The Real Real Wake
Behind the scenes of wake’s best contest

Long, sketchy rail + dirty water = Right up BP's alley  //  photo: Rodrigo

Long, sketchy rail + dirty water = Right up BP’s alley // photo: Rodrigo

The best contest in wakeboarding returned for 2016 and, as was the case with 2015, it left people completely floored and stoked all at the same time. X Games Real Wake – Powered by MasterCraft – came back with a vengeance this year and if by now you haven’t already watched the sections, voted for your favorite, and re-watched the full show on ABC, well we’re surprised you’re reading this. So welcome, this mag is about wakeboarding and stuff. Google it, you’ll find some entertaining things.

Last year’s champs, Chris Abadie and Andrew Adams of the famed Shredtown crew, returned to defend their gold against the likes of Dom Hernler, Brenton Priestley, Josh Twelker, Harley Clifford, and Steel Lafferty. The big question going into this year’s video sections was if another all-winch part could possibly take the top spot again.

Chris Abadie's opening hit to his Real Wake part had everybody freaking out  //  photo: Leblanc

Chris Abadie’s opening hit to his Real Wake part had everybody freaking out // photo: Leblanc

In a bit of a shakeup, X Games asked that all Real contests be judged by a panel of experts this year, as opposed to in the past when many were voted upon by the contestants themselves. Experts needed to be former pro athletes or current pros who’ve been established in the industry for a long time. A perfect balance was found by bringing in legends Gregg Necrason and Chase Heavener, along with veterans Brian Grubb and Tom Fooshee. Their collective knowledge of not just wakeboarding, but of stylish riding and quality filmmaking provided a legit basis to judge each part. Of course, actually deciding which part would win was a lot harder than any of them expected.

Real Wake judges Tom Fooshee, Gregg Necrason, Brian Grubb, and Chase Heavener discuss the competition with Bill McCaffray  //  photo: Cortese

Real Wake judges Tom Fooshee, Gregg Necrason, Brian Grubb, and Chase Heavener discuss the competition with Bill McCaffray // photo: Cortese

The defending gold medalists came out with a strategy similar to last year’s, but just gnarlier. In most respects they succeeded in doing just that. “We were really pressed for time this year because of the Jamboree at our park and then the Slingshot catalog shoot right after, so we really tried to focus on what we needed to do instead of what we might not have time to do,” says Adams.

From the opening scene of Chris riding through a brick archway, launching off a pallet kicker, and landing on a down rail that lead into an overflowing river, the scene was set. “When I saw that I was like, ‘F$*# he’s done it again! He’s gonna win,” says Brenton Priestley. In many respects they had done it again, but in terms of results this year’s effort got them third place.

Both Chris and Andrew can take solace in being the people’s choice, literally voted on by the fans who watched the sections online, two years running. “We knew coming into this year the caliber of riding was going to be next level, so we were stoked to get back on the podium,” says Adams. “But to get the Fan Favorite again and have that support from all the fans out there really means a lot.”

Josh Twelker doubling up on the Delta with Mt. Diablo looking on  //  photo: Rodrigo

Josh Twelker doubling up on the Delta with Mt. Diablo looking on // photo: Rodrigo

The second fan favorite was the Delta Force team of Twelker and Maur, who almost snagged third from Chris and Andrew. The difference between those two in the judges’ voting was the closest in the whole contest. While many probably expected Josh to come out with some jaw-dropping boat riding, chances are not many thought he would winch the way he did. Josh’s section was a favorite amongst the competitors, but ultimately a couple untimely injuries left some key ingredients out.

“We started off strong and stacked some clips the first week of shooting,” says Trever, “but then Josh broke his rib and was laid up for a few weeks. As soon as he came back we filmed for another week and got more, but then he broke his collarbone and we ran out of time. I’m really stoked on how it turned it out though. To be able to work on a project like that with my best friend, it’s something years from now we can look back on and be proud of.”

After watching his section a few times and getting good words from other riders, Josh was pleased with what he and Trever accomplished. “Filming for this section was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and then between Trever’s and my schedules and my injuries there was a lot to try to balance. Looking back it was more than worth it. I’m stoked I got to work with Trever; he gets the way I ride and he edits to fit that, so it looks awesome. Even with getting hurt we were able to make something we’re stoked on.”

The other competitors noticed Josh pushing his level of riding. “When I watched Twelker’s section I was completely blown away,” says Spencer Norris. “What he does behind the boat is out of this world, but to see him push himself with winching was really cool, too.”

“Josh’s riding is so next level,” says Brenton Priestley. “Who else could make a dumb-dumb look awesome?! If you want to show the masses what wakeboarding should look like, he’s the guy you want representing the sport.”

Trever Maur was stoked to see Josh try more winching in his part, because he knew Josh doesn’t have a great history with it. “What’s funny about the winching – which I’m really proud of Josh for pushing so hard on,” says Maur, “was that Josh hadn’t winched since the Red Bull Wake Lab Arizona qualifier. He split his head open then and hadn’t winched since!”

Harley pushed himself to do new things, like here at Area 52  //  photo: Meistrell

Harley pushed himself to do new things, like here at Area 52 // photo: Meistrell

The injury bug also got the best of Harley Clifford, in an even worse way than Twelker. After just a handful of filming sessions with Greg Browning, Harley blew his knee while shooting and just like that his season, along with his Real Wake part, were done. Despite that, Harley still managed to diversify his riding from his section last year.

“We really wanted to show Harley doing some different things. He’s the best in the world behind the boat, but he’s capable of doing a lot on his board,” says Browning. “Our goal this year was to show that. Unfortunately after getting some stuff and going back to the boat he got hurt.”

