Summer Heat and a Proper Road Trip
North and South Carolina are respectably the 12th and 8th states to be defined making up the United States total 50 states. Culturally depth and geographically parallel, “The Carolinas” can bring you back in time to America’s early colonial days, Southern culture and architecture known for the time period. While traveling through each of the Carolina’s it’s logical to understand why this region was one of the first to be explored in the early 1500’s and later settled by the English. Both states offer a blend of coastal waterways that can lead inland to rolling hillsides lush in green vegetation and dark blue freshwater lakes. Geographically and visually The Carolinas present the classic wakeboarding road trip. Deep in riding options and rich in adventure.
As our traveling wake journey with Red Bull continues, our goal remains the same. Inspire others to travel outside of their backyard, interact with locals and embrace what the road has to offer. Essentially follow the map without being confined to stay inside the lines. As our sport continues to grow globally most of our top athletes have traveled the world. For this round of exploration, we took the home soil approach as we’ve been visualizing the classic East Coast road trip for quite some time. With the help of Red Bull U.S our band of road warriors comprised of the legendary Parks Bonifay, Mr. Personality and double-up charger Steel Lafferty and the mind-boggling boat talent that is Mike Dowdy. If there was ever to be a group more different in personality, this was that group.
All parties arrived early Sunday morning at the Charlotte international airport. Fittingly most of our crew have been on the road for a good part of the season and this would be the first time this year our collective group would be together. Like any good airport rendezvous you can’t help but smile and laugh as each member approaches the assembly. It’s something I feel is very unique to our sport as it’s founded on groups of people interacting and embracing others. At this point our team is comprised of Red Bull marketing and team manager Tracy Almeda-Singian, Red Bull athletes Parks Bonifay, Steel Lafferty and Mike Dowdy, photographer Bradlee Rutledge and myself being all things Alliance Wake. All greetings and smiles aside there was one looming presence much greater than our stoke, heat and humidity. Having traveled a fair bit of the world including the Middle East, I don’t recall a journey of such temperature magnitude. Road trips are known for bringing one’s true personality to surface. Add heat and humidity to the table and you can pretty much define a group’s ability to bond or crash in a few short hours. Alrighty then…shakas.
Our first of three spots this Sunday was to The U.S. National Whitewater Center just a stone’s throw from the airport. It’s an incredible place with an outdoor recreation and athletic training facility for whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking. Our goal and vision here was to winch the man-made rock outcroppings which make the water turbulent and additionally provides a physical obstacle to avoid while in your raft or canoe. This place is basically one giant rinse and repeat rapid with a primary staging area at the top where you can choose one of two rapids to descend into. Both rapids rejoin at the bottom in an enormous collection pool where your raft or canoe will ride a conveyor belt back to the top. Hence the rinse and repeat. Our primary winch area was at the collection pool and ultimately the best hit was to start at the bottom and roll upstream jibbing a few obstacles and a wall ride. And while these hits were somewhat novelty they were super fun and a great place to start a trip like this. Each athlete brought something unique to the spot and it was super fun to see Dowdy do some jibbing. Before leaving we felt compelled to hit the rapids ourselves in one of the full-size boats meaning everyone in the crew ended up jibbing this place in some shape or form.
Having left plenty of skin at the U.S. National Whitewater center it was time to ride something a bit more familiar and team up with the gang from Charlotte MasterCraft Center for a boat rip on Mountain Island Lake just 30 minutes away. As we drove north towards our meeting point lush forest and deep greens began to overtake the horizon. This area is quintessential East Coast lake territory. Winding shorelines and terraced homes pillow down to the lake and have amazing dock structures that could be considered one’s front door during the summer months. This was to be our first true set into the trip and the crew was pretty frothy to get wet. Interacting with locals and meeting new friends is one of the ingredients that makes trips like these so memorable. Locals and legends Robby “GasMan” Maschhaupt, Tanner Lawson and Steve Kennedy happily greeted us at the dock with a fresh 2018 MasterCraft X23 and XT23. ZF Marine’s Brandon Hollingshead and former NASCAR Rookie of the Year and current Lamborghini pilot Kevin Conway rounded out the local entourage. Shortly after dialing in the wake the boys did what they do best, bring each piece of their personalities out visually in their sets. Steel simply sent’it including hitting a double cab of the double-up first try, Parks provided legitimacy and visuals only a legend with his amount of time on the water can bring and Dowdy showed everyone what modern-day technical riding can be. Notably Steel’s ability to hit double-ups consistently, Park’s depth in creativity and Dowdy’s ability to show he’s much more than a contest rider were absolute standouts in my opinion providing a visual portal as to what’s to come for the remainder of the trip…not surprisingly the local went wild.
