As our sport continues to grow and spread, there may be many fads that come and go, but let me reassure you, cable riding is not one of them and neither are air tricks. Growing up as a “cable rider” there have been many ups and downs and, as of recently, there has been a lot of talk regarding how “legit” air tricks are and where they lie as our sport evolves.
At 13 years old I tried wakeboarding for the first time behind the boat. One set and I was hooked! After that, all I could think about was buying a board and riding as much as humanly possible. The only problem was that I didn’t have a boat, nor did I have any friends with boats in the area. Luckily for me I found out that there was a cable park, Ski Rixen USA, about 30 minutes from my house. Ski Rixen allowed me to ride frequently and push my riding rather quickly with the help of various friends and local based pro riders such as Diego Shaw, Rob Mapp and Donald Shelbrick to name a few. By 15 years old I had won my first World Championship title and have been traveling and competing ever since.
When I started riding and competing it was simple; the best rider wins. Now, what this meant was that the rider who showed mastery in all aspects of his run was awarded first place. Unfortunately, at that time there were only a few rails, which seemed to be fashioned out of junkyard scraps and ramps that would break your knees rather than send you flying, so naturally the competitions were heavily weighted on flat-water tricks or “air tricks.” Progression was largely based on learning both heelside and toeside Raley, flip, spin and grab variations off the surface of the water just as you would off of the wake behind a boat.
At this time cable riding was looked at as the ugly stepsister to “real” wakeboarding, which was primarily done behind the boat. As a cable rider there was always a feeling of inferiority in the presence of a boat rider. Why should there be a feeling of inferiority when our side of the sport has been dwarfed to begin with? We do the same tricks, which are, arguably, just as hard on the cable as they are on the boat, yet we would reap none of the rewards with regard to sponsorship or even industry acceptance. This is not to pinpoint anyone in particular. This was just a general vibe that I and many other cable riders have felt over the years. We even acquired the name “cable rats,” which we’ve embraced as a term for our roots with regard to wakeboarding.
Fast forward to today and overall acceptance of cable riding has grown immensely and most who swore off of cable riding are now happily frequenting their local cable park. I feel that this growth can largely be attributed to the World Wakeboard Association and their big push towards cable in the United States. This, coupled with our poor economy and rising fuel prices, has ensured that cable parks are here to stay.
Since then we have been briefed to stop calling these parks “cable parks.” Now they are “wake parks” because of the negative connotation to even the word “cable” within the industry. The judging format and rules have changed drastically and our side of the sport has gained more recognition within the industry because of these changes, as well as the introduction of a heavier weighting towards obstacles.
Obstacles such as ramps and rails have now become a large part of competitions and wake parks due to proper build quality, which has been a great way to integrate the “boat guys” into our side of the sport. While the “cable guys” welcomed this change since it added variety and technicality to our sport in a positive way, it seems that there has been another split.
The cable side of the sport has now evolved into two professional categories; pro cable and pro obstacles. What this means is that the cable guys can still have air tricks whilst the “boat guys” could contend in obstacles-only competitions. This was a great convergence at first glance as this opened up a whole new field of competition and progression in a positive way. However, as a result there has now been a shift between a “cable rider” and a “rail rider” similar to the shift felt between cable and boat riders. Now at competitions you must pick between one division and the other, which is odd seeing as how when obstacles were added to the boat side of the Pro Wakeboard Tour, there was no split and it was encompassed into your run.
In my opinion, as a professional athlete you are expected to master every usable piece of your course, not to exclude the sections that you are weak on or invent new divisions to cater to non-seasoned competitors. I do understand that a lot of the major companies that run our industry have put a lot of money, time and effort behind their riders and don’t want to see them lose in events where largely unsupported cable riders would normally dominate, but there is another option; start supporting cable riders. Even today, some of the world’s best cable riders are largely unknown and cannot afford to travel and compete due to lack of industry respect, which really means a lack of financial sponsorship opportunities. These are guys that absolutely destroy every inch of the park, but because they do air tricks and aren’t “bro-ing it down” there seems to be a lack of respect.
At first the change to a pro cable/pro obstacle split was gradual and positive. However, now it seems that certain parties want obstacles-only to be on par or supersede pro cable (see prize money splits for the first stop of the 2013 Wake Park Triple Crown). Why should pro obstacles riders be entitled to the same amount or more prize money and notoriety than pro cable if pro cable riders are expected to utilize the entire course while obstacles-only divisions utilize only a portion of the course? Since less of the course is used, shouldn’t that discipline receive only a portion of the winnings or notoriety? In reality, it’s almost the exact opposite.
The real concern is that I and many others feel that the sport and federation we have come to love is starting to slowly change the rules to suit the riders who primarily ride obstacles rather than showcase our best and brightest. In my opinion, the goal is to showcase and reward the riders that show the most mastery of every obstacle AND open piece of water on the course. Again, our sport has changed and now it’s not just about who can do the most flips and spins, it’s about mastering air tricks, ramps, rails, style, grabs and composition. The best ALL AROUND rider wins. Sounds pretty fair, right?
Recently, there has been some talk about air tricks being taken out of some of our most beloved events. Some speculate that this is because we have developed yet another negative stigma for air tricks because some think air tricks are primarily Raley-based maneuvers that are all centered on maxing out the amount of spins you can do. I disagree with this argument, as this is personally something that comes down to the rider. If that rider chooses to do a bunch of Raley-based tricks in his run rather than showing variety featuring different Raley, flip and spin variations with different grabs on both obstacles and off the flats, this is his own fault and he does not deserve to win.
I believe grabbing a trick is the equivalent of adding an additional 180. It adds technicality to whichever trick you are doing, making it harder while also adding style. A properly grabbed KGB is arguably just as hard as a non-grabbed KGB 540 whether it is done off the wake, kicker or flats. While most focus on the “hucked” tricks, they fail to see the beauty of air tricks when done properly. A sloppy air trick with no grab can look just as terrible as a sloppy trick off the wake with no grab.
With that being said, I do agree that cable guys may not all be the best obstacle riders. However, if you go to any wake park you will find us working our hardest to better our obstacle riding while improving our riding ALL AROUND. I understand some may say, “I’ve tried air tricks once and didn’t like it” or “I can do Raleys and they’re lame, so I don’t do them,” but I urge you to push past the initial learning phase, as cable guys have done with obstacles, and find out what air tricks are all about. When done properly, they’re not only a whole lot of fun, but they look pretty awesome for spectators as well.
In short, despite the changes to cable in recent years (good and bad), we are heading in the right direction. I’m sure most would agree that taking air tricks out of cable events would be just as much of an upset as it would be to remove the wake from boat events. Air tricks were and still are a pivotal piece of our progression and one that deserves the respect of both our fellow athletes and our industry as well. If you have access to a cable, don’t pass up the opportunity to learn some air tricks. Heck, you might just enjoy it.