We left for Manila on Friday, January 14th to partake in the biggest cash prize event of the year, the Ultimate Wake Championship. This is one of the most prestigious events, as athletes must compete in every discipline of the sport in order to win. There is the WWA World Series boat contest, a rail jam, a cable contest and an obstacles only contest. Riders battle it out in each of the different disciplines to earn points for their overall score.
At 12:00 PM on Friday, Julian Cohen, Nate Perry and I departed Orlando. We didn’t know what we were in for. We had four different flights, the longest of which was a 12-hour flight to Japan. After 24 hours of traveling, we landed in Manila and had six hours to kill before our domestic flight to CWC.
January is considered the rainy season here in the Philippines. Bad weather started rolling in, and our six-hour layover slowly turned into an eight-hour one. They finally cancelled our flight at 8:00 AM. This was the third day in a row this flight was cancelled so we didn’t know if we would be able to fly in tomorrow. We began inquiring about taking the bus, but we were advised not to as there could be dangerous landslides. At this stage, we began to lose hope. It looked like we would never make it to Naga.
We decided to go check the bus schedule anyway. Sure enough, they were running from Manila to Naga. The only downside was it would now take 10 hours instead of 50 minutes to get there. But feeling somewhat desperate, we decided to take the bus and arrived at our final destination 45 hours after we originally took off. It was a long, miserable bus ride.
Even when we got there, things didn’t look much better. On Monday there were 40 kilometer an hour winds and it was raining. But we were there to train, so train we did.
The CWC park is probably my favorite cable park. We had a good day, despite the wind. First of all, hitting new rails is always fun, but these rails are so different and so easy to hit that it really allows for all-around creativity to take place. I began doing tricks I had never tried before, like gap to backside 450 on the A-frame and the step up rail and switch toeside 270’s on the rooftop.
Watching rail riders like Nate Perry and Kaesen Suyderhoud shred the cable park is pretty inspirational. These guys kill it and give me motivation and new ideas to try things. Monday was a good day for getting adjusted.
Because of the time difference, it was hard to sleep in. Both Monday and Tuesday Julian and I woke up before 6:00 AM. This was good because it allowed us to get woken up, loose and stretched out before riding at 8:00. Tuesday the wind completely died and the park was hot and flat like it was supposed to be.
Things were looking much better on the cable and more and more riders were showing up. Marc Shuster was doing double S bends to blind, Lior Sofer was doing back mobe 5’s to 313 5 combos and Matty Hasler was spinning like a maniac.
But as fun as the cable lake was, things weren’t looking so good on the boat lake. The X Star was broken and we were going to have to ride behind a Pro Star 190, a ski boat. Brian Grubb, Trevor Hanson and I went for a practice set behind the 190. The wake was pitiful and it showed in Hanson’s and my riding as we could only do a handful of our tricks. But it didn’t seem to slow Grubb down. He threw 3’s every which way, as well as wake-to-wake shuvs and big spins. That’s definitely an advantage of wakeskating; being able to do cool stuff no matter what the wake is like.
Wednesday we took a bus up to the nearby volcano to see the active hot spring. It was a perfect day for it, being not too hot. The hot springs are insanely fun. However, don’t make the mistake of opening your eyes in the water. The sulfur in the water doesn’t play nicely with eyes.
The group included some of the WWA staff such as Mike McComb, Rob Corum and several others. There were four different man made hot pools. Two of them were connected through an underwater tunnel that was pretty legit. It got really small in the middle, so in order to make it through you had to be on your A game. There were also some high rocks to the side of the pools that made for some cool diving platforms. My favorite part about traveling all over the world for contests is to be able to experience each of the unique characteristics that place has to offer. Wednesday at the hot springs was truly a memorable day. After several hours, we made our way back to CWC to continue to shred for the remainder of the afternoon.
