In 2019, we mark the 16th iteration of the awards, and once again it was another banner year for wakeboarding. Riders continued to push the envelope and the sport to new heights, and the awards presented below are further proof of that.
Check Out Award
The Check Out Award goes to the new rider on the pro scene who made the biggest impact over the past year, be it through contest results, media exposure or progressive riding. Since the Check Out Award was created in 2004, its recipients have gone on to become some of the biggest and most influential names in the sport. Those names include JD Webb, Kevin Henshaw, Harley Clifford, Bob Soven, Cory Teunissen, Guenther Oka and many more.
Winner: Sam Brown
Sam Brown started turning heads a couple of years ago, and at the ripe old age of 16, he’s got heads fully turned with jaws completely dropped. The young Australian doesn’t just have a bright future in the sport, he’s already paving his own path. With a unique style and an uncanny ability to grab his board in contortionist-like ways, Sam’s riding stands out. In his first full year on the Supra Boats Pro Wakeboard Tour, he made several finals and won Rookie of the Year. Look for him to do more than that in the years to come.
“Grabbing your board properly is such an important aspect to competing, and Sam blows people away consistently with his ability to incorporate some of the most difficult grabs on a wakeboard into his run. Sam’s style is really unique, and it’s a ton of fun to watch.” —Reed Hansen, pro wakeskater, PWT judge
“In a long, history-laden line of Aussie phenoms to impact the sport, Sam Brown may be the best yet. It’s one thing to be really good and young—that means you have a bright future. But Sam is really good and already has his own style. That’s rare.” —Garrett Cortese
Best Park/Rail Rider
Cable park and urban/winch riding continue to be at the forefront of progression for wakeboarding. Video clips and photos from that realm get some of the strongest reactions. The creativity—along with the gnarly factor—is unlike anything else in the sport. To win the Best Park/Rail Rider award, a rider needs to not only showcase a deft balance of creativity and moxie, but also win contests, stack clips and push boundaries.
Winner: Guenther Oka
For the second year in a row, Guenther Oka finds himself the winner of this award, and rightfully so. While there are more park riders than ever before doing incredible things, Guenther manages to stand out. He wins contests—in both traditional and features-only formats—while riding with his own unique style, he pushes boundaries, and he regularly drops video clips and photos that speak volumes.
Board: Liquid Force Rhythm
Home Parks: Wake Nation Cincinnati and Orlando Watersports Complex
Previous Wake Awards: Best Park/Rail Rider (2018), Full Scope Award (2018)
“Guenther puts in more work than any single rider out there right now—in all the categories. He takes the time to interact with fans, learns new, innovative tricks, films like a madman, rips the mono tower (boat) and the multitower (cable), and perfects his contest runs. What doesn’t the kid do?” —Tom Fooshee
Best Web Video
In the world of modern media, and especially wakeboarding, the web video reigns supreme. Sure, a single 15-second clip can go viral, but what really propels the sport, stokes out the fans, and gets the industry buzzing is a well-produced web video. It has more or less taken the place of the full-length video section, where riders could stamp their signatures on a piece and create a hype unlike anywhere else. The key—and the challenge—is to create something with staying power. Something that is talked about not just for the next day or two, but for the rest of the year. That’s what makes the Best Web Video.
“4 Minutes of Footage” rider: Josh Twelker || film/edit: Trever Maur
“Insight—Part 4” rider: Graeme Burress || film/edit: Trever Maur
“Real Wake—Guenther” rider: Guenther Oka||film/edit: Taylor Hanley
“Real Wake—Tyler” rider: Tyler Higham||film/edit: Trever Maur
“Falling Rocks” riders: Dom Hernler, Felix Georgii, Parks Bonifay|| film/edit: Red Bull/Blackbird Productions
Winner: “Insight—Part 4”
Even though it was part of a larger series, Part 4 of “Insight” was a web video in its own right based on the riding and overall production alone, not to mention the reaction it garnered around the world. For better, and sometimes for worse, Graeme Burress has always been on a different level than his peers. Part 4 highlights all that has been for the better. It is the culmination of Graeme’s comeback and the coronation of not only “Insight” but also his standing among the most progressive and influential park and urban riders in the sport.
“Graeme is the ultimate definition of what it means to have a burning passion and drive for something he loves. He goes all in and gives 110 percent on his riding, and it shows. I’ve seen this drive from him since day one, and it’s pretty evident he’s got no signs of slowing down anytime soon.” —Guenther Oka
Best Video/Short Series
Another evolution of the video genre in wakeboarding has been the growth of shorts and miniseries. While full-length videos are fewer and farther between, each year we see more riders and videographers putting effort into season edits, personal “sections,” or even series documenting what they’re up to. In the end, it means more entertainment for the rest of us.