Charlotte North Carolina is historically known for many things. Today, auto racing might be at the top of the list with the NASCAR Hall of Fame being located in downtown. Naturally a proper late-night kart race would be in order particularly if you’re going to have local boy Kevin Conway in tow. It’s not every day you can put a bunch of athletes in karts all pointed at the dude that gets paid to drive for Lamborghini. Fred Ogrim of the Victory Karting Center not only kept the facility open just for our crew but reconfigured the track into one giant Grand Prix. The boys did not disappoint with respectful laps time but all efforts fell short with Mr. Conway repeatedly taking P1. It’s probably the best podium he’ll have all season…
After a few hours sleep in down town Charlotte it was time to hit the road to Wrightsville Beach 200+ miles due east but not before a construction worker stopped us to take a photo with Parks which is typical when traveling with him. 4 hours and multiple podcasts went by as our never ending 2-lane rode opened up to large bridges and coastal waterways. Like kids that have been cooped up in the car too long our patients had clearly run dry and as we traveled across the inner coastal waterways and the heat we originally felt in Charlotte had somehow become more intense and definitely more humid. Driving onto the peninsula it was clear we were onto something visually special. The salty light blue fingers of water that spread throughout Wrightsville were lined with emerald green marine grass and shoreline homes with every type of center consul boat you can imagine. We were clearly in an ocean town.
Fresh out the cars we were greeted by local wake aficionado Sam Baker and Monty Rish of Singleton Marine whom provided and chaperoned a MasterCraft XT23 for the remainder of our journey. Without delay it was time to get salty and scrape a few solid hours of driving off our vibe. With salt water being a bit more buoyant than fresh it typically feels faster beneath your feet and the wake usually feel a bit stiffer. All good things for the boys to go into full send’it mode. Simply getting into the salt air did heaps for our group as there’s something totally healing about being on the coast. As the sun set to the west it provided an orange hue unique only to this region and time of year.
Dawn hit quick as most trips of this nature do and so did our second set in Wrightsville beach. Once again the inner coastal is something visually special offering a color pallet we won’t find again the remainder of the trip. Besides our crew we were joined by another local ripper Kara Austin who runs a wake school called Shred the Gnar. In watching both Sam and Kara ride I’d say the wake scene in Wrightsville Beach is super healthy and in some cases their riding reminds me of the Delta Crew. As our morning set termed rumblings of the surf out front becoming really good had spread throughout the community. Being from Southern California and having surfed my entire life I was a bit skeptical but super excited at the possibility knowing that if timed right, the East Coast can deliver world class conditions. With support of the area’s best surf shop, South End Surf Shop we grabbed every possible shape in the demo quiver including a handful of soft-tops which are always epic for high wave counts and good comedy. Cresting the sand dune onto the beach it was a bit like the original Endless Summer including seeing some of the best surf and conditions I’ve ever witness. I almost couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. Solid overhead A-frames ripping up and down a soft sandy beach and 80’ water. This surf set was like getting dipped in a life elixir, you could literally feel years getting added to the backside of time. What seemed like a few minutes quickly became 4 solid hours of un planned surfing epic A-frame bombs and party waves you could only wish for. Cole Vanthof might be the biggest frother I’ve met grabbing rail every possible chance he had.