The reality of being a pro wakeboarder is that injuries aren’t a matter of if, but when. Harley has been relatively injury free for his entire professional career, and unfortunately his time came just as he and Greg started filming.

“I got injured on our third or fourth day of filming, so everything in my section was from those days,” says Harley. “I was really bummed to not be able to do more, because a lot of that stuff was basically getting warmed up, you know? But getting hurt is part of the process and that’s just part of my story for this Real Wake section.”

Steel Lafferty turned a lot of heads with his riding. It's pretty easy to see why  //  photo: Soden

Steel Lafferty turned a lot of heads with his riding. It’s pretty easy to see why // photo: Soden

What makes Real Wake stand out from any other event in the sport is the weight of it. For most action sports athletes, X Games are the Olympics, and with that comes a burden to live up to the expectations and do well. Steel Lafferty didn’t just want to film a good section that reflected his riding – he wanted to do wakeboarding justice. Being paired with Aaron Rathy made that a bit easier because Rathy was in the unique situation of being a rider last year and a filmmaker this year. Steel’s self-applied pressure and Rathy’s vision combined to make one of the more surprising sections, with Steel going way out of his comfort zone and still managing to make it all look good.

“Truly, it was an honor to be a part of Real Wake,” says Steel. “We don’t get opportunities like that very often in wakeboarding, so to be part of something the whole world was going to see was really cool but also came with a ton of pressure. You don’t want to be the guy who blows it, you know? I was lucky to get to work with Rathy because he truly understands both sides of the camera and knows what’s going to look good and what isn’t. We were crammed on time, but I was hyped on how my part turned out.”

“Anything Rathy touches he’s super skilled at,” says Spencer Norris. “He’d call me throughout the process telling me how stressed he was, which I knew he would be. It was kind of cool being able to see him go through that and be in my shoes like I was with him last year as a rider. It was cool to see him step up to the plate like that and make something rad with Steel. They were a sort of dark horse team and more than lived up to expectations.”

Dom Hernler went back to his homeland where he'd mapped out a ton of unique spots. It paid off  //  photo: Strauss

Dom Hernler went back to his homeland where he’d mapped out a ton of unique spots. It paid off // photo: Strauss

Another pairing that had a lot of people wondering about the possibilities was Dom Hernler and Russell Spencer. Inside the sport Dom is known as one of the most creative and ridiculously skilled park riders on the planet, but his quiet demeanor means you don’t always hear from him much, literally. When the time came to film a Real Wake part he took advantage of the places he knew best: Lake Ronix and his home country of Austria, where he’s been scouting unique winch spots for years.

“I knew no matter what I needed to get to Austria to film on some of those spots,” says Hernler. “Fortunately I have a lot of people back home who helped make it possible and we were able to film at a bunch of them. We got kicked out of lots, too, but working with Russell we got lots of shots. I was stoked on being able to put together the part we did for Real Wake.”

Austria was the secret to the team’s success, and Russell knew they’d struck gold when they got there. “Filming for this was my first time traveling through Europe and it was unreal,” says Spencer. “The hardest part for me was actually condensing all the footage we got into 90 seconds. Dom is such a good rider that we were getting clips almost everywhere we went. There’s a lot on the cutting room floor!”

Like Chris Abadie’s winning section last year and third place section this year, Dom’s part didn’t feature any boat riding. That didn’t deter the judges from their votes though, as they noted how much skill it took for him to not only hit some of those spots, but to do legit tricks on them. “Dom’s ender was one of the sickest tricks I’ve ever seen,” says Trever Maur. All said and done the two came away with a well-earned silver medal and Dom’s status as a revolutionary rider has only been further cemented.

Brenton's closing trick was a big one  //  photo: Soderlind

Brenton’s closing trick was a big one // photo: Soderlind

While 2015 was the year of the winch in Real Wake, 2016 turned out to be the year of the most well-rounded section; and nobody had a section as diverse as Brenton Priestley’s. With a mix of everything – all done with his signature style and attitude – BP and Spencer Norris came away as the clear gold medal tandem.

“After getting bronze with Rathy last year, I knew winching would be important this year, but I also knew BP wanted to showcase everything because he’s so good at all of them, so we started with winching and then went to park and boat,” says Norris. “The boat stuff was a little lacking for his standards, but he was so beat up from winching and the park that he would have killed himself trying new, gnarly things on the boat. But he’s got one of the coolest 360’s in the game, which makes him stand out, too.”

Simply put, Brenton takes pride not only in how he rides, but in what he rides. “If people ask if I’m a boat rider or rail rider I just say ‘I’m a wakeboarder’,” he says. While bummed on missing the opportunity to compete in last year’s Real Wake, BP kept up hope that the invite might come this year. When he did get that call he got right into a more serious mode than most are used to.

“I quit drinking the day I got the call!” says the Aussie with a big laugh. “I already eat healthy, so I figured if I cut out the booze while working on this it was only going to help. Our last shot was the bridge drop, and when we got that in the can Spence and I went and got a bottle of vodka to celebrate!”

So if you future X Games gold medalist hopefuls are looking for any advice in this piece it might be this: have fun, ride everything, and mind your alcohol. Even weeks after being presented the medal Brenton still couldn’t believe it.

“Going into filming the show I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to medal, just because I didn’t want my hopes to get too high only to get crushed,” he says. “When they called my name though it was surreal, my heart was beating faster than it ever has in my life. Just to be part of X Games is an honor, but to win gold is amazing. Probably the sickest thing I’ll do in my life.”