The Georgia Wake Series, a traveling wakeboarding competition in the state of Georgia, held one of its eight tournaments at Lake Lanier on Saturday, hoping to expose visitors and competitors to its community of athletes.
Fans were not only exposed to the athletes, but their immense skills and their determination to work together to grow the under-recognized sport.
Director Brandon Lee says he wants the Georgia Wake Series to be both a hub for Wakeboarding pros and a learning ground for newcomers and families who are inexperienced with the sport, one he says has a lot of misconceptions surrounding it.
“[We want to show people] that there’s more to wakeboarding,” Lee said. “Or just exposing what wakeboarding even is to some of the families that have never seen it. People think of wakeboarding and they think you’re riding behind a boat. But seeing 10-year-olds that are going out there and doing flips and stuff shows that there’s a whole lot more that you can actually do with it.”
Regular competitor Scott Perkins says that the Georgia Wake Series has provided a space for local Wakeboarding fans to connect and, until now, the community has been lacking a consistent place to convene for a long time.
“So this Georgia Wake Series started just a few years ago, and before that we only had hit or miss local contests,” Perkins said. “But the Wake Series started this whole state championship, regional championship series, fun, healthy competition as a way to push yourself. Wakeboarding is an individual sport, you do it with your friends, but to really push yourself it’s cool to have a venue.”
While Lee says the Georgia Wake Series’ attendance varies by each event, Perkins says he and riders like him have formed close friendships through the event, and he hopes that it will bring in more people who share a passion for the sport.
“One of the most unexpected things when we went to the first tournament a few years ago was just how many friends we’ve made since then through the series,” Perkins said. “Now we have this whole crew that we’ve built and I’ve gained so many friends and riding partners that we never had before coming out here and meeting them. It’s almost like a hub of people with wakeboarding a hobby.”
Beyond the competition and the camaraderie, the Georgia Wake Series offers classes for a wide range of ages and skill levels, meaning a significant amount of the event’s attendance is young children and families. According to Perkins, the leadership takes great care to make sure people of all levels of expertise feel welcome and encouraged to participate.
“The Wake Series itself, Brandon and the guys do an amazing job,” Perkins said. “You can probably tell already how friendly it is for beginners and anyone to get into it. There’s like 4-year-olds out here and I’m 33 and there are guys at a lot of stops that are older than that. But it just runs the gamut and I think the friendly atmosphere is so cool.”
Lee says this is a calculated move on his and the Georgia Wake Series’ part, as he wants this to be a gateway experience to families and kids interested in approaching wakeboarding, whether at a professional or casual level.
“This is a grassroots, amateur wakeboard tournament,” Lee said. “So we cater to riders who basically know how to ride a wakeboard and can at least go down and back standing on the board all the way to the pro, semi-pro level. Big family-friendly event. That’s the main thing.”
Cy Hedrick, a father at the event, brought his 12-year-old daughter, Rivers, to participate.
“It just helps her as far as maturity, and just makes her more confident,” Hedrick said. “Actually, the biggest thing is it helps her with, you know, when you get nervous about things that are important or things that are important to you it kind of helps you progress and handle those nerves.”
Lee acknowledged the risks of such a physically demanding sport, but the Georgia Wake Series has taken precautions by bringing on safety-trained staff, as well as having emergency plans in place and equipment on site.
“All the crew in the boat are CPR, Lifeguard Certified as a minimum,” Lee said. “We have off-duty EMC who's here for all the events too. We’ve got a stretcher on the boat, first aid kit, and for every event we usually have an emergency plan so we know where the closest fire department is and all that stuff.”
Hedrick admitted that, as a father, the danger of wakeboarding is on his mind when his daughter is on the water, but the sport has enough to offer that he stands behind her decision to participate.
“You definitely get a little nervous, but it’s something they really enjoy and the reward versus the risk is definitely worth it,” Hedrick said. “So you just kind of take your chances and go along with it.”
The Georgia Wake Series’ next stop will be at the Valdosta Wake Compound later this month, with three more trips planned between now and August.