Originally created 07/03/96

Wakeboarding makes asplash around the nation



With a strange surfboard - or perhaps an extra-wide slalom ski - strapped to his feet, Eddie Beverly crosses a wave and leaps 6 feet in the air, bending his knees and throwing his feet to the side like a trick skateboarder.

Later, balancing off the edge of the board, he takes one hand off the tow rope and slaps the lake's surface, sending up a spray of surf.

When he musters enough momentum - and guts - Mr. Beverly can propel his body into a somersault, then nail a perfect 10 landing on the water's surface.

But on this day, Mr. Beverly is nursing an injured back, and all his flips end in brutal, graceless falls, painful reminders of a two-day hospital stay, the result of a boarding mishap.

The strange board Mr. Beverly is riding is called a wakeboard. A cross between water-skiing, surfing and skateboarding, wakeboarding is one of the most popular - and hippest - water sports in the country. As the name suggests, wakeboarders try to catch the wakes created by the boat that is pulling them.

What began 11 years ago in Florida and California as "skurfing" is making a splash in the Augusta area this summer. Local ski shops have sold the boards for about four years, mostly to experienced skiers. But the sport's mainstream popularity is skyrocketing this summer, buoyed by exhibitions on ESPN's X Games, formerly Extreme Games.

Augusta-area water-sports enthusiasts are hitting lakes and rivers with their $200 to $800 wakeboards. The higher-priced boards normally weigh less than 5 pounds and are better for complicated tricks.

"It's absolutely sweeping the nation right now," said Nick Cagle, owner of Open Water Sports in Martinez. This summer wakeboards are outselling slalom skis 5 to 1 at Mr. Cagle's shop.

The boards are also tremendous sellers at Neptune Dive & Ski in North Augusta, said co-owner Cindy Elam.

"It's fast becoming like snowboarding" in popularity, she said.

Mr. Beverly, a competitive slalom skier and Southeastern sales manager for H.O. Sports, estimates that throughout this region, wakeboards are selling 10 times faster than skis.

It seems that almost everyone - from professional skiers to teen-agers to Mr. Beverly's 52-year-old orthopedic surgeon - is embracing this freestyle water sport.

`Mom and Dad can get up on it really easy, and little junior can rip on it," Mr. Beverly said.

Learning how to wakeboard is easy - so easy that most newcomers can get up and successfully ride on the first or second try. After one day of wakeboarding, most novices are ready to attempt simple tricks, Mr. Beverly said.

"That's the appeal of the sport," said Tom James, editor of the 2-year-old WakeBoarding Magazine, published in Winter Park, Fla. "I could take you out and have you wakeboarding in 10 minutes. It's so easy to learn."

Ease is certainly part of the sport's appeal, but it's the freestyle creativity and flexibility that makes it popular with younger adults.

"To get 10 feet over the water upside down ... it's limitless what you can do with a wakeboard," said 25-year-old Lane Skinner, a clerk at Neptune Dive & Ski in North Augusta. "You can catch major air. I would describe it as radical."

Radical while you're catching air or jumping the wake, but downright painful when your face hits the surf and you eat water.

A diver by preference, when it comes to playing above water, Mr. Skinner always chooses a wakeboard over other toys.

"It's just a rush," he said. "Basically it's for the thrillseeker, somebody who wants to push the limit, somebody who wants to get upside down at 30 miles per hour."

Like snowboarding, its wintry cousin, wakeboarding puts a radical spin on a disciplined, old fogie sport.

At 34, Mr. Beverly is decades older than many of the champions on the professional wakeboarding circuit. For those competitors, wakeboarding is a sport and an attitude. Sporting green hair and baggie wardrobes, these athletes aren't into conformity or structure, he said.

"It's all freestyle, where skiing is very, very regimented," Mr. Cagle said. "There's not a lot of artistic ability that goes into riding a ski. There's a lot of athletic ability."

In other words, this is not your parents' surfboard or ski.

"You've got the age-old adage that kids don't want to do what Mom and Dad did," Mr. Cagle said. "And Mom and Dad rode skis." Knight-Ridder reports were used in this story.