“Behind the Watermark—Guenther” rider: Guenther Oka||film/edit: Shane Bonifay/Liquid Force
“Heightened State of Life” rider: Daniel Grant||film/edit: various/Daniel Grant
“Insight” rider: Graeme Burress||film/edit: Trever Maur
“Journey to Lake Powell” riders: Tony Carroll, Bec Gange, Austin Keen || film/edit: Alliance Visual Experiences
“The North Florida Loop” riders: Parks Bonifay, Brian Grubb, Massi Piffaretti, Nick Taylor||film/edit: Erik Ruck
While Part 4 of “Insight” showcased Graeme Burress’ incredible talents and unbridled determination, the series as a whole brought to light the story of his rise, fall and resurrection in the sport. Both heartfelt and inspiring, Trever Maur managed to deftly weave together the complicated circumstances revolving around everything Graeme has been through over the past eight years, and then drop the hammer of all 2019 video hammers with the final piece of jaw-dropping, in-your-face, total-Graeme-style shredding.
“Both Trever and Graeme do everything to the absolute maximum. They have a real history with one another and are both masters of their craft. Every ‘Insight’ so far has been epic, but this one stands out.” —Rodrigo Donoso
Thanks to social media and the World Wide Web, we live in a more image-driven (and image-conscious) world than ever before. And while video might be king these days, the power and necessity of a still image can’t be understated. Fortunately for all of us, our sports are documented by some of the best photo takers in the game, using their creativity, vision, dedication and passion to showcase the lifestyles we love living.
Winner: Bryan Soderlind
Over the last 15 years, the man simply known as Bear has shot some of the most recognizable wake pictures. From magazine covers to marketing campaigns, from studio shenanigans to missions to the middle of nowhere, Bryan has done it all, and he always delivers images that make you say wow.
“I’ve worked side by side with Bear the last four years to shoot the Follow Wake catalogs, and it’s been rad. Sending Bear out with the crew means great content will always come back. His casual style and relaxed vibes always make shoots go well, and he always has a creative approach and the best ideas about how to go about it. On more than a few occasions we’ve been caught out on the lake in a downpour, and Bear didn’t even skip a beat. He just grabbed a piece of cardboard, put it over his head and shouted, ‘One more!’ “—Derek Cook
“I’ve always been a fan of shooting with Bear. The way he sees stuff and his personality really inspire me. We became very good friends in the last few years, so I’ve gotten the chance to share some awesome moments with him. I think that Bear is one of the nicest and most amazing people I know, and behind the lens that man is incredible. When I’m shooting with him, I’m always 100 percent sure that he got the shot—and not just any shot, the sickest shot. In fact, most of my favorite photos of myself were taken by him!” —Massi Piffaretti
The Legend Award
The Legend Award is arguably the biggest honor a wakeboarder can receive. Created at the inception of the Wake Awards to honor those who paved the way and had the biggest impact on the sport, the list of winners is a who’s who of wakeboarding. And it is not awarded annually. In fact, it is only given out when the time is right. Since 2004, the list of winners now includes the following: Scott Byerly, Shaun Murray, Darin Shapiro, Parks Bonifay, Zane Schwenk, Erik “Gator” Lutgert, Greg Nelson, Thomas Horrell, Gregg Necrason, Cobe Mikacich and Randall Harris. For 2019, we at Wakeboarding felt it was time to add another member to this esteemed club, and one name in particular deserved it.
Winner: Danny Harf
Let’s cut around the semantics and superlatives of Danny Harf’s career and just call it like it is: one of the most influential and successful in history. Simply put, you could make the argument that Danny is the best all-around wakeboarder ever. Beyond the basic checklist of wakeboarding career accolades like contest results, media coverage and progressive riding (which he has in spades), Danny has been an influencer unlike any other. Fans and fellow pros alike followed his lead for over a decade because he was much more than just the best. His style set trends, his pro-model boards have been top sellers year in and year out, and his easygoing personality attracts fans across all spectrums. Based on accomplishments and impact alone, Danny could have won the Legend Award back in 2010, but he was still at the top of the game, still pushing the sport to unbelievable heights, and still yet to release some of his most impactful video parts, including “Defy” and “Prime.” We had to wait for Danny to slow down enough to get the Legend Award, even though he’d long already been a legend in wakeboarding.
