The press release for the carnival touts it as “the sport’s most important rail contest”, but they’re selling themselves short. It was clear that at the end of Sunday’s finals The Carnival is THE most important contest in wakeboarding, for a number of reasons.

While The Carnival may sound to the uninitiated like just another in the series of similar events that kicks off the season each year in central Florida, it is anything but that. Born in 1999 as an answer to the desire of a small group of rail riders that wanted a contest all their own, The Carnival has remained the preeminent rail competition in the world, despite only having been run three times in the last eight years. Nowhere in the world are you going to find a set up as demanding as the five main rails that lined the western shoreline of Projects Lake #3 this weekend, and nowhere are you going to find a group of professional riders who are placed on such a level playing field. Save for Projects coaches Keith Lidberg and Rob Jacques, most of the entrants had never hit most of the rails until a week or so before the competition. Which made for a very interesting, and significant, phenomenon in a professional competition: Nobody – not even the riders – knew exactly what he was going to do once the finals started. There are dozens of professional events each year, and not one besides The Carnival can make that claim.

The small crowd in attendance for Sunday’s final was actually on the edge of their seats for the heat between Keith Lidberg and Parks Bonifay, something no one has felt obliged to do in a long time at a wakeboarding contest. That Lidberg didn’t ride up to the level that he had for the entire weekend in the final was almost poetic – he had spent himself entirely just trying to get there. Give him a day, or even a few hours, in between (we’ll probably see that at the next Carnival) and the match between he and Bonifay would have been the most exciting professional head-to-head match ever. I can say that without any doubt.

And talk about poetic – how good is it to see Parks Bonifay win after the horrific year-and-a-half he has had? This was his first competition back, and it’s safe to say that everybody from spectator to competitor wanted to see him do well. Despite still suffering a few lingering knee problems (he admits his switch ollies are still not up to par yet) Bonifay had people throwing their hands in the air with every hit in his five-minute finals run. It was truly an emotional event, for spectators and competitors alike. You have to feel bad for Lidberg – he gave it everything he had but his legs failed him by the end of the day. But you can’t take a thing away from Bonifay; he steps up and blows your mind every time the situation calls for it, which it did heavily in the finals of the Carnival.

Recognition should go to all the competitors for making this year’s Carnival worth the wait, but in particular here are the match ups we can’t wait to see next year: Rob J. v Watson again (the toughest heat of the day to call), Anthony Hollick versus anybody, Aaron Rathy v. Lidberg (another close one, and it’s sure that Rathy will come back next time with a whole lot of practice under his belt.)

Here are your results: (Head-To-Head – Winners are listed first)


Keith Lyman/Jack Blodgett

Anthony Hollick/Chad Sharpe

Daniel Watkins/J.D. Webb

Robby Jacques/Rusty Malinoski

Shawn Watson/Erik Ruck

Oliver Derome/Danny Harf

Keith Lidberg/Collin Harrington

Aaron Rathy/Shane Bonifay


Aaron Rathy/Oliver Derome

Anthony Hollick/Keith Lyman

Keith Lidberg/Daniel Watkins

Shawn Watson/Robby Jacques


Aaron Rathy/Anthony Hollick

Keith Lidberg/Shawn Watson


Keith Lidberg/Aaron Rathy


Parks Bonifay/Keith Lidberg