped into a tuck knee stance - before we knew it he was ripping into of the waves and about to drop the handle.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Grubb catching a really, really, ridiculously long ride...Bryan Soderlind

It was at that instant when a lot of factors collided and the proverbial shit almost hit the proverbial fan. The part of the canal we were on at that moment was more narrow than other sections, which meant these giant rollers stayed giant across its entire width. As the swells rolled up against the rocky shore, they often crested and rolled over. Right as Grubb was cutting into the first giant roller and ready to let go of the handle, Steel made a sharp right to give him a little extra whip. What Steel didn’t realize is that Parks and Bear were right behind him at the same speed to get photos. With nowhere to go lest they wanted to run into Steel, Parks veered right hoping to have enough room to shoot the gap between Steel and the shore. He didn’t, and suddenly that giant wave that Brian was trying to catch was now lifting Parks, Bear, and their boat up to the top of the shoreline. We all braced for what was seemingly inevitable. I was sure we were about to see a brand new wake boat get totally ruined. Suddenly, just as the boat seemed to be dropping onto rocks, the second roller roared up against the share, picked it back up, and somehow dropped it safely down in the water. We were shocked. And amongst the chaos, after we picked our jaws up off the floors, we realized Grubb was riding the wave of a lifetime - floating down the Okeechobee canal - his board hovering over the water. That in and of itself seemed pretty unreal. Factor in our close call and it was very much unreal.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Is this real life?Bryan Soderlind

Once Grubb was done, we checked our progress and the weather. It had steadily gotten cloudier throughout the day, and we realized that some bad stuff was moving in. We needed more than a campsite, we needed rooms. Fortunately we stumbled upon a little place known as Uncle Joe’s Fishing Camp. The only indication it even existed was a small sign and a rickety old wooden dock. Because the camp was on the other side of the embankment, you can’t see it from the water. Bear ran up from the dock to scope it out, and when he came up over the hill with the biggest smile on his face I knew that we were in for a treat. We were soon greeted by a firecracker of an employee named April on a golf cart. She carted us up over the hill and there we saw a beautiful landscape of makeshift homes and trailers in a typical trailer park layout. April explained that the park was made up of WWII-era barracks/shacks from Buckingham Airfield, which was shut down following war. She also said it was haunted…

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Welcome to Uncle Joe's!Bryan Soderlind

We got our rooms and after some much needed showers, headed to the middle of the camp to scope out the bar. I’m sure most of you reading this have all seen some diver bars, but to see a dive bar so untouched, so uninfluenced by the hand of time, was incredible. It was essentially a vintage storage unit full of old bar signs and boxes that hadn’t been touched in what seemed like decades. There was also a poster of someone wakeboarding doing a suitcase grab. We were home for the night.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Life around Uncle Joe's Fish Camp.Bryan Soderlind

As soon as we had our first drinks in hand we were met by a big personality named Eddie. Eddie is what you might call a local and a lifer. Preferring to call everybody “Daddy-O,” Eddie instantly had bets going around the lone pool table in the bar.The one major perk of this shed fishing corner store, shed, dive bar combo was the pool table. That quickly led him to bet Grubb a shirt that we couldn’t beat him in a game of pool. The challenge was accepted, but there was a catch. Eddie left the bar for a few minutes and came back with his ringer, Butch. To put it simply, Butch was old, and he liked his beer. In fact, it looked like Eddie had just woken Butch up for this game. With some drinks down and egos up, the side bets were roaring and the game was on. Of course Eddie’s big personality was at it the whole time, shouting southern phrases none of us had ever heard but had us all in stitches… “Hey Daddy-O! You think long, you think wrong!” After quite some time Grubb won, and needless to say everybody went wild. Well, everyone except for Butch, who literally fell asleep standing in the corner after the game was over. God bless Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp!

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Grubb's new shirt.Bryan Soderlind

After the games were done we went by the boats to get some nighttime photos that Bear wanted. Of course Eddie showed up and exclaimed it was way too damn hot. “Y’all just wait, I’m gonna get you some redneck A/C, Daddy-O’s!” That’s when he fired up his airboat that he had tied to the dock and blasted us with a strong, swampy, southern breeze. An appropriate ending to an adventure-filled Day 2.

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
Eddie and a little redneck air conditioning.Bryan Soderlind

Stay tuned for Part 3 next week!

Okeechobee Runnin' - A Wake Trip Across Florida
An epic end to an epic day.Bryan Soderlind