Saturday, January 20, 2018
Outdoors

Elevated cable system has revolutionized sport of wakeboarding

TAMPA — Parks Bonifay calls it a skate park on water.

"You've never seen anything like it," said the 30-year-old Clermont resident. "It has really revolutionized the sport of wakeboarding."

He's talking about the new Sesitec System 2.0, an elevated cable that will pull competitors through a water terrain park in front of spectators and judges today and Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center.

"You don't need a boat anymore," said Bonifay, who, despite his age, is considered a wakeboard pioneer. "You can set up a wakeboard park just about anywhere."

The Red Bull Wake Open will feature more than 30 of the world's top wakeboarders in Big Air, Park and Boat competitions in a fan-friendly environment.

In the first discipline, the cable system drags competitors across the water at a top speed of 38 mph. When riders hit the single 50-foot ramp, they have a few seconds to wow the crowd with their best aerial maneuvers.

In the second discipline, wakeboarders again use the cable, this time to navigate a serious of obstacles, similar to what you might see at your local skateboard park.

And finally, in the Boat competition, the contestants perform a variety of tricks as they are towed behind a traditional ski boat.

Bonifay, one of more than two dozen pro wakeboarders who make their homes in Florida, grew up with the sport. His parents were both show skiers at Cypress Gardens, and he gained international fame when at 6 months old he became the youngest in the world to water ski.

Widely considered the world's best freerider, Bonifay won the X Games when he was 14. He went on to become a dominant force on the pro tour, where he added five Gravity Games titles.

The sport, he says, is nothing like it was 20 years ago.

"The boards have changed, the boots have changed, the boats are so much better," he said. "And now these new cable systems have taken everything to a new level."

While Bonifay said he is stoked to be competing in front of what he considers a hometown crowd in a controlled environment, he has recently made a name for himself pushing the envelope in the open ocean.

In recent years, Bonifay has wakeboarded in the Arctic, dodged icebergs in Canada and ventured to the South Pacific, where he dropped into one of the world's most notorious surf breaks at Teahupoo, Tahiti.

Keeping those adventures in perspective, Bonifay remains focused on the task at hand: winning the Red Bull Wake Open.

"I think people are going to be really blown away," he said. "The fans will be able to get right up close to the action. It is going to be nonstop action, full-out waking."

 
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