Many a time I have asked myself this question after reflecting on a great day on the water, “where did this great sport of wakeboarding come from and who was the mastermind who invented the sport?”
The answer to this question is that the sport of wakeboarding evolved from a group of different sports including surfing, snowboarding, and waterskiing. For years surfing was all the rage amongst those that lived at the beach, and being the freeststyle sport that surfing is, new adaptions and variations branched off. One of these different variations was to be towed by a ski rope on a surf board either by boat or truck when the swell wasn’t up. From this adaption, a San Diego surfer named Tony Finn in 1985 developed ‘the skurfer’ which was a hybrid of a water ski and a surfboard. The board was shorter in size than the standard surfboard and was towed by a boat however the same carve style techniques were performed as when surfing. Basically it was surfing behind a boat on a mini surfboard. Although not as popular as it once was, ‘skurfing’ is still out there today.
The creation of this board soon led to new innovations and it wasn’t long before different shapes and technology took hold of the primitive prototype. The major breakthrough was the additions of foot straps which held the riders feet in place whilst on the board. There were two players that took part in the addition which were Tony Finn and Jimmy Redmon of Austin, Texas (who added straps to his Redline design water ski board, which was again a smaller version of a surfboard). The fascinating part of this innovation is that both men developed at the same time without knowing what each other was doing! With these new footstraps riders were able to get big air and start performing airborne tricks. This is probably the first true resembalences to wakeboarding and led away from surfing and more toward snowboarding and water skiing.
Skurfing soon transformed into skiboarding which Tony Finn was a strong advocate for and the first skurfer championships were televised on ESPN in 1990. However even with its claim to fame the sport was struggling with a stagnant patch in technology and innovation. The skurf board was still very primitive in comparison to the modern wakeboard in the fact that because they were very narrow and very buoyant, they required a lot of energy to get them planing and leaving only experienced riders cabable of preforming deep water starts. The skiboard on the other hand was designed for performance, however could not withstand the punishment of constant poundings dished to it by the sport.
One name changed all of this, Herb Obrien. Obrien was a successful businessman in water sports and the owner of H.O sports. With an idea of revelovtionalising the sport, he began experimenting with boards and developed the first compression-molded neutral-buoyancy wakeboard, known as the hyperlite. The advantages of a neutral buoyancy board allowed ease in deep water starts which opened the door for the sport to boom in all demographic age groups and skill levels. This was the beginning of the sport as we know it today.
Obrien did not stop there, he soon incorporated a thinner profile to allow the board to carve like a salom ski, phasers or dimples on the bottom of the board which broke up water contact and produced a looser feel on the water and softer landings. All of these refinerys made possible by the compression molding process founded by Obrien. Seeing H.O sports success in the wakeboarding industry sparked other companies to follow in it’s foot steps, putting more boards on the market and growing the sport further.
The Redmon “Twin Tip” wakeboard soon followed this boom in the industry and is still the standard shape of modern wakeboards. The twin tip had a symmetrical shape with a fin on each end, allowing for omidirectional tricks and adding a new dimension to the sport. This shape of board shied away from the “conventional” wakeboard at the time which still resembled a mini surfboard.
1992 was the year that pro wakeboarding events took hold of the public with World Sports & Marketing, (a Florida-based sports promoter and event organizer) staging wakeboarding events (known as the pro wakeboard tour). This gave wakeboarders a opportunity to compete and gave them exposure to ESPN and ESPN2. Wakeboarding Mag was soon produced in 1993 to cope with the growing of the demand of the industry giving the public a chance to follow what was happening in wakeboarding and keeping them up to date on comps and leaderboards.
With the ever expanding popularity of the sport and number competing athletes the Vans Triple Crown of Wakeboarding and the Wakeboard World Cup series were created in 1998. These are still today the majors titles up for grabs by pro international wakeboarders. In 2000 the sport diversified adding rails, sliders and kickers to the course giving opportunity for different style riders to gain reckonition for their riding.
As far as wakeboarding has come in its short history there are are still new innovations being added to the sport today. From better technology to new additions, the innovators of the sport will never cease to amaze me. With growing popularity and financial backing it is just a question how far this sport will go and how big will it get.