Friday, May 25, 2018

Wakeboard event to draw crowd to downtown Tampa

TAMPA — JD Webb tries to block everything out of his mind when he approaches the wakeboard ramp.

The 26-year-old Auburndale resident holds the record for the longest ramp-to-ramp jump — 70 feet over the fountain at Lake Eola in Orlando — performed during a taping of the Discovery Channel show Stunt Junkies.

But Webb may have a hard time concentrating this weekend at the Red Bull Wake Open in Tampa.

"My girlfriend and I just had a baby," the new dad said. "I've been off the water for three weeks."

Training in a gym, Webb used the downtime from his board to heal his battered body.

"Being on the road and riding all the time really takes a toll," he said. "But I went to the gym, did a lot of yoga and feel better than ever. The time off really helped."

Webb said when he lines up on the ramp, he will be thinking about Ehvie, his 3-week-old girl, but he should still have an edge over the competition.

Because for the first time at a U.S. wakeboard competition, this weekend's big air contest will feature a ramp-to-ramp jump.

"They are still working out the details," said Jack Heilig, who handles marketing for the event. "I think they are going see how it works in practice before settling the actual distance for the competition."

The Red Bull Wake Open, in its second year, will feature more than 30 of the world's top wakeboarders in big air, wake park and boat competitions near the Tampa Convention Center.

In big air, a cable system drags competitors across the water at more than 30 mph. When riders hit a single ramp, they have a few seconds to wow the crowd with their best aerial maneuvers.

In wake park, wakeboarders again use the cable system, this time to navigate a series of obstacles, similar to what you might see at a skateboard park.

In the boat competition, contestants perform a variety of tricks as they are towed behind a traditional ski boat.

Webb, who grew up wakeboarding on Central Florida's lakes, said the format of events such as the Red Bull Open has changed the sport of wakeboarding.

"We have brought the sport to the streets of the big cities," Webb said. "I think that is now going to be more accessible to the people."

Raphael Derome, the overall winner of last year's event, agreed.

"The cable parks have really made a big difference," the 21-year-old Canadian said. "The sport is growing and in the right direction. You don't need a boat anymore to wakeboard."

Derome, who spends much of the year in the Orlando area, said the top wakeboarders are getting younger and better.

"(Cable) parks like McCormick's in Tampa are great because ultimately, they are better for the environment than boats," he said. "Every year the sport gets bigger and cooler."

Webb and Derome will have their fans out in force Friday and Saturday.

"They all want to be pro wakeboarders," Derome said. "This is a great job — traveling all over the world — but it didn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of work to get to where I am."

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