Red Bull’s Pop the Lock: Wakeskating 200-Year-Old River Locks
Brian Grubb has gone places on his wakeskate. He has gone places far and wide, colorful and unique. Two years ago he traveled to Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, to wakeskate a 187-acre cranberry farm.
Last year, Grubb flew 9,000 miles and hiked 5,000 feet up to skate the rice terraces in the mountainous Banaue region of the Philippines. There, he met with members of the Tuwali tribe, where, after a ceremony led by governing Mumbaki priests, the team was granted permission to skate farmlands that were 2,000-3,000 years old. Wakeboarding Magazine perhaps put it best: “Well, this is mindblowing.”
His latest project took Grubb and three-time Wakeskate Tour Champion Andrew Pastura to Lockport, New York.
A small town near Buffalo, Lockport is home to the famed Flight of Five, five locks or stone tanks, built in a receding, stair-like fashion to assist boats down the 60-foot drop in elevation. Constructed in the early 1800s, the locks were crucial to the completion of the Erie Canal, the manmade waterway that traverses New York State and helped make Buffalo a center of American steel production.
After checking out photos and Google Maps, Grubb scouted the location himself. “When we scouted, the drop was seven-to-nine feet,” he said. “I was like, ‘OK, that’s a big drop.’ Then we came back, and there’d been rain, so it was about 12. Feet.”
But as you can see in the above videos, the wakeskaters were up to the challenge. “It was great,” says Grubb, who added that wakeskaters seek out “anything with an elevation change.” For the last 12 years, he has ventured onto spillways and retention ponds in search of water spots that simulate drops down stairs. If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like skateboarding, you’d be right on the money. Both share a similar DIY ethic.
“You don’t need a huge wake, and if you have a winch, you don’t even need a boat,” said Brian, who brings up his friend and teammate, Pastura. “He’s a skater from Ohio, who never wakeboarded. He has a totally different background, and, as you can see, he has a totally different style.”
What the wave is to a surfer, the winch is to a wakeskater. Winches open a universe of wakeskatable spots, where a boat could never go, and recent technologies are changing the sport. To simplify (and perhaps over-simplify): Chain-driven units from the ’90s have been replaced with belt systems operated via a clutch that controls torque and gives the tow rope a more consistent pull, resulting a smoother ride that yields cleaner, bigger, better tricks (check out Brian’s bigspin or double kickflip).
“The locks were amazing,” says Andrew, who used to waterski and wakeboard on the Ohio River. He relocated to Florida five years ago, where he met Brian. The two have since traveled the world and plan on further adventures. While skating the locks, an idea emerged about possibly skating an infinity pool above a skyscraper in Singpore.
“Yeah,” says Andrew. “That would be unreal.”