“I’ve known Danny long enough and competed against him in so many different things, and hands down, he is the most clutch individual I have ever met. If you’ve left even a small window open for Danny to beat you, he will.” —Parks Bonifay
“Danny was like a thoroughbred. The dude was fast, agile and strong as hell—but always so passive and calm off the water. During the days of the big rail stunts, I never saw him appear to be fearful. I always admired his confidence, and then his willingness to laugh off an intense moment with his goofy chuckle.” —Josh Letchworth
“Style is an interesting thing in wakeboarding, and one of the most difficult things to define is what makes good style. More importantly, style can and will vary from one definer to the next. But there’s one thing about Danny that nearly every person watching him ride will say: He makes wakeboarding look good.
When I first saw him ride, he was 15 years old at the most, and I thought, Now, that kid gets it. He naturally makes wakeboarding look good. I can’t tell you how he does it, but for many years, he’s been one of my staple answers to the question I get asked often: Who’s your favorite rider to watch? And I know I’m not the only one with that answer.” —Shaun Murray
“When I think of Danny’s overall impact on wakeboarding, I think of the trends he set and the jaw-dropping moves: new wrapped tricks, backside off axis spins, double flips, and on down the line. As Danny rode, the rest of professional wakeboarding followed. For over a decade, Danny was at the forefront of the sport, and we were all happy to be along for the ride because nobody else rode like Danny.” —Garrett Cortese
Danny’s résumé is way too long to fit into this space, especially if we include his victories and accomplishments from his years in the Boys’ and Junior Men’s divisions, but we figured we’d come up with some of his biggest hits as a pro.
• Pro Wakeboard Tour Rookie of the Year
• X-Games Gold
• X-Games Gold
• Masters Champion
• Nationals Champion
• X-Games Gold
• Masters Champion
• Nationals Champion
• X-Games Gold
• Wake Awards—Best Wakeboarder
• Pro Wakeboard Tour—Overall Champion
• Rider of the Year—Alliance Wake
• Wake Awards—Best Video Part: “Counterfeit This”
• Wake Awards—Best Wakeboarder
• Wake Awards—Trick of the Year: switch heelside 1080
• Wake Awards—Best Video Part: “Drive”
• Wake Awards—Trick of the Year: switch toeside 1260
• BROstock Champion
• Wake Awards—Best Video Part: “Out of the Pond”
• BROstock Champion
• Wake Awards—Best Video Part: “Defy”
Best Boat Rider
The level of boat riding in today’s game can best be described by one of the more popular emojis on social media: 🤯
What riders can land, in succession, without falling—while making it look good—truly is mind-blowing. But the best boat rider does more than just blow minds. To win this coveted Wake Award, a rider must not only push the limits of what’s possible but also find success in editorial exposure, video clips, contest results and more.
Winner: Tyler Higham
In just a few years, Tyler Higham has seemingly gone from Delta grom tagging, along with the likes of Josh Twelker and Trever Maur, to one of the best in the game. This award should only cement the fact that he has made a hell of an impact on the sport since then. For more perspective, it was just two years ago that Tyler took home the Check Out Award as the best up-and-coming rider. Now he’s seen as one of the best boat riders, period. While there are a lot of really good boat riders doing really insane tricks, what sets Ty apart is how he’s doing those really insane tricks. Simply put, nobody rides like Ty. He has a style all his own, with tricks that are uniquely his. And the best part: He’s not even close to hitting his ceiling.
“When it comes to Ty, I feel pretty lucky—from day one of him riding Ronix, I’ve gotten to watch him through the lens develop as a rider and a person. I think that his riding pays homage to what came before him, while at the same time taking wake riding to a level it’s never been before.” —Erik Ruck
“Tyler can do it all, and he makes it look better than anyone else. He has tons of style, even when doing the most technical tricks. Wake-to-wake switch double mobe? Try to wrap your head around that one! Or just watch and take notes!” —Danny Harf
Best Female Rider
Women’s riding continues to progress in all facets of the sport, thanks in large part to the ladies out there pushing themselves and the limits day in and day out. What’s most interesting about this category is the number of riders who have won it. Since 2004, just four different women have taken home this Wake Award, a testament to the longevity of the top female riders.
Winner: Meagan Ethell
The Queen of Wake isn’t ready to give up her throne just yet. Far from it, in fact. Meagan’s dominance is well-documented, and her sixth consecutive Best Female Rider award is more than well-deserved. The 22-year-old continues to ride with a ferocity and style that are unmatched. She still pushes to win contests. She still pushes to ride differently and try new things. She still pushes for media coverage—and for making her riding in the media look good. And she still pushes herself to ride everything, from boat to park to winch.
