A first-timer’s look inside the Aussie wake culture
By Bradlee Rutledge
Australia: known for such things as kangaroos, koalas, accents, beaches, an opera house and a whole lot more. Despite pumping out some of the world’s greatest riders though, wakeboarding doesn’t immediately come to mind when you mention Australia. Within our sport though, the impact and influence of Australia has been huge… excuse me, “huge as”, since the beginning. There has always been something about the Aussie riders that has set them apart, whether it’s the catchy accent, the aura of living an endless summer and getting to ride year-round, or just the free-spirited, no-shits-given personalities. In recent years it’s been fairly obvious that Aussies have dominated the contest scene, but beyond that there is an attitude difference between Australian and American riders that I wanted to get my finger on the pulse of; so I booked my ticket and began a month-long journey Down Under.
What surprised me most was that I could sense it as soon as I stepped off the plane. The vibe of Australia is apparent right away, even after 24-plus hours of traveling. Everyone is wearing thongs (sandals) and shorts, it’s not even strange to see someone barefoot walking through the airport. Australians, for the most part, have a much more mellow approach to things, and there is no such thing as a bad time to go to the beach. It’s definitely different than the rat race throughout much of the States. While Australians’ slogan could truly be “no worries,” Americans’ might be more like “worries?!?! Call my shrink!”
Throughout my four-week adventure Down Under I really wanted to hangout in as many parts of the country as possible in order to get a sense of what makes some of the Aussie riders who they are. I camped out at Mitch Langfield and Brenton Priestley’s new property where a System 2.0 was being installed. I went to a boat reunion with ProWake and legends Daniel and Mick Watkins and saw firsthand how ski club and caravan parks are destinations that heavily push the next generation of riders. I visited BliBli cable park and was impressed how they don’t just have a park for wakeboarding, but they’ve created an experience that the whole family can enjoy no matter what skill level or age you are. While I was there school busses showed up daily with kids frothing to try out the cable – and this was all apart of their school day. I also made my way down to Yarrawonga, the lake with all the dead trees, and witnessed how a famous lake has a ski club sponsored by Malibu fully promoting the wakeboard and boating lifestyle.
The effort it takes to wakeboard in Australia is something that is also evident anytime you head to the water. Unlike Orlando – and many other parts of America where you can live on the water – most people don’t live on lakes with boats sitting on the dock ready to go whenever. Most Aussies trailer their boats to the closest ramp, which often times is salt water – and you know what that means when it comes to pulling it out: lots of cleaning. While I was out with Cory Teunissen one afternoon I joked around with him that every time you use the boat it’s at least a three hour process even for one set. He said, “Yeah it makes you appreciate riding more and makes you want to ride good because if you don’t you know you can’t just go home and be pissed. I have washed this boat so many times pissed off and wanting to punch it ‘cause I rode bad,” he said laughing, “but I know I have to clean it.”
One thing I definitely picked up on with the Aussies was during the downtime. When they aren’t riding they are more likely than not out doing something else; be it skateboarding, surfing, rock climbing, hiking to a waterfall or more. Everywhere you go people just enjoy being outdoors and active. I think this shows in a lot of the Australians’ riding because of how adept they are at riding their boards. Many of them ride boards other than their wakeboards, and it shows in their comfort level. That notion holds true for any riders in any country though. Look at guys like Raph Derome who can hold his own on a snowboard. Or Aaron Rathy who is a talented skateboarder and surfer. Ben Horan who graced the cover of our last issue can skate bowls with the best of them, too. Regardless, if you’re in Australia and the only board you can ride is a wakeboard you’re going to be left behind.
Of course we love the outdoors in America, and of course a lot of us ride a variety of boards. But there is a general love for being outdoors in Australia that I have never experienced anywhere else in the world. At the Grafton Ski Club there are about 100 caravans people come to and use every weekend in the summer. It is like a campground full of people who love wakeboarding. Kids come with their families, get bit by the wakeboarding bug, and the culture continues from generation to generation. It shouldn’t come as a shock that most of the top Australian pros grew up riding in places like the Grafton Ski Club. At BliBli much of the local crew lives at the beach and bikes to the cable on a daily basis to go ride. The attitude and enthusiasm is infectious and you can’t help but get swept up by it. Back in Orlando we might go to the park for a few hours and then, rather than surf some waves, just head home and surf channels instead. With more parks being built and more of them offering more than just wakeboarding, hopefully this is something that changes.
Another fun aspect of the Aussie wake culture is the growth of the DIY breed. Cam Prest is a family man who loves to wakeskate. Living about 45 minutes outside of Sunshine Coast, and unable to afford a boat, Cam decided to build his own spot instead – including a DIY two-way cable that only has one speed: on. It is the most basic cable you can build, but it is perfect for a wakeskate drop and a pond with a few rails. From there Cam is able to host local contests and riders regularly show up to shred with him. On the weekends you will find Cam out there all day with his friends, wife and usually his newborn on his lap having a good time; and when you’re there you can’t help but feel the infectious spirit of it all and want to share it with others.
The wake community and culture in Australia reminds me of the surfing culture as a whole. Those involved love it, and those that want to be involved can’t get enough. That culture and stoke brings riders from all around the world – some of whom pack into a small apartment to cut down on costs, all in pursuit of living the endless summer. Walk into that apartment and you’ll hear accents and dialects from Australian, to American, British, German, and more. The little space that isn’t already consumed by a person is covered in a smorgasbord of wake gear. Riders sleep wherever they can find space – a community of like-minded riders stoked on cramped conditions just because it means more opportunities to keep riding their boards in a rad spot. Many of the riders who come to Australia also make their way through the parks of southeast Asia: Bali, Thailand, and the Philippines. Their search for unique experiences in unique locations is being fueled and fulfilled by their love of wakeboarding. Some find ways to work at various parks, allowing them to stay for months at a time before returning home. With its warm weather, outdoor spirit, and easy-going lifestyle, Australia is primed to become a hotbed for riders from all corners of the globe – both for park and boat riding.
After being Down Under for a month it was easy to see why riders love coming and living the endless summer lifestyle. Having the opportunity to ride every day and be around fun-loving, easy-going people who also wakeboard is something money can’t buy. It’s that allure and love of wakeboarding why riders like Felix Georgii and Steffen Vollert came to Australia in the middle of their German winter to ride. It’s why Canadians Braden Ioi and Drew Austin came to work at a cable park.. It’s why Americans Alex Graydon, Tanar Pigrenet, Dillon Dreiling and more all spent months Down Under living the lifestyle, exploring, and riding. But what really makes Australia special isn’t its location in the southern hemisphere: it’s the native people and their attitudes. As I said, no worries isn’t just a saying in Australia, it’s a way of life. Mix that attitude with the addictive lifestyle that is wakeboarding and you have the ultimate combination. A combination that is only going to continue to grow and push into the future. If you’ve ever thought about visiting, do it. But don’t just visit. Stay awhile. Trust me, it will be more than worth your time – in fact, it could change your life.