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Red Bull wakeboarding competition will come to Tampa in July

Published May 11, 2012


With the rev of an engine and the lurch of a boat, Shane Bonifay comes alive.

The Polk County native glides across the water on a fiberglass board until the boat's wake grows to just the right height.

Then he flies.

Grasping a neon green line tied to the accelerating boat, Bonifay uses the waves to launch himself skyward, performing twists, turns, spirals and flips.

This is wakeboarding.

Bonifay will be among the hundreds of wakeboarders who will descend on Tampa in July for the Red Bull Wake Open, a two-day international competition that officials project will bring 14,000 people and a projected $1 million to the Tampa Bay area.

Starting July 13 at the Tampa Convention Center, there will be three different wakeboarding events in the contest, among the biggest in the sport.

Some participants will attempt only one. Others, like Bonifay, plan to tackle all three.

"This is huge," said wakeboard champion Raphael Derome, 20. "It forces you to train in all three. It really pushes you."

The sport has gained traction since its advent in the 1990s.

But competitions like this one are still relatively new and underexposed, wakeboarders said.

Participants compete in tricks and height as well as precision and control.

If an athlete wipes out or loses control, injuries can be unavoidable.

The water breaks a boarder's fall about as well as concrete.

"It's a give and take," said Bonifay, 28. "If this is what I get to do for my job, well then, I'll sit on the couch for a few months every now and then when I hurt myself."

Bonifay, who boards with a brace on his right knee, has torn up his knee three times.

His older brother, legendary wakeboard champion Parks Bonifay, won't participate in the July contest due to injury.

But he'll do what professional wakeboarders always do: rest, recuperate and get back on the water. Bonifay said he doesn't know how to do it any other way.

"I've been waterskiing since we could barely walk," Shane Bonifay said. "Sure, it's an adrenaline thing. But it's also way more than that."

In a news conference Thursday on the bank of the Hillsborough River, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan and Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins proclaimed their support for the contest.

"This is a tremendous social and economic event for us," Higgins said. "And it comes right in our time of need, right when we could use the tourism the most."

Holding a perspiring can of Red Bull energy drink in one hand, Buckhorn lauded the company's success in hosting its annual Flugtag flying machine contest on the same waterway.

Organizers hope this event might also turn into an annual attraction.

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"We could not be more excited," Hagan said. "If we build this from the ground up, we can turn it into a showcase."

Marissa Lang can be reached at or (813) 310-9133.


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