“Six-time Best Female Rider sounds ridiculous, but when you think about Meagan and how hard she works at her craft, it’s totally believable. She’s not only kept herself at the forefront of women’s riding by continuing to progress her skills, but she’s also embraced her platform and pushed for causes she believes in, like #PassTheHandle, breast cancer awareness, and equal pay for women.” —Garrett Cortese
The Full Scope Award was created to specifically honor the best all-around rider on the planet—the rider who doesn’t just do everything well, but who pushes the sport to new heights in a distinctive manner, through contest results, media coverage and general badassery. Simply put, it’s one of the biggest awards a rider can receive.
Winner: Guenther Oka
With his third Full Scope Award in a row, Guenther Oka’s reign at the pinnacle of wakeboarding continues. It doesn’t matter what Guenther is riding or where—he rides with a precision and determination that have allowed him to push himself and the sport further than many thought possible. This year alone, the kid from Ohio found himself winching his way through France, catching big air at Munich Mash, riding the ultra-unique setup at the Tomar Pro in Portugal, taking down the U.S. Park Pro Series, claiming the biggest boat prize of the year at the Tennessee Wakefest, sweeping the cable nationals categories, and winning his fourth world championship for cable features. And that was just in the summer months.
“Guenther is one of my favorite guys to film. It doesn’t matter what it is—boat, cable or winching—he’s so creative, and he puts a lot of thought into not only the tricks he’s doing, but how he’s doing them relative to where the camera is and how to edit a clip. And not only is he amazing at riding, but he is a great person too, and is always game to go the extra mile to help out.” —Shane Bonifay
“I don’t know if anybody could have predicted what Guenther has been able to accomplish over the last four years. To top it off, he’s as humble as they come, and a great ambassador for wakeboarding. He’s the king of wake, and for good reason.” —Garrett Cortese
Created in 2013 by wakeboarding legends Shaun Murray and Zane Schwenk, #PassTheHandle encourages those on the inside of and involved with watersports to introduce the activities to new people. Over the years, the movement has grown globally and become the calling card for supporting the efforts to get more riders on the water. In 2017, we created the #PassTheHandle Wake Award to honor an individual who embodies the spirit of the movement and dedicates time, energy and passion to the growth of towed watersports. In the vein of #PTH, a recipient cannot receive the Wake Award twice.
2017: Robby Maschhaupt
2018: Matt Manzari
Winner: Greg Hodgin
Back in 2008, Greg Hodgin started Wake the World (WTW), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of underprivileged children and wounded warriors through the fun of watersports. Since then, WTW has grown tremendously and impacted an incalculable number of lives. This summer alone there were more than 60 WTW events around the globe, where boat owners volunteer their time and resources to take people out on the water. For his efforts, Hodgin was awarded the WSIA’s Larry Meddock Award, seen in the industry as the “watersports person of the year.” Thanks to his vision and tireless efforts, Hodgin isn’t just helping introduce others to wakeboarding and towed watersports, but he’s also making the world a better place.
“Greg’s commitment to the adaptive community and those less fortunate is an inspiration to everyone in our industry. He has certainly influenced my passion to pay it forward via watersports.” —Robby Maschhaupt, 2017 #PassTheHandle winner
Wakeboarding Hall of Fame
In 2019, we mark the fourth year of inductees into the Wakeboarding Hall of Fame, and this year’s list is a who’s who in the history of the sport. For more information on the WHOF, head to wakeboardinghalloffame.com.
This style icon pushed wakeboarding toward the more core-board-sport direction. He pioneered wakeskating and created the iconic Cassette wakeskates brand.
An OG West Coast innovator with sections in some of wakeboarding’s original full-length films, Smith is known for his fluid style and bright hair colors.
Under the tutelage of Scott Byerly, Necrason became a style icon in the late ’90s who helped to further push the free-ride aspects of wakeboarding.
One of the original free-ride phenoms on the women’s side of wakeboarding, Kent was known for riding with an intensity and style similar to the guys of her era.
One of the most iconic names in wakeboarding media, Letchworth’s photos helped document the explosion of the sports from a sideshow in the States to a global main event.
Prestigious Innovator Winners
Inventor of the modern-day cable-park system.
A pro rider turned proprietor of the fabled and iconic Projects wake park outside Orlando, Panakos helped push rail and park riding in wakeboarding like no other.