Sean O'Brien In Latvia
It’s crazy to think that this was my third trip to Latvia. When I was first asked to coach there two years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I could point out its general location on a map, but aside from that I knew nothing, so I was excited to experience something completely new. Two years later I’m still excited to return and work with Wake Up Academy.
This trip was a little different from the ones in the past. It was the same great people and the same beautiful riding spot, but this time I was exposed to true Latvian culture. Instead of getting some well-deserved sleep after traveling, I was whisked away to the countryside to celebrate the mid-summer with Robert Linavskis (one of the owners of Wake Up) and his friends. This is apparently one of the most-celebrated holidays in Latvia and I enjoyed the traditional food, fire and song.
At the end of my trip, after two weeks of riding and coaching, I was also deprived of rest, again for a great reason. Aldis, one of my students and probably the most notable lawyer in Latvia, wanted to show me the Latvian Song and Dance Festival. It dwarfed the mid-summer celebration as there were over 13,000 performers in sync creating mesmerizing patterns across a massive field. Both events were amazing and I appreciated the exposure to their customs.
But you guys are probably more interested in the two weeks of wakeboarding in-between, so I’ll stick to that. We had near perfect weather for my entire trip and I spent a lot of time on the boat. However, it wasn’t as busy as it had been in the past. Apparently there are several two-tower cables popping up all over Latvia and a lot of riders have transitioned to that side of the sport due to the cost and accessibility.
Since we didn’t have as many lessons, I was able to take advantage of a little more riding time than normal, which was great until I decided to make a deal with Aldis. He was struggling to turn off his brain and just allow himself to throw a back roll, which he was fully capable of landing. So I told him that if he gave it a good solid attempt then I would try something that scared me… a double flip off the wake. He got really excited, but still couldn’t wrap his head around it.
Most people would probably be relieved that they wouldn’t have to fulfill their end of the bargain, but I went a different way with it. At the end of a solid 30-minute set, I decided that I was going to try a double roll to revert. I had a couple things working against me though. We weren’t riding behind a loaded boat and the wake didn’t have much of a lip, so I decided that we should slow down to compensate and I would just go for it one wake. This may not have been the greatest decision on my part, but I was committed.
After a couple roll to reverts, I cut out, shut off my brain and went for it. I still remember spotting the landing at roll to revert and keeping my momentum going for that second flip. When I was about halfway through the second flip, I realized that I was coming up way short and instead of keeping my head moving, I tucked in and braced for impact. I landed straight on my head, which wasn’t a big deal, but then my knee came down and nailed me in the face.
I immediately thought of a few friends who had facial fractures from similar incidents and while I was still underwater I used my hands to compare one side of my face with the other. Nodeformities, but I was definitely tender. My face started to swell up and at that point all I really felt was frustration. Had I not tucked in, I probably would have rotated onto my chest and been relatively fine. To add insult to injury, we ended up running out of gas on our way back to the dock… not the best way to end the first week.
There was no shortage of events for my second week, which started out with the guys showing up with a large corrugated pipe. I have no idea where it came from, but I was excited to hit it. The guys at Wake Up did a great job setting up the posts and getting the rail situated. Rob’s master plan was to wait until the evening, light the pipe on fire and session it until we were all cold and tired. We all had important roles for filming, photography and keeping the rail lit. Unfortunately, once that sun dropped it got cold and the mosquitoes came out and ate us alive. At that point we all felt slightly defeated, but everyone managed to get a few hits on the rail before we called it quits.
A couple days later, an unbelievable experience fell, or more appropriately “flew,” into our laps. Rob and I were out at lunch and after he received a phone call he told me that I needed to get back to the river and ride immediately. I was under the impression that there was a mistake in our scheduling, so I told him that we didn’t have to worry about my riding for the day. He looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “You’re riding. There is a helicopter at the river waiting to film you.”
Excitement took over. I’ve always been amazed by helicopters, but I’ve never ridden in or under one. It was surreal looking up and seeing that thing hovering over and all around me. The pressure was on and unfortunately there was a 20mph wind blowing straight down the only path that the heli could safely fly. It didn’t matter. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was determined to make the best of it.
I didn’t think anything else was going to top the experience of being chased by a helicopter and then the guys showed up the next day and wanted to trade a wakeboard lesson for a ride in the heli. I didn’t think twice about that deal and an hour later I was flying in every direction imaginable.
My last day in Latvia was a busy one. We spent the majority of the day at a local wakeboard contest, which I ended up entering myself. I’ve never been much of a contest rider, so I took a freeride approach to the event. Instead of coming up with a run, I just decided to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I threw different moves in every round and I actually had a lot of fun. Maybe I should reconsider getting back into the competition scene.
Special thanks to Rob, Oskars, Aldis, Paula, Matiss, Rudolfs and everyone else for making this trip so enjoyable. I’m looking forward to seeing you all next year.