2019 PHOTO ANNUAL | Matters – Grassroots: Giving Back
Practice what you preach (photo: Nautique Boats)
by: Brandon Lee
Wakeboarding. It has literally consumed and shaped my life (in the best way possible) for the past 20 years. Maybe I just have an addictive personality, and if so I’m glad that this sport – no, lifestyle – has filled that void for me. It has introduced me to some of the greatest friends I could ever ask for, provided some really cool opportunities and memories, opened the door to an exciting career outside the industry, introduced me to my wife, and has been there the whole time, through the ebbs and flows of life.
There is one common denominator to everything mentioned above: community. The watersports community as a whole is filled with a ton of totally awesome people who share a similar passion for cruising across the water with a fiberglass stick under their feet. When you pull back the scope on our sport, it’s really tiny in the grand scheme of things, and ultimately just one big family comprised of smaller families, all wanting to enjoy the same thing: riding.
Coming from the world of amateur motocross, which shares that tight-knit lifestyle, but a little more cut-throat in the competition sense, my brother and I decided to enter a local Atlanta wakeboarding tournament in 2002 put on by Ambush Board Co. We got there promptly at 6 am, just like for a race, only to realize that most of the people that had camped the night before likely had just gone to bed. Once everything got rolling around 10 am, it was a blast. We came in with a couple other buddies who we had met on our home lake, but immediately met a ton of other people there. I remember the butterflies and the seemingly massive Super Air 210 wake, but I couldn’t tell you how I did. Doesn’t matter. We were hooked.
Chuck Morrow and the crew at Ambush fully grasped the true value of these grassroots tournaments that they put on. The tournaments weren’t a place to provide a pecking order of who’s better, but they were the roots of an ecosystem that was just beginning to thrive. Chuck’s family put food on the table through wakeboard sales. Chuck, and there are several others out there like Bill Porter at Performance, knew that to sell the gear, you needed to create a need for those sales, and to sell the most boards, or bindings or Newt Juice or whatever (yeah… who remembers Newt Juice?), investing in grassroots type events was a direct investment back into their business. What better way to fuel the fire of a sport than to create opportunities for a bunch of riders to stoke each other out? I blame Ambush for my addiction.
The raw passion Ambush/Buywake had for this sport was contagious, and before I knew it, I, along with the help of several others who shared the stoke, was putting on grassroots events as a freshman in college. All I wanted was to give back to a sport that, in just a few short years, had stolen my heart and was never returning it. Call it a labor of love and cue Brittney Spears’ “I’m A Slave for You,” because for the mistress that is wakeboarding, I am.
If you are reading this, you are stoked on the sport. Let’s all do our part to spread that stoke.
Are you in your 30’s or 40’s and able to afford that boat you always dreamt of? Buy it. You won’t regret it. And I get it, they are way more expensive than in the 2000’s, but they also do virtually everything except make you a sandwich. Invite your friends out and bring your family up in the world of watersports. Buy from the dealers and brands that are true to our sport and be confident that your money is getting reinvested through events, R&D, athletes, etc. If you look around, they’re easy to spot.
To those of you who are just getting into the sport, and specifically to my younger shredders who are too obsessed to focus on their homework, I say this to you: grassroots is one of the foundations of our small sport and the future of wakeboarding rests on your shoulders. Enjoy riding but help contribute in your own way. Ride in the local contests, show up to the dealer demos, get your friends from school to the park or out on the boat, pitch in and offer to do what you can at events. Help out with your scene and you will see that the scene will help you.
To everyone of you, don’t be afraid to take the reins! With effortless communication through social media, it’s easier now than ever to get in contact with people that can help you. Reach out to your contacts, local reps, boat dealers, your board-shop, your buddies, or local parks. Show that you are willing to put in work and you may be surprised at how much support you get in return. And then, most importantly, stay committed. If we all do our part, watersports will continue to thrive.