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Wakesurfing: New inland water sport on the rise

The new sport of wakesurfing is on the rise
The new sport of wakesurfing is on the rise; rider Chris Wolter, photo by Taylor Thorne

In the late 1980s a surfing-inspired offshoot of waterskiing called “skurfing” started to appear in lakes and rivers around the U.S. and Australia. The same boat and tow-rope were used, but instead of water skis, riders would stand on small surfboards and carve the wake that waterskiers would avoid. As popularity grew and specialized finless boards with boots attached began appearing, the sport became known as wakeboarding. More than two decades later it seems a new version of wakeboarding, minus the tow-rope and foot-straps, called “wakesurfing” is beginning to take over. This new version takes yet another step toward surfing, where riders begin by holding a tow-rope just like wakeboarding, but once they’re up to speed the rope is dropped and the rider truly surfs the endless wake on special hybrid wake-surfboards. In the last couple years the wakesurfing movement has grown in popularity to rival even its wakeboarding roots.

At the forefront of this emerging sport stands Texan Tyler Marshall, who has put his own pro wakesurfing career aside to found such organizations as TX Wake Surf School, DFW Surf, and Boarders magazine, a new publication dedicated to inland surfing of various types. We were able to sit down with Tyler to talk about wakesurfing’s past, present, and future.

How has wakesurfing grown in the past decade?

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Tyler Marshall: Wakesurfer, paddler, entrepreneur, Texan. Photo by David Lawrence

Wakesurfing has really started to grow in the past three years starting with a new focus within the inboard boating market.  Today nearly all competition inboard boats have some sort of wakesurfing feature and marketing has shifted its focus to the sport and now wakesurf athletes have boating sponsors.  If a sport is defined by competitions then 2013 seems to be the benchmark of accomplishment for wakesurfing, as this was the first year for multiple national wakesurf tours and competitions throughout the world (World Wakesurfing Championships and the Endless Wave Tour) and six major boating companies competing for consumer surf-boat sales.

How has wakesurfing changed wakeboarding?

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Wakeskater-turned-wakesurfer Brian Grubb; photo by Wakeboarding magazine

Wakeboarding magazine is now full of wakesurfing ads, boards and articles, while waterski boats, sales, and marketing are now prehistoric. Meanwhile, wakeboarding is not as popular as it used to be behind the boat and the consumer wakeboarding market has shifted to cable parks. Wakeboard companies are creating mass produced wakesurfboards and wakeboard pros are now seen in wakesurfing photos in magazines, including pro wakeskater Brian Grubb. Wakeboard boats are no longer as wakeboard specific as they once were and boating companies are re-constructing their hull designs toward wakeboard/surf performance.  Wakesurfing is something that the whole family can participate in, less speed, less danger and less gas consumption all within talking distance just beyond the platform.

How easily does wakesurfing translate into surfing skills? How are tricks progressing in wakesurfing?

Tricks are also progressing along with new talented crossover athletes with surfing, skimboarding, and skateboarding backgrounds. The similarities of surfing and wakesurfing are the reason why pro athletes are coming into the wakesurfing scene. Tige boats recently signed pro surfer Josh Kerr to their team and pro skimboarder Cole Kerby has started to compete in national comps as well. Texas pro surfer Wes Beck came on the scene and took third place in Worlds in his first year of wakesurfing. Pro surfer Josh Mulcoy loves wakesurfing behind his Sanger 215. Meanwhile, veterans of the sport are continuing to push the limits with new tricks and consistent performance. As wakes are getting bigger and board construction more perfected, so too are the boosting airs and superman hang time.

How has technology contributed to wakesurfing?

In the past couple of years new inboard boat technology has created bigger and cleaner wakes at the push of a button. New technology is making it easier for the average consumer to surf without having to fill ballast bags full of water manually. Malibu and Nautique have created a surf system that allows one to transfer the surfing wave from one side to another in a couple seconds, while Tige has created an electronic platform that seems to extend the length of the boat along with the wake.

With all this being said the biggest wakes and the best wakeboard wakes are not always on the boats that make things easier with push-button technology and LED screens. It all comes down to weight displacement and the shape of the hull of the boat itself. The inboard boating market started out creating boats with true V hull designs because they were smoother over open water and now companies are resorting back to these designs because of their ability to create better surfing wakes. Mastercraft has introduced a deep V hull design on its X 30, while Tige has developed its Convex V Hull design. Meanwhile, California boat companies like Centurion, Sanger, and Supreme have maintained some of the deepest hull designs in the industry for nearly a decade with California emission standards requiring catalytic converters for cleaner emissions. In general, the bigger the boat the bigger the wake, which is why most of the competition towboats are at least 23 feet in length with a 102-inch beam.

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Super(wo)man air by Ashley Kidd; photo by Tim Marek

What do you see as the future of the sport?

The future of the sport has already begun to take place at several competitions that offer a live feed on giant projection screens. For the same reasons that wakeboarding is no longer a part of the X games, so too are wakesurfing contests notorious for lacking a spectator side of the sport. Wakesurfing tricks are not huge airs that can be seen from a distance; they are technical tricks and the best seat in the house is on the towboat.

In the meantime I myself wanted to progress the sport and do something different by coming up with the idea of some kind of contest on a bigger boat. The bigger the boat, the bigger the wake, right? What if you could house all of the competitors, spectators, and judges on a boat that would displace a bigger wake and the potential towards bigger airs, wider turns, and more room for tricks?

This is what led to our annual Big Boat Invitational: a contest, a gathering, an exhibition, and a thrill to be on the same boat with big name athletes like Dom Lagace, Todd Johnson, Chris Wolter, and pro surfer Josh Mulcoy. Hard to explain the joy and smiles that endured throughout the day. Maybe the sport is heading in this direction, when it becomes such a big deal that the pro surfing industry and its athletes get on board.

Tell us a little about your magazine, Boarders

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Boarders magazine

The sport has come to a point for a much needed medium for athletes and sponsors, and at the same time the sports of flowboarding and standup paddleboarding are exploding in popularity and sales worldwide.  This is why we created Boarders magazine, a quarterly print and online digital magazine along with an online space for articles, inland surf spots, and an archive of popular videos.  Originally known as "Inland Surf magazine," this is exactly what we are about and our motto is surfing within: #surfwithin. The feeling of surfing, the vibe and aloha mentality that goes hand-in-hand, has fostered a movement within, not only toward new types of surf sports, but a type of daily routine that involves listening to a Bob Marley song, hanging out by the water, or watching the sunset after the day's end. We hope to express the lifestyles of fellow boarders who live in cities, but can put down their cell phone and engulf themselves in natural moments like the importance of the ever-present and powerful moment during the art of surfing itself.

What are some of the features in your most recent issue?

In our recent December issue, which is viewable for free at boardersmag.com, we featured several of the Boarders magazine events that we took part of in 2013 including Lake Tahoe's Race the Lake of the Sky, Austin's Colorado Classic, and the Big Boat Invitational. The mag also features an article about Bobby Katz's new flowboarding video called “Flow Life.” In each mag our goal is to feature wakesurfing, flowboarding, and standup paddleboarding along with anything else that relates to the inland surf movement and lifestyle, including riversurfing, SUP yoga, Wavegarden, and more.

What we can we anticipate in 2014?

We have a brand new website that will be launching sometime in February that will be a go-to place for articles, videos, inland surf spots, and upcoming events. We understand the importance of the online market, and so that's where our focus will be. As far as print goes, we can announce the cover story of the next two issues that will feature Doomswell Boarding Co. and the World Wakesurfing Championships.

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