Gettin’ Deep in the Deep South
Editor's Note: Almost a year ago Jared Couch took a trip from California to Mississippi to visit good friend Zack Luckett and do some Deep South wakeboarding. He wrote a story about it hoping it might get published somewhere. But first Jared printed it out and sent a copy to Zack so he could look at it (it had to be a hard copy 'cause Zack, who is real handy at lots of stuff, isn't too handy with a computer and e-mail). Zack took a look at it and decided it needed some modifications. So then Zack rewrites it by hand in a notebook! A bit later it gets sent to me and I sit on it for a long, long time. But I finally trasncribed Jared (and Zack's) story and it is now here online at alliancewake.com for your viewing and reading pleasure. Too bad Zack can't use computers very well, he'll probably never get to see this.
Growing up in central California, right in between Los Angeles and San Francisco, I was influenced by both the core surfer lifestyle of So-Cal and the laid-back attitude lifestyle of Nor-Cal. Beyond that, though, I hadn’t experienced much else. Sure, I’d taken a trip here and there, done some vacations and had a little travel experience under my belt, but I was still green to some of the cultural diversity found right in the old U.S. of A. So when my good friend Zack Luckett told me to get on a plane and come wakeboard with him for a week, I had no idea what to expect. You see, Zack’s a good ol’ boy from Mississippi and I’m basically a surfer dude from California. Zack didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have a clue as to how things were going to go, but he guaranteed I’d have more fun “than a puppy with two peters,” so I got on a plane and headed to Jackson.
The trip started off rough right away. I walked up to the ticket counter with my bags, thinking I was a little bit late and worried I’d missed the required check-in time, but the guy behind the counter informed me I was 24 hours early. Yeah, I’m a bonehead. When I finally got to Mississippi (a day later), Zack picked me up from the airport. Now I’m used to a little heat from all the summer’s I’ve spent out on boats in California, but nothing had me prepared for some Deep South weater. The 100-plus-degree temps w/ 98% humidity hit me like an eight-foot barrel on a reef break. Little did I know the climate change would be the least shocking thing of the entire trip.
After showing me around his hometown and taking me to the famous Luckett Lodge, Zack drove us out to the Pearl River, where a lot of Innuendo was filmed, to meet up with some of his buddies. Along for the ride were three local Mississippi laides, two of whom were pregnant, but all of whom were smoking and drinking. ‘Alrighty then,’ was the first thing I thought to myself. After riding and throwing a bunch of “superman’s” for the girls, we headed over to Flag Island, which is basically a tiny strip of sand that the locals use as an excuse to beach their boats and drink. Of course, wanting to fit in with the locals, I was more than happy to oblige.
Before we could head out to the next destination of my Deep South wakeboard tour, Zack had to tie up some loose ends with the construction company he runs. Driving around to different job sites, I was amazed at how many gas stations there were, and for every gas station there were probably two churches. Zack informed me that I was now officially in the “Bible Belt” of our great nation and that I had to watch my mouth around the “lady-folk.” After listening, but not understanding one damn thing Zack’s backwoods floor man said, I helped pack up the truck so we could head out and get back to wakeboarding. “I told you I was bilingual,” Zack said to me. Then we picked up Zack’s cousin, Natalie, who would be our boat mom for the week and headed straight for Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of the King himself, Elvis Presley. There we met up with local riders Matt Clendenin and Leif Lacey (a.k.a. Brain Surgeons #1 & 2), and photographer Shelby Daniel.
The first place we rode was the guys’ secret spot and I could see why. It was honestly one of the best places I’ve ever ridden a wakeboard – Bean’s Ferry on the Tombigbee River – so much for the “secret” (I guess those Mississippi boys didn’t know us California kids can gossip and run our mouths better than anybody). We all took extra long rides, making sure to take advantage of the awesome conditions, then we headed over to a spillway where the guys had built a rail. Matt and Leif both destroyed the down rail that came off of this spillway, which was awesome to watch. Afterwards we went to Shelby’s house, where his wife, Jill, had dinner (or “supper” in the South) waiting for us. Just two days in Mississippi and the Southern Hospitality had already blown away anything I’d experienced anywhere else.
We woke up at 5:30 in the morning and headed out to Elvis Presley Lake. “This place has to be good if it’s named after Elvis,” I thought to myself. The King greeted us with a sheet of glass, so we got down to shredding it right away. Zack killed it with some of his signature style – poking the snot out of each of his grabs. Of course, Zack has to attribute all that “steeze” to the time he spent on the West Coast Camps houseboat back in 2003. You’re welcome, Zack. Shelby even put the camera down for a bit to take a ride and blew us all away with some big wrapped spins.
After the morning riding we went to the house where Elvis was born, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. It was nothing more than a small shack with a swing on a porch. “Alrighty then…”
Next we headed about an hour west to Ole Miss University, where Matt and Leif go to school. We drove way out into the boonies to a guy named Chase Godeard’s house. Pulling up, I had no idea why we had to go so far out to this kid’s house, but then I saw his backyard with a lake and full-on rail park in it. Zack and I tried to do some rail riding, but just ended up getting our asses handed to us by both of the brain surgeous, as well as the muddy shores.
