Does Pro Wakeboarding Have a Podium Problem?

Sports dynasties are nothing new. The New York Yankees ruled baseball from for over 4 decades. In the 44 seasons from 1921 to 1964, the Yankees appeared in 29 World Series and won 20 of them. The Boston Celtics won 8 consecutive NBA Championships from 1959-1966 and added 3 more championships in 1957, 1968, and 1969 respectively. The Montreal Canadiens owned the NHL from the 1950s through the 1970s. And, the NFL had the Steelers of the 1970’s, the 49ers of the 1980s, and the Patriots of the new millennium. Oh, and how could you forget Kelly Slater surfing his way to an unprecedented 11 world titles from 1994-2011 (even with a faux retirement thrown in the middle).  How does this relate to wakeboarding?

Given all that dominance in each of the major sports, something somewhat unprecedented is happening in Pro Wakeboarding. Just like the last few NBA Finals, the podium spots at all the major pro contests are almost a forgone conclusion. Check out the podium for the last 7 wake contests. Notice a pattern?

2018 Pro Tour Stop #1 2018 Wake Open 2018 Moomba Masters 2017 Pro Tour Stop #4 2017 Pro Tour Stop #3 2017 Pro Tour Stop #2 2017 Pro Tour Stop #1
1st Place: Harley Clifford 1st Place: Cory Teunissen 1st Place: Harley Clifford 1st Place: Harley Clifford 1st Place: Nic Rapa 1st Place: Mike Dowdy 1st Place: Harley Clifford
2nd Place: Nic Rapa 2nd Place: Mike Dowdy 2nd Place: Cory Teunissen 2nd Place: Nic Rapa 2nd Place: Harley Clifford 2nd Place: Nic Rapa 2nd Place: Mike Dowdy
3rd Place: Mike Dowdy 3rd Place: Nic Rapa 3rd Place: Mike Dowdy 3rd Place: Mike Dowdy 3rd Place: Mike Dowdy 3rd Place: Harley Clifford 3rd Place: Cory Teunissen
Harley Clifford, Mike Dowdy, Nic Rapa Always Win
Harley Clifford, Mike Dowdy, Nic Rapa Always Win

Are Harley, Dowdy, Rapa, and crew that much better than the rest of the pro ranks? The short answer is, well, yes. The above podium patrol all have runs with multiple double flips, all regularly spin 1080s, and Harley Clifford is the sole owner of a perfect score when he accomplished that feat at the 2015 Nautique Masters. The real question is, is this good for pro wakeboarding?

Pro wakeboarding is in a really fascinating spot right now. There are so many elements and ideas as to what constitutes a good pro. To some, it’s Harley Clifford throwing double flips behind a $150,000 boat. To others it’s Quinn Silvernale winching a DIY spot. And yet, to some it’s the multiple water sport mastery of Noah Flegel and Daniel Grant. Still somehow, we all know solid tricks, clean style, and warp speed progression when we see it.

Quinn Silvernale The Coalition
Quinn Silvernale from The Coalition

To all of us die-hard wake fans, the riders at the top of the podium are more a topic of social media banter than an expose on the state of wakeboarding. We put just as much stock into pro contests as we do a new video part or photo in Alliance. We dig the pro contest scene, but we understand that its just one component of an incredibly innovative and multi-faceted sport. In my humble opinion, pro wakeboarding is in a much better place today, even with the same few riders winning everything, as it was just a few years ago. Wakeboarding has gained nuance and subtlety. Wakeboarding has earned street cred and reverence. And, wakeboarding can appeal to so many more fans now that it has these new elements. Looking back to a previous era when all you could do to prove your mettle was huck robotic and premeditated contest runs in front of tetchy judges, that vibe seems almost counter to what wakeboard has become.

Alex Graydon shot by Jeff Mathis
Wakeboarding Has Never Been More Innovative and Diverse | Photo: Jeff Mathis

Wakeboarding doesn’t need a new podium at each event. Its been proven that fans love the elite, established set of wake stars. Wakeophiles don’t want to cheer on a final with no one they’ve ever heard of. They hunger for the wake celebrities that throw down and give them something to root for. They crave the hero and the villain. They want riders to look forward to, riders to love and hate, and a reason to be emotionally invested.

Fans Love Mike Dowdy

So, now it’s on the next generation to dethrone these podium kings. Who is going to emerge as the next great contest rider? Harley, Dowdy, and the rest of pro contest scene are definitely holding court. But, if there is one thing in this world that is certain, it’s that nothing lasts forever.

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Co-Founder of Ambush Board Co./BuyWake.com, family man, landlocked surfer, warm climate snowboarder, and lover of wakeboarding and good food.

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