The first stop of the Pro Wakeboard Tour (PWT) went down this weekend in Acworth, Georgia on the waters of Lake Alatoona. Acworth is about a six or seven hour drive from Orlando and a lot of the riders were making the drive, so I decided to join in on the fun and check it out. I hadn't been to a PWT stop since 2004, so it had been a while, but I was looking forward to hanging out with all of the industry folk and checking out the vibe.

Jeff McKee and myself ended up rolling up to Georgia with Jack Blodgett and Mikey Marsh in the Oakley "Push Process" rig (a really loud Dodge pickup truck with a custom flat army green paint scheme and a custom MasterCraft X-Star). It took us a lot of card games and about a gas station's worth of unleaded to make it, but we did.

Overall the weekend was a terrific kickoff to the 2008 season. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate the whole time and it was windy, rolly, and choppy for the riders on Friday and Sunday, but Saturday was awesome with good water, blue skies and a ton of boats lined up on the lake to party and watch the riding.

In the past I haven't been a very big fan of the PWT events because of the judging formats and the riding styles it encouraged. I didn't think the riding on the tour was indicative of being a well-rounded wakeboarder. But for 2008 there is a new judging format that takes into account a lot of different things about riding, some of which are style, going big, and doing a trick cleanly. Riders are no longer just doing tech wake-to-wake trick up and back for two passes, or just doing the same tricks as the previous rider, but adding a 180 or two to "up the score." The new format allows for riders to bring out their own style and tricks you might not normally see in a contest. Let me tell you, too see Adam Errington throw down giant indy backside 180s into the flats, or Randall Harris launch one of his signature wrapped tail grab 540s in a PWT competition had me stoked. Plus, seeing established freeriders (who for so long have been somewhat "anti-contest") like Ben Greenwood, Randall Harris, Jeff McKee and Shawn Watson all make it through to Sunday is really cool. While talking to some of the riders over the weekend, they all seemed pumped on the new format — it was breathing fresh air into a seemingly stale environment. And if the riders are happy, then it will show in their riding, and that means more entertainment for the fans, which is really what the PWT is all about in the first place.

Despite the poor conditions on the final day, all the riders who advanced kept throwing down insane run after insane run. Seriously, it was insane. I have no idea how these guys are able to cut through 2-foot chop on the way to the wake, get the pop they need, pull off the trick they want, and land perfectly. The finals with JD Webb, Phil Soven, Adam Errington and Rusty Malinoski was basically unbelievable. I watched the finals while sitting next to Kyle Rattray and we both kept saying to each other how glad we were to not be a judge. 

Other than the new format and (in my opinion) improved riding, the biggest thing I took away from my weekend in Georgia was the crowd/fans. It really is awesome to go to an event like the PWT and see firsthand how stoked people are on the sport of wakeboarding. Fans could be seen everywhere running from one autograph session to another filling up hats, posters and even body parts with signature after signature. I remember when I was that fan a long time ago, trying to wrap my head around the fact that I'd just shook hands with Shaun Murray and gotten an autograph from a Bonifay. It's a little different now that I'm friends with those athletes, but the feeling of being a fan of wakeboarding and loving it is something that will probably never leave any of us. If you like that feeling and want to stoke it out even more, then find a way to get to a PWT stop this summer. You're gonna be able to interact with all the best riders in the world, check out some cool products from the vendors, and see some really good wakeboarding.


Results from PWT Stop #1: 

Pro Men
               Finals                Heat #: 01
  1  Soven, Phillip                       USA    92.50
  2  Webb, JD                               USA    84.00
  3  Malinoski, Rusty                   CAN    83.50
  4  Errington, Adam                     SCT     80.50
                      Pro Women
               Finals                Heat #: 01
  1  Butler, Nicola                        UK     95.00
  2  Wing, Amber                          AUS    89.50
  3  Copeland Durham, Emily      USA    82.50
  4  Friday, Dallas                         USA    65.50    
  5  Kantar, Shelby                       USA    58.50
  6  Smith, Haley                          AUS    49.00
                Junior Men (14-18)
               Finals                Heat #:   01
  1  Clifford, Harley         AUS  68.33
  2  LaRiche, Jimmy           USA  58.33
  3  Soven, Robert               USA  48.33
  4  King, Ryan                   USA  33.33