This year’s men’s division competitors are in a close battle for the top spot on the podium. In the race to place first, newcomer Harley Clifford from Australia is tied with Canadian rider Aaron Rathy. Both riders have 370 points.
The next closest rider, wakeboarding veteran and a pioneer of the sport Phillip Soven, has 315 points.
“Phillip’s been around for a really long time,” Rathy said. “It’s pretty cool riding with him.”
Rathy said he is a competitive person and would like to place above his former roommate Soven, but that he is still friends with the wakeboard legend no matter what happens.
“He’s pretty much the only rider on the tour who you can guarantee will be in the finals,” Rathy said. Talking about his own efforts, Rathy said “I try to make my run an all-around run with a lot of spinning and moves.”
Scoring is determined by the quality of the run, including the difficulty, risk, intensity, variety and execution, according to the King of Wake guide. Tricks performed while behind the boat should also include the apparatus, which is the rail, kicker and transfer box.
One run is one pass down and up the event course with only two falls allowed in the pass. Each boarder must place among the top riders in four rounds: qualifying, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
Boarders will receive scores based on where they place during the qualifying rounds. First place receives 100 points, second place earns 90, third place gets 80 and fourth place grabs 75 points.
In addition to the competition with Soven, Rathy, who has been riding professionally for four years, will battle it out with 15-year-old Clifford, who is creating quite a buzz. This is Clifford’s first year competing as a professional wakeboarder, and although he said he has been riding for about 10 years, he is new to the Pro Wakeboarding Tour.
“It’s pretty fun,” Clifford said. “I’m first (place) on the tour right now.”
Although Clifford said he had a rough practice on Thursday, he is ready for the weekend’s competition.
“I feel good,” Clifford said. “Hopefully I got my bad ride out today and will have a good weekend.”
If Clifford wins the Pro Wakeboarding Tour, he will be only the second rookie rider to do so. The first rider to win in his rookie year was Park Bonifay in 1996. Bonifay was 14 at the time and has since become a well-known name in wakeboarding. Also on the tour this year is Bonifay’s younger brother Shane.
In addition to the close competition between the male riders, the women are ready to fight for the Queen of Wake Title, as well.
Nicola Butler, who took last year’s title, is in second place with 265 points. Dallas Friday holds the top spot with 280 points and Amber Wing comes in third with 240.
“I feel pretty good,” Butler said. “I won two stops this year and hopefully I can win this one, too.”
Butler won at the first stop of the five-stop series in Fort Worth, Texas and at stop three in Knoxville, Tenn. The second stop on the tour was in Pleasant Prairie, Wisc. and the fourth stop was in Louisville, Ky.
Butler, who is from England but moved to Orlando, Fla. two years ago to be able to wakeboard year round, said Friday is a tough competitor.
“Dallas has been injured for two years,” Butler said. “She is coming back very hard this year.”
Friday broke her femur in 2006 while competing in Singapore during the final World Cup event of the year. She was not able to compete for much of the 2007 and 2008 wakeboarding seasons, which usually run from April to August or September.
Although Butler said she would love to win again this year, it all depends on the weekend’s competition.
“I just plan to ride the best I can,” Butler said. “I’ve been training really hard and riding twice a day.”
Rathy and Butler said they are excited for the weekend’s tour stop in Sparks because the crowd gets excited as well.
“It’s fun to come here,” Rathy said. “They crowd is pretty close (to the water) and they get very excited.”
Rathy said the crowd’s energy sometimes helps his performance.
“I try to go big for the crowd,” Rathy said. “I’m always having fun and hopefully it shows in my riding.”
Butler encouraged people to come out and see the wakeboarders compete.
“Come check it out if you’ve never seen it before, it’s pretty cool,” Butler said. “The riding will be phenomenal.”
The Pro Wakeboarding Tour will be today through Sunday at the Sparks Marina. Today’s events will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday’s events will begin at 10 a.m. and go to 4 p.m. Sunday’s events will conclude the tour and will determine the Pro Wakeboarding Tour winner. Events will begin at 10:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets for adults are $10, children are $5 and children under the age of 5 are free.
In addition to the competition, vendors and sponsors will have booths set up at the marina. Event sponsors include Mastercraft, Rockstar energy drink, the U.S. Air Force, Billabong and Fuel TV.
For more information on the Pro Wakeboarding Tour, visit kingofwake.com.