Great article … SFWA represents!
By Nick Williams, Tampa Tribune:
Published: July 11, 2008

For decades, surfing has been the premier water-based extreme sport. Infinitely linked to the coastal waves of Hawaii and Southern California, surfing has grown into a huge money-making sport with sponsored contests, magazines and even video games.

On the other side of North America, however, another popular water sport is linked to the Gulf Coast.

Wakeboarding, a water sport in which a rider is pulled by a boat while riding a shorter version of a surfboard, is considered one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world.

“It’s fun,” said Mike McCormick, a former professional wakeboarder and instructor/manager at the McCormick Water Ski and Wakeboard School in Seffner. “You can take your friends and family out on the lake, get pulled by a boat and you’re spinning and flipping. … There’s no rule you have to play by.”

“Wakeboarding is going to be the new sport to watch, like football,” said 19-year-old wakeboarder Josh Chabator, a Sickles High grad who is internationally ranked. “It keeps people watching.”

South Florida is one of the best spots for wakeboarding, with riders, teams and manufacturing companies making the area home. The McCormick Water Ski and Wakeboard School is one of the top facilities in the Southeast region.

Jim McCormick, now 70, built the 80-acre facility in 1976, and for the past seven years, Mike, the eldest son, has managed the family business. The school has become a training destination for pros. It continually hosts qualifying events for wakeboard and ski tournaments, and the McCormick’s Fall Classic and Fall Open are among the most prestigious wakeboard events in the area.

“This is the spot in Tampa,” Mike McCormick said.

By the first week of August, McCormick plans to introduce cable wakeboarding to the Bay area. Cable wakeboarding, where the rider is pulled by a mechanical cord instead of a boat, is becoming the new craze. McCormick said the 60-horsepower cord can pull up to 10 people at a time up to speeds of 20 mph. He also said McCormick’s will be the only licensed and insured water facility within a two-hour drive to have a cable setup.

“It is the future of the sport with gas prices,” said McCormick, who was once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world. “Some boats are 40- to 80-gallon tanks.”

Morgan Baer, 26, vice president of South Florida Wakeboarding Association, owns Coastal Surf and Ski in Palm Beach. Since he started wakeboarding 10 years ago, he said the sport’s popularity has tripled.

“Orlando is the No. 1 site in the world for wakeboarding,” he said. “West Palm Beach is second, and Tampa Bay is in the top three, top four sites in the country. The scene in Tampa is not big, but it’s there. Wakeboarding, a lot of its tricks, originated in South Florida, and pretty much all of the top wakeboarders live in South Florida.

“These guys are getting really innovative. Wakeboarding is becoming more mainstream. Big surfing companies are putting money into wakeboarding.”

Competitive wakeboarding also has grown. There are numerous international and national tournaments and tours around the world sponsored by the World Wakeboarding Association. A few years ago, it was introduced at the X Games, an Olympic-style event for extreme sports. Longwood native Phillip Soven, 18, is the youngest wakeboarder to win the King of the Wake World Cup; and West Palm Beach’s Shawn Watson is considered one of the top wakeboarders in the world.

“The level of wakeboarding is at an all-time high,” Soven said, who on Sunday won the CamSur Rider’s Cup in the Philippines. “The tricks being thrown down are like nothing I’ve seen before. Guys are doing things we thought there was no way of doing on a wakeboard.”

McCormick said South Florida will always be the top destination for the sport because of its climate.

“You can do it year-round,” he said.