In the search for "cool": my first wakeboarding experience / by Jessica Lee

I have always thought wakeboarders were the coolest people in the world. 

In terms of coolness factor, they beat surfers, snowboarders, skateboarders, BMX riders, rockstars, jazz musicians, etc, etc.

I used to work at The Molson Amphitheatre near Ontario Place, in the southwest end of Toronto every summer. There was a lake at Ontario Place and there would always be wakeboarders jumping off ramps, doing flips; generally putting on a show for the public. I would always watch them before work.

I couldn't quite figure out why wake boarding seemed so "cool" then, but I'm definitely on to something after this weekend.

I went with the Sydney Uni Wakeboarders on a weekend trip to Cliftonville, NSW. 

Going on this trip was definitely a leap of faith for me as I didn't know anyone in the club, hadn't ever been wakeboarding before, was made to walk through the dodgy Redfern area at night to get in some stranger's car, who would drive me to the camp and on top of that, the day before, I had split my big toe, which had affected my rock climbing, so it probably wasn't the ideal condition for me to go wakeboarding.

In the end it was alright. If you ever happen to split your toe and it's bleeding everywhere and you were wondering if it's alright for you to go wakeboarding, it's definitely okay because wakeboarding boots are open-toed.

And I'm really glad it worked out and the strangers I met weren't psychopaths. Things definitely could have gone differently and I would be writing a very different blog post if they had.

It was a two hour drive to the Hawkesbury river and it was absolutely beautiful.

This was the view from our lodge:

And the patio of the cabin we lived in:

Turns out it was a pretty good decision for me to go on this trip (despite having an uncompleted assignment I had to finish before Monday) as I soon found out.

Here is the $95,000 boat that towed us:

It's amazing how much funding the athletics department at University of Sydney gets. Do we have a wakeboarding club back in Toronto? Nope. Forget about a $95,000 boat!

What we do have back home is free access to a couple of really nice gyms. They're okay I guess. Not quite as cool as being able to wakeboard though...

This is a photo of the gas pump at the dock:

What's really interesting about the Sydney Uni Wakeboarders club is not all its members actually attend the University of Sydney. I was one of two people who actually went to the University of Sydney of all seven people on the trip.

People just join the club because it's much cheaper to ride with the university as opposed to buying your own boat and petrol, and then having to find a place to store the boat.

Wakeboarding is not a cheap sport as I soon found out. It's not as ridiculous as horseback riding, but it's up there. I'm really glad took advantage of the university subsidies and went on this wakeboarding trip.

It's great that Sydney University thinks it's important to fund this club because it gives students options to try things out (which is what university is supposed to be about). There are so many sports initiatives Sydney University supports. For example, there is freakin' rock climbing gym on campus. It's a small gym, but there is also a thriving rock climbing community formed from it.

It could be cool if the University of Toronto followed from this example... (hint hint!)

Anyway, back to this weekend.

Don't be fooled by the sunny weather, it was freezing cold on the weekend. Actually maybe 20 degrees? But there was wind. And the lake was cold. It's pretty much fall in Sydney right now.

Here is a photo of Casey getting into the water.

He's kind of really pro, but he's also been doing this for five years.

This is him landing after a huge jump.

And landing a backflip... no big deal.

I was the only newbie on this trip, so it was a bit intimidating, as everyone knew what they were doing. They even talked in a special wakeboarding lingo.

After watching a couple of people on the water, it was finally my turn.

Here is a photo of me getting into the water. Note the anxious smile.

I wasn't afraid of trying wakeboarding. It was more like "it's 9 a.m. in the morning and I'm about to jump into a lake of freezing water".

During my sleepover camp days, I wasn't the biggest fan of the polar bear traditions.

For those of you who don't know, in North America some crazy people like to go on "polar bear plunges" where you wake up early in the morning at 7 am and you just jump into the lake. Then you get out and carry on with the rest of your day. It's kind of insane, but some people enjoy it. Google it if you don't believe me. Sometimes, it's even ice water.

Luckily I brought a wetsuit.

It's not as a cool as riding in board shorts, but I've always been a "function over fashion" kind of girl so on it went.

The water was freezing.

But after getting over the initial coldness, I managed to get up on my second try!

Here is a photo of me wakeboarding:

It's not as exciting as the other guys' photos since they are doing tricks and catching air and all that, but the following photo was a pretty big moment for me.

This is me attempting to go over the wake:

It didn't quite work out.

I tried many more times after that.

And that was the end of my 15 minutes of riding.

Each person gets only 15 minutes because fuel is expensive and also because 15 minutes of riding is more than enough.

15 minutes doesn't sound like a lot of time to ride, but actually wakeboarding requires so much energy. It's not like you can take a break in the middle of riding either.

For example if you're playing basketball, if you're tired, you just don't run to the ball as hard. Or you take a break, catch your breath and then go back into the game. In wakeboarding, all of your muscles are worked simultaneously (arms, legs, core, back) and it's not like you can take a break from it because then you would face plant into the lake.

As a result from all the strenuous activity, wakeboarders are incredibly fit.

I was really tired after wakeboarding. I pretty much passed out and took a four-hour nap when we went back to shore.

We eventually went out to dinner and when we came back, there was a campfire started by the University of New South Wales boarders.

Then it was time for bed and we woke up for a second day of wakeboarding.

I was pretty sore all over from wakeboarding the day before but was determined to make it over the wake and not fall.

It happened!

I also discovered what makes wakeboarding look so cool.

Here is a photo of Litchy, one of the more experienced wakeboarders:

What I realized about wakeboarding is that it looks cool because of the posture of the wakeboarder. In other board sports, the boarder leans forward to balance. In wakeboarding, the boarder leans back, assuming a pose of (for lack of a better word) indifference. This position conveys "yeah I'm really laid back; calm, cool and collected". It is this combination of posture and attitude which makes wakeboarders really cool.

Here is another photo of Litchy leaning way back.

And a photo of him using one hand to hold the rope, like it's no big deal.

Here he is catching air with only one hand on the rope.

One of the great things about riding with a boat full of experienced wakeboarders is you get to learn from watching the best. Also your standards are raised. 

I'm thinking maybe if I were in a boat full of beginners, I wouldn't have pushed myself so hard to accomplish going over the wake or trying to catch some air. I might have been satisfied with just being able to get up on the water.

In the end, I'm really glad I went wakeboarding despite all the stress I suffered through from having to complete my assignment the day it was due and also all the uncertainties I had in the beginning. This was the last weekend trip so if I didn't go, I probably never would have gone at all.