Day 1: Jitters, Jumps, and Giant Smiles
From the outside looking in, our setup for this four-day trip was pretty simple. Two boats, five guys, 100 beverages, and a weeks’ worth of stoke and food. We had a crew of Brian Grubb, Parks Bonifay, Steel Lafferty, Bryan Soderlind, and myself, Jake Ramsdell. The plan was to drop two boats somewhere below Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida and then to trek across the state via the Okeechobee Canal. If you’re not from Florida and this sounds a little strange to you, well, it is. The Okeechobee Canal was created in 1937 to help control the flow in and out of Lake Okeechobee, the tenth largest freshwater lake in the country, and to give boats easier passage between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. The trip from coast to coast is 152 miles, with five locks you have to pass through. We had a rough estimate how we would do on gas, rations, and camping, but no clear idea on whether or not it would all actually work. Plus, you never know what the weather’s going to do. But as far as we knew, this would be the first trip like this with wakeboard boats, and all of us were down for an adventure.
Grubb and I have been friends for a long time and have always kicked around the idea of taking a trip somewhere, but never fully lined one up. Then one day this spring he said, “Hey man, we’re going to do a trip coast-to-coast through Okeechobee, you should come.” The wheels in my head started spinning rapidly.
“Can you ride on the canal?”
“Where will you stay?”
“Will I be able to get out of work?”
“What will we do for food?”
“F#$% it, let’s go!”
I happen to work in marine construction, meaning most everyone is a surfer so they come to expect things like this from co-workers. When the waves are good people call off! And this was a wave I wanted to paddle in on. When I called to tell my boss what was on the table and ask if I could get a couple days off, his response was instant. “If we see you on Monday we are kicking your ass. Just go, you’ll have your job when you’re back.” Green light means go.
The drive from Orlando south to Fort Myers is only a few hours, but that day it felt like forever. All of us were anxious to launch the boats and get started, probably because we had no idea how this was going to go. None of us knew what riding conditions would be like, where exactly we’d be able to stay that night, let alone any other nights, or how exactly we’d fare crossing the largest lake in Florida. And I’m sure everybody was wondering if this was all a giant waste of time and money, but we were stoked. As we pulled off the freeway and headed to the launch ramp, the vibes spiked. We were ready. Maybe not literally, but figuratively we were ready, and sometimes on trips like this, that’s all that matters.
Once we had Grubb’s Malibu 23 LSV and Steel’s MasterCraft X-Star in the water and loaded, the first photo shoot happened almost immediately. Bear wanted to capture the crew cruising away from the launch ramp, under the I-75 bridge, and into the Caloosahatchee River, so away we went. It wasn’t long before everybody’s phones were out – the social media game was on. Of course, Parks won that first day. He somehow manages to time things perfectly in his Instagram stories. Right off the bat a bald eagle flew over the water and Parks happened to be blasting “Proud to be an American” from his boat. Because, of course.
We had a 33-mile ride to the first lock, but as we continued cruising we realized Mother Nature wasn’t going to be playing nice. She was whipping up some steady winds across the state, and that meant a rough ride through the river and toward our first destination. We also were introduced to some of our fellow coast-to-coast crossers, and these boats were big. Big boats means big rollers, which isn’t always great for riding, but for foiling they are epic. Grubb just so happened to bring his foil thinking we might see some big boats, and he immediately started thinking of ways we could make it happen. We got the boats in a rhythm through some of the rougher spots made good progress, but not enough because when we got to the first lock it was already closed and done operating for the day. Fortunately, there was calm water leading up to it, so Steel and Parks decided to ride.
Steel went first, and this was my first time seeing him ride in person, and everything I’d heard about his riding was good. That being said, all I had seen from him until this point were goofy Instagram antics full of random thoughts and smashing golf balls off the boat (biodegradable). Needless to say I was a bit caught off guard when he started riding. This. Kid. F#$%ing. Rips. Immediately taking it huge and having no fear of double ups, Steel looks like he hits a double jump button each time his board touches the lip of the wake. He easily had some of the biggest airs I have ever seen on a wakeboard.
Parks rode next, and it was my first time watching him ride in person, too. Talk about a treat. First the Trick of the Year winner and then an all-time legend who’s basically done it all and set the standard for what wakeboarding could and should be. And damn if PB doesn’t have some moves. Nobody has ever ridden like him, and no one ever will again. It was a ton of fun to watch him slash around, throw some classic moves, and rip like the big kid he is.
As it started to get dark we decided to park the boats and campout along a beat up, old dock. Turns out we might have chosen the local high school kids’ party spot, but luckily we were far enough away to avoid any awkward shenanigans.
We started a fire, pitched our tents, cooked up some ramen and bean and rice tacos. PB kept us entertained with a little acoustic guitar serenading and some hilarious stories. Cold, wet, and stoked to be on our adventure, we fell asleep looking forward to what the next day had in store.
Check out all of the adventure from day 2!