The Evolution and the Future
A look back and ahead at the watersports industry
By Sawyer Davis
As the summer comes to an end, I thought this would be a fitting issue to speak of the evolution of watersports and the future. I look back at what has come about since the first day I got up on two wooden skis. Back then there was no wakeboarding, wakeskating or wakesurfing – now a multi-million dollar sports industry that dominates the market.
The original, elite three events are still around but by a much smaller percentage. How did it happen? Go back to the day of someone being towed standing on a raw piece of wood. Early skiing evolved to someone riding one ski, which then branched in a few directions. There were skiers, jumpers and trick skiers. People would ski on anything for ski shows, from boat paddles to nothing at all, just barefooting.
I’m not sure of the exact date but in the mid-80s this all went sideways … literally. Wakeboarding was spawned from one of the oldest of watersports – surfing. People have been towed on surfboards behind boats since there were boats with power enough to pull them. In 1985 Tony Finn, a San Diego surfer, decided to make a much smaller board with built-in foot straps. He called it a “Skurfer.” Skurfing evolved into a sport originally known as skiboarding, which eventually took on the name wakeboarding.
At first wakeboarding struggled in popularity and was held back by the technology of the board itself. Herb O’Brien, founder of O’Brien skis and then HO sports took interest and begin working on the makeup of the board. Using his ski manufacturing background, he made the board smaller and thinner. He used different materials to make it lighter and less buoyant for easier starts. That’s when it finally got its new name, the wakeboard. The bindings evolved from foot straps to ones with heel holds and eventually to a bigger “high wrap,” like the slalom/jump/trick bindings. The board became more symmetrical and the bindings grew in leaps and bounds over a short period of time. Obviously they all still do, but wakeboard bindings became very sport specific.
Then came the off-shoot of wakeskating in the early to mid-90s. Jason Messer invented the “Fresh Water Traction” by shaping foam into concave board and having it glassed up, while he continued to search for better materials to make stronger boards. Wakeskating wasn’t seen in magazines until the mid-90s. Thomas Horrell, founder of Cassette wakeskates, Jason Messer and Derry Malloy had a spread in Wakeboarding Magazine in 1997 on a wakeskate. The skates were taken in a few directions. After the glassed version, they were constructed from laminated wood plys and then composite materials. Today you even see wood cores wrapped in composite.
Another direction taken in the skate industry was the bi-level, two pieces of wood mounted together to give more pop and a true skateboard feel. It also started with a wood construction and has predecessors of composite material. The wakeskate industry does have one major difference from the wakeboard industry. It revolves around a rider-owned company market, meaning small companies owned by wakeskaters that manufactured batches of wakeskates. They are very hands-on in production and are generally not sold in very many pro shops.
OK, I left out kneeboards and tubes, but who really cares about either one? I also left out kiteboarding, but that’s not really behind a boat, now is it?
So, where does it go from here? We all thought the same thing 20 years ago and look what has changed! My only prediction is that the foilboard, which was invented by Laird Hamilton, might show its face in the future. It’s an air chair hydrofoil mounted onto a snowboard with snowboard bindings. The hydrofoil eliminates the effects of choppy or rough conditions. They are currently on the market for $1,800. With the rough water conditions due to overpopulation of Lake Lanier, the foilboard may take off there.
Sawyer Davis grew up on Lake Martin and now spends his days as a realtor specializing in lake property. He’s worked with several rider-owned companies in the wake industry since 2006 and often hosts groups of pro and advanced riders who visit Lake Martin.