Imagine soaring 20 feet over one of Arizona’s waterways and turning a series of flips before splashing, perfectly balanced, back onto the cool blue surface. This is no tube ride down the Salt River. It’s wakeboarding — an extreme sport you can get an up-close look at this weekend.
Top riders from around the world will converge on mile-long Firebird Lake at Firebird International Raceway for the King of the Wake Pro Wakeboard Tour.
The event pits riders in male and female divisions against each other for cash prizes and all-important name recognition among the sport’s followers. It will air Sept. 16 on Fuel TV.
“These guys are just incredible,” said Glen Coy, a Chandler wakeboarder who practices at Bartlett, Saguaro, Canyon and Roosevelt lakes. “It’s lots of action — multiple flips and spins and putting them all together and seeing how high they can go.”
Likened to snowboarding and skateboarding in the water, the sport borrows from surfing and water-skiing, too.
“You’re going to see athletes being towed behind an incredible boat at speeds up to 25 miles per hour,” said Michael Weiss, media director for the tour and a 23-year-old wakeboarder in Orlando, Fla. “The course we’ll have set up is sort of like a street course you’d find in skateboarding, with ramps and rails and apparatus that they’ll perform tricks off of. That’s in addition to their wake tricks done just off the wake from the boats, and those can send them 25 feet in the air.”
According to the Arizona Wakeboard Association, Valley-area lakes support a vibrant interest in the sport. The group sponsors six competitive events per year, and averages 50 to 60 participants at each, said association president Christine Cameron of Mesa. Arizona State University also hosts a wakeboarding club, called the WakeDevils.
“It’s not too easy on the body. Most good riders are between 18 and 30. You kind of have to be because your body takes such a beating on the water. Water’s soft, but when you hit it at 20 miles an hour, it hurts,” said Coy, 41.
And that, like all good sports, is part of the draw, he said.
“Everyone likes a good wreck. You do a great trick or a great crash, and either way it’s good entertainment. It’s fun to watch.”