With once in a lifetime surf and amazing friends behind us we had to journey on putting our backs to Wrightsville Beach. Passing into the outer fringes of Wilmington there was a possible winch hit to investigate and checkout. What we came across was a once operational draw bridge (now a stationary bridge) with old wooden channel guides paralleling each side of the supporting pillars. Dowdy seemed up for the hit actively walking the channel guides scoping the possibilities. As rail hits go this was by no means something undoable based on approach angle or height. We even had an ideal location to operate the winch from both structurally and rope angle. What was most challenging was the condition of the wooden channel guides. Not only was the wood insanely old, dilapidating and full things to cut you, but it had what looked like old railroad spikes holding most of the structure together of which the heads of the spikes were popping up everywhere. It really reminded me of the stuff we hit on the first Red Bull journey to Silverton Colorado (see our 16.1 Photo Annual issue). Add a river current to the equation and this hit was extremely real if something went wrong. Dowdy was super motivated to hit this spot and in all good rode crews so were we as his support team. Personally I was amped to see him winch as most people only see him as the boat contest rider. The trip was clearly showing he’s well beyond that stereotype. With all things set and the team ready, Dowdy was able to pull off a legit tail press right out of the gates but as Dowdy is a professional human and super competitive we reset for another go. This time Dowdy hit an equally legit back-lip with all cameras checking in for a thumbs-up and once again for good measure. On the final hit Dowdy got on the rail early back-lipping most of the length and as he hit the midway point his board came to an immediate stop flipping him end-over-end, sheading his lifejacket while sliding the rail on his back to then be tossed back into the water facing our crew. Clearly he had hit one of the potential railroad spikes but at that moment we couldn’t see his back nor any visible damage to it. Within seconds the crew was off the bridge helping him out of the water. Mike was very clear his back didn’t feel good and upon getting him out of the water we could see the skin damage the rail done to his back. Overall he was calm, collected and in need of a few stitches. Mike Dowdy you’re a freaking animal…
With Dowdy having a fresh set of stiches our crew arrived just outside of Charleston early the next morning. Unanimously the group voted to get a few hours of sleep under our belts as our pace to-date had been super spirited.
Some good sleep and needed coffee the crew headed into downtown Charleston mid-day for some sightseeing, cultural enrichment and to meet up local Tony Smith whom is Alliance’s legacy editor. Tony is part of the sport’s history having been on the editorial side for decades forging lifelong friendships and worldly experience. Thankfully he’s our local for this last leg of the trip and welcome site knowing we’re in really good hands. We met at the downtown historical City Market originally established in the 1790s stretching over four city blocks. Today the City Market is a tourist and local thoroughfare full off goods and things to checkout. Some lifestyle shots and lunch rounded out our day in prep for an afternoon shoot under the landmark Charleston Bridge on the Cooper River. This was also where we parted with Mike Dowdy who earned some massive winch credibility and overall respect in my book. Not that he needed it…
Charleston was once the nation’s largest and earliest harbors in line with New York and Boston so you can imagine it’s overall sheer size and shipping traffic. Oddly enough it does have some amazing riding possibilities and people regularly ride the local waterways. Unfortunately for this afternoon set the wind was too strong however the crew gave it a solid go. With this being our last night on the road together a really, really good meal was in order at one of the better downtown steak houses. Low light and dark wine was fully embraced.
Our final morning, our final wakeup call and our trip’s last shoot came what seemed insanely quick. In most cases throughout the trip we scored at every stop but had yet to score any action in Charleston meaning there was a bit of pressure to can the final destination. Arriving at the boat ramp we had good water conditions, epic light and our friendly heat and humidity. What seemingly looked like an easy shoot for Steel’s set under the Charleston bridge was potentially one of the more challenging shoots most of us had experienced. With the Cooper river being tidal, it’s sheer size and water volume was constantly pulling us out to sea to the point where our boat’s speed control had challenges understanding what the hell we were doing. This is where Steel’s uncanny ability to hit a solid hour of double-ups shines. That style and amount of riding would break the strongest professional riders but somehow he thrives in that environment. With Steel canned we moved onto Parks and seeked out something only he would come up with ultimately shredding under the stern of a 1000’ tanker ship. Needless to say we did a few passes and called’it having succeeded.
A good road trip is supposed to test one’s self spiritually and physically. Having had the complete honor of being a part of these trips I can say this adventure had bonding I possibly didn’t foresee in the beginning. Regardless of the heat, lack of sleep and daily location changes moral stayed mostly at an all-time high. The best part is that spirit was authentic, real and genuine with everyone coming away learning something new about the person seated next to you or behind. We clocked up some epic miles, made some new friends, got some stitches, lost some shit and potentially a few self inflicted headaches. If you’re to take anything away from the ongoing Red Bull adventures, learn to adventure. Get on the road, lose some sleep and bond with local riders along the way. You’ll grow forever by doing so.