Thursday was the first day of competition, starting with quarterfinals in cable and finishing with quarterfinals at the rail park. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Four people advanced from each heat so there wasn’t too much pressure, but with TSR’s Cody Johnson and Tom Fooshee in my heat, I had my work cut out for me. I had a stand up pass with some tricks like back mobe and heel 7. I was pretty happy, but it wasn’t enough to beat Tom who also had a stand up pass with tricks like crow 5 and back 7. Tom is good. He won the heat and I got 2nd. Things were looking good for the overall prize.
Over at the rail park there are three handrails; a normal hand rail, a flat to down and a double kink. The double kink is definitely the hardest to hit of them all. The contest is judged by whoever has the best hit. I think it’s a terrible way to judge because it doesn’t show true versatility, but it is much easier on the judges. I fell twice trying backside 270’s onto the hand rail and finished my rail riding extra early. So far, Tom Fooshee, Julian Cohen and Kim Yong Il were all looking pretty strong to take the overall prize.
Each night there was a different party, and Thursday night was the comic strip party. Locals came from all over dressed as their favorite comic/animation characters. Some of the outfits were unbelievable. We saw everything from ninjas to Final Fantasy characters. The best part about it was that they were all of Asian decent, so they looked exactly like the characters they were trying to portray. The winner of the comic strip costume contest was a person dressed as a knight/robot.
Friday was the first day of the boat contest. Wakeskate was first and I decided to give it a go even though I hadn’t wakeskated in probably a year. It went surprisingly well and I landed a bunch of wake-to-wake stuff, including a backside 180. Reed Hansen and Brian Grubb both killed it, each winning their respective heats.
Phil, Rusty, and all the usual suspects came to try their hand at the prize money on the opposite side of the world. I hadn’t been riding very well, or very much for that matter, back at home, but for some reason the Philippines always brings out the best in me. I had a standup pass on the way down, even fitting in two extra tricks I hadn’t planned. But on my very last trick, a wake-to-wake backside 180, I threw out my back.
I still can’t explain how it happened on that trick, but it was one of the most painful experiences. I tried to continue my run but couldn’t do any more tricks. The only explanation I can think of is that I had been riding too much since I got there and my body gave in. I was carried out on a stretcher and taken to the hospital for some x-rays. As the realization sunk in that I probably wouldn’t be able to continue the contest, my heart began to break. 48 Hours of traveling to the other side of the world, an expensive ticket and a semester’s worth of training all went down the drain. I had to pull out of the obstacles-only event that day, officially taking me out of the running for the Ultimate Wake Champion.
That night I tossed painfully in the bed till I feel asleep around 2:00 AM. I began questioning if the risk of wakeboarding was really worth the reward.
Saturday I woke up feeling really stiff, but at least I could walk a little bit. I was still experiencing a lot of pain despite the pain relievers and the muscle relaxers. Cable started at 10:00 AM and I was in a heat with Kim Yong Il and Andrew Adkison. I wanted more than anything to ride, but I simply couldn’t. Besides, if I was going to ride anything it would be the boat. I was still in the competition for wakeboarding and wakeskating.
Luckily, wakeskating was before wakeboarding, which was less impact. I still didn’t think my body would let me ride, but I began stretching out anyway. Everyone told me not to ride. They said I could set my injury back even further. Everyone but Rusty. He gave me confidence to at least give it a shot. By noon I could still only bend down about 10 degrees before my back locked up, but I decided to give wakeskating a shot anyway. Riding wasn’t as painful as I thought. I did my same run, minus the backside 180. I didn’t want to do anything that would put me over my toes too much. It was enough to put me in fifth place on the wakeskate and it gave me the confidence to try to ride.
