During the weekend of February 8-10, some of the best wakeboarders in the world descended on the Phoenix, AZ convention center for the annual boat show and rail jam. After both graduating in from the University of Arizona in nearby Tucson, we were certainly excited to get back to the dessert, as we spent many weekends house boating at Lake Bartlett throughout the years. I flew in from San Antonio on Friday morning, and met up with my brother Ty, who had come from Tampa the night before. Along with him was our friend Gustav Lidmalm, a Swedish Gator Boards national team rider and coach at the Extreme-Gene Watersports Complex in Cordoba Spain (www.xtreme-gene.com), who acted not only as our excuse for any behavior not fitting American citizens, but also the photographer for the weekend. After arriving and meeting up with fellow Obrien rider Kaeson Suyderhound, we stuffed as many board bags as possible into what seemed like the smallest rental car ever, and immediately made our way to the convention center to check out the rail. The timing was perfect, as we met up with Aaron Reed and Liquid Force/Reef rep Stratt Nellos in the parking garage, and quickly unloaded the gear (i.e.... opened the trunk while the bags came falling out). Upon seeing the set up outside of the pavilion, it was evident how much work Pat Panakos and the rest of the crew had done setting up. The flat to down rail looked perfect, with a good thigh high ollie on. In addition, plexiglass resembling a hockey stadium had been put up surrounding the landing pool after an incident the previous year. Not only that, the bottom pool was heated to at least 80 degrees, and portable heaters had been placed near the starting deck, making the February twilight air seem at least bearable! The crowd was excited, and the winch was fired up.
The list of riders was impressive, and included Shaun Murray, Shawn Watson, Jeff McKee, Tino Santori, Jack Blodgett, Jimmy Wolf, and a host of the other local AZ riders. Photographer Steve Haun was also there with his waterproof housing and remote flashes to cover the action, some of which I'm sure will be published in the upcoming issues of WakeBoarding Magazine. There were several sessions throughout the weekend, but the cool thing about events like this is the laid back atmosphere with which they take place. Because this was not a contest, the riders just took turns at the rail, all the while with narration and commentary by Aaron that kept the interest high and smiles coming. Because there was no pressure, the riders could just have fun, as evidenced by Jeff hitting it with his street jacket on and then frantically trying to rip it off in order to keep it dry before sinking in the landing pool (He got bucked the next time and ended up soaked anyway, but the effort was commendable), as well as Watson's nosepresses, and the 270's and gaps to down that seemed to be coming with nearly every rider. Another highlight had to include Jimmy almost taking off his legs after not ollieing quite as early as he expected while trying to slide the rail with only his front foot in the binding. Luckily he made it to the bottom pool with all of his parts intact, and came up smiling while everyone was still holding their breath.
After breaking my ankle/leg and having to have surgery and some hardware installed late last fall, I hadn't been riding very much, but did get the chance to take a couple laps around Texas Ski Ranch before heading to AZ, and was super glad I did. The rail was definitely fun and the winch was nice and fast. Also, Pat had made a padded walkway back up to the starting deck, and covered the decline with plastic to help make it as easy for the riders to bail if necessary, as well as make it back up to the top with slippery feet. Everyone was all smiles after the sun went down, and with the exception of some small scrapes, remained healthy and intact. I must admit though that I did hockey-check myself into the plexiglass after back-lipping the down on my first attempt, and came home to Texas with the bruises to prove it. That's okay though, my girlfriend digs scars. Regardless, everyone ended the evening at the various establishments in Phoenix/Scottsdale. We celebrated Ty's girlfriend's 21st birthday at Axis/Radius, in Old Town. Saturday morning came fairly early, but we did manage to get out of the house, and arrived to breakfast in typical fashion.
The boat show continued throughout the weekend with demos all day Saturday and Sunday. Regrettably, we had to fly out super early Sunday morning to get back for work and school. After Gustav and I had an authentic NASCAR wheelchair experience down one of the corridors in the Phoenix airport, we were luckily allowed back on our respective planes and headed for home. Unfortunately, the airport security guard was unaware that just as Tom Cruise is told in the 80's classic Days of Thunder, "rubbin' is racing!"
In hindsight, the Phoenix Boat Show & Rail Jam was a great time, and fun for everyone involved. Because there was no contest, the riders took the opportunity to push the envelope, but were also able to just enjoy putting on an exhibition for the fans that definitely included some pretty good rail riding. Phoenix is a great city with a rapidly growing wakeboarding scene, and the boat show there included everything from the most popular wakeboard boats to big offshore race boats, making it a point to offer something for every boating enthusiast. My personal favorite however still had to be the 40th anniversary X-Star perched almost vertically at the MasterCraft of Arizona booth. As always, this trip was a fun wakeboarding adventure, and a huge thank you to Stratt Nellos, Steve Haun, Obrien Wakeboards, MasterCraft Boats, and Ten-80 clothing for helping to make it possible.