Sore from some falls the day before, but still with a fair amount of ego, Zack and I again took the rails in an attempt to do something decent. But the brain surgeons were having none of it and stuck it to us. Picking up what was left of our pride, and our muddy-ass boardhsorts, Zack, Natalie and I headed south to Starkville and Mississippi State University, where Zack’s good friend Hunt Gilliland has a house. Actually, it wasn’t really a house; it was a doublewide trailer that had more speakers in it than a KISS concert. Hunt is an interesting character, to say the least (and he says a lot). He could basically be called the Van Wilder of MS. State. Everybody knows Hunt around there. Seriously, everybody. I’d make a joke about the people who didn’t know him not being anybody, but there wasn’t a person we ran into that didn’t know Hunt. He was the Tom Cruise of Starksville, just with a trailer instead of a $20 million home.
Mother Nature rolled in with some rain and cut our afternoon riding session short. Or, as Hunt liked to put it, “Zeus was throwing some haymakers.” So we got out of there and went back to Hunt’s for some fun. It got started pretty quickly when Hunt burst out of his room in his “Wild Thing” costume (really short shorts and goggles accompanied by an extremely loud rendition of a “theme song” blasting from the KISS concert speakers). It was loud, and hilarious.
Since we hadn’t gone out on the town yet during this trip, we decided to try our luck on a rainy Wednesday night in Starkville. The scene was pretty mellow because of the weather, but it was here where I was introduced to the Deep South frat boys. It was like we were at some kind of pastel polo convention. They all wore shorts above the knee, polos tucked into the belt buckle, visors, and New Balances. I felt like Spicoli at a Kennedy family reunion or something. Despite the intense prep-factor of the evening, Hunt managed to line up some ladies to come out on the boat in the morning, so we went home happy. When we pulled up to his trailer he rammed the front porch with his truck.
“I’m just letting my roommates know I got home safe,” he said to me. “And the neighbors, too.”
We slept in for a bit, which felt awesome, then got some chow at a restaurant (where everybody knew Hunt, of course), and headed for the water. It was at the gas station that I first saw them: three gorgeous Southern Belles. In California terms, I was “hella stoked.” There names were Rachel, Audrey and Marla. They were charming. And beautiful. Rachel had long, flowing blonde hair like a golden wheat field in Kansas just before harvest. Just kidding, but not really. I was really just pumped on the fact that they weren’t pregnant and drinking like the first day.
Before we rode Hunt took us to a huge bridge where we could all jump off. The girls went first and without any hesitation at all. I stood on top like a big Sally totally psyching myself out, but I knew I had to ‘cause the hotties did. So I closed my eyes and went for it. After that extremeness we took to the water. Zack was cracking up while I rode ‘cause he said I was doing all the lame tricks that girls like to see, rather than doing the spins and stuff I normally do.
“You’ve officially become a ‘flexer,’” he told me. “Just ‘flexin’ your stuff for the ladies.”
That night we went to a local drinking establishment to try to have a little fun. Once again, though, I was catching many awkward “You definitely aren’t from around here” stares from the locals. I did my best to blend in and not attract any attention by heading to the dance floor, but I probably stood out even more ‘cause it was all country music and I know country music like Celine Dion knows rap. So we headed back to Hunt’s, where he of course let everybody know he was home safe by ramming his front porch with his truck.
After a LONG night at Hunt’s (read: party), we loaded into Zack’s truck and headed back for Jackson. It was kind of sad ‘cause I was getting pretty settled amongst the Confederate flags and pink flamingo lawn ornaments. But with a plane to catch the next day, I knew it was time to head out. That night we kicked it at Zack’s placed and watched some riding footage from the trip. The whole week I’d been making fun of Zack’s southern accent, and he got me laughing hysterically when, after hearing himself talk on camera, he said to me, “Damn, J-Rod, I do sound country.”
As a sun-bleached California kid, I was bummed to be leaving Mississippi, despite all the differences. Running around with Zack and Natalie and meeting all those crazy kids had been one of the best weeks of my life. The culture and way of life was so different than anything I was used to, which was awesome, ‘cause it gave me a new understanding as to how different things were all over the map. I just thought it was really cool that, despite the differences between my world in California and Zack’s world in Mississippi, we had wakeboarding in common, and that brought a lot of people together to have a really good time. While I might not be moving from the Golden State to the Deep South anytime soon, I know I’ll be going back to visit everybody in the near future. Maybe by then I’ll be able to noodle a catfish, shoot a squirrel with a shotgun, wrestle a gator and drink a beer for dessert, and line dance to some twangy banjo song. Heck, maybe I’ll even be able to understand what the hell Zack’s floor man is saying, although I doubt it. I can’t thank Shelby, Jill, Leif, Matt, Chase, Hunt, Natalie, Zack and Elizabeth for the fun times and incredible hospitality.