I had about 10 minutes between wakeskating and wakeboarding, not a lot of time to think about what I was doing. I knew one thing though, if I didn’t at least try I would be forever wondering what could have happened. I hopped off the dock and did some wake to wake grabs. My body felt good as long as I landed perfectly wake-to-wake. I did a switch mobe and then came in for a tantrum to blind. The tantrum to blind was a mistake. Anything where I had to arch my back was extremely painful. I landed the trick but popped the handle. After that I decided to do mostly front roll related tricks. Actually, my run wasn’t all that bad. It was only about 50% of what I could have done, but as long as I absorbed the landing with my legs and not my back I was good. It was enough to put me in 9th place at the contest, securing 4th place overall on the 2010 World Series.
After the boat I watched the obstacles-only contest. The riders who really stuck out were Julian Cohen, who did every trick you can think of off of the kickers; Daniel Grant, who is a 13-year-old phenom that has already invented several of is own tricks; and Tom Fooshee, who can obviously do whatever he wants with a wakeboard under his feet. I have to say it was really hard for me to watch other people destroy the park while being stuck on the sidelines.
Sunday started off with cable wakeskating. Reed Hansen and Nick Taylor killed it with different variations of flip tricks and rail hits. Who really stuck out, though, was 13-year-old Daniel Grant who had two stand up passes on the wakeskate. Yes, on the wakeskate. The kid doesn’t know how to fall, standing up all of his passes the entire weekend in both wakeboarding and wakeskating. This kid has his stuff down. He finished his pass with a toeside 7 off of the kicker. Everyone thought he would take the crown, but his flats tricks kept him in third place with Reed and Nick in first and second respectively.
In obstacles-only, Daniel Grant also made finals, along with Julian Cohen, Kim Yong Il and Tom Fooshee. Fooshee’s combination of hammers off the kickers and true mastery of every single rail put him in first place. Some highlights were his toeside backside 450 transfer. In second place, Daniel continued to impress with his Moby Dick 5 and toeside backside 7’s off the kicker. Kim, who can press his board better than anyone I’ve seen, got third with a very impressive backside 540 gap over the Nike 6.0 rail. Julian landed a switch front to blind, switch heel 9 and switch backside 7 off the kickers. It was a crazy finals to watch.
In the cable, the finals came down to rider of the year Tom Fooshee and young gun Daniel Grant. Daniel continued his no fall streak, having two flawless passes and finishing with a mobe dick 5. It was too much for seasoned pro Tom, who had two uncharacteristic falls off the transfer and off the kicker. I’m willing to bet it’s the first of many wins for young Daniel.
At the boat lake everyone continued to improve their riding. Nick Jones came in fourth, making his first-ever pro final. Andrew followed up in third place. Trevor Hanson rode the best he had ridden all weekend, with two mobe 5’s and a heel 7. If he would have landed his double backroll off the double, he may have been looking at a win. But it was Phil Soven who once again took the crown in Camsur. His consistency is hard to beat. He landed his entire run, but his 9 off the double up sealed the deal. That’s why they call him the "real deal." He also finished up the 2010 season in first place for the World Series. Not a bad year for the frog.
It wasn’t a surprise when Tom Fooshee won the Ultimate Wake Champion title. He made it to semis in boat as well, landing a whirly 5, skeezer 5 and two 7’s. He had an amazing showing over the weekend. Two finals, one of which was a win, and two semifinals will get the job done.
Rider’s are getting better and better, as well as younger and younger. It’s getting harder to make a name for yourself, but where there is a will, there is a way. The new generation of professional riders won’t be able to be just a "boat rider" or just a "cable rider." They won’t be able to choose one type of discipline exclusively. It takes a combination of being extremely good at everything; wake, cable, kickers, rails and, in some cases (Daniel Grant), wakeskating.
At the end of the day, we are all doing what we love to do and that involves wakeboarding in some shape or form. In order for the sport to continue to grow, we’re all going to have to learn how to get along. Contests like the Ultimate Wake Championship do just that. I can’t wait for the next Ultimate Wake Championship, wherever it may be, and I hope there are many more to come. After all, I need redemption after this contest.
Check out the full results from the Ultimate Wake Championship by clicking here.