X-treme: Wake me up before you go-go

If you don't know your hoochie-glides from your S-bends or your tantrums from your orientals, look no further. The extreme sport of Wakeboarding looks set to be the hippest thing on water
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Wakeboarding is a cross between snowboarding, skateboarding, waterskiing, surfing and it's quite easy to do - at least that's what Nick and Julz Heaney told me. Nick is currently ranked second, and Julz fourth, in Europe so I took them at their word.

Wakeboards are similar in design to snowboards enabling you to travel side-on over the water. Boats are specially designed to create massive wakes in the water. Nick and Julz (both former national waterskiing champions) use them to launch themselves into a series of death-defying leaps and somersaults. This free riding is called an "expression" session and enables the rider to show their stuff.

"There is a lot more free riding compared to water skiing," explains younger brother, 19-year-old Julz. "In water skiing you have to be very controlled and do tricks a certain way. Wakeboarding is about going out there and doing what you want. You get points for style and creativity so you're encouraged to ride against the norm."

The sport has been going for about six years in the US (it was formerly known as skurfing) but is still embryonic in the UK. Wakeboarding shares its sub-culture with all the board sports, but the extreme nature of the manoeuvres make it the most exciting discipline of all.

Reportedly the fastest-growing watersport in the US, wakeboards outsell waterskis at a rate of five to one in the UK. You can board on lakes, reservoirs or even flooded fields, and wakeboarding is not weather-dependent.

With amazing power and control, Nick and Julz execute outlandish tricks with names such as "raleys", "orientals", "hoochie-glides", "tantrums" and "S-bends", all executed with the obligatory "big air" [height off the water].

While wakeboarding shares much of its jargon with skateboarding, you can't just throw on a pair of knee pads and jump off a flight of steps to practise a trick.

"Wakeboarding is an extreme sport so there's not much room for error," says 22-year-old Nick. "Some guys go out there without thinking and end up hurting themselves. You can limit your injuries. When you're out on the water, jumps should be fully dialled into your brain so that it's second nature."

"We do a lot of aerial awareness on a trampoline," Julz says. "We try to recreate exactly what happens out there so that when you're upside down, above the water, you know what you're doing."

I seemed to fall into the "don't know what I'm doing" category. I've snowboarded before, but on this occasion I found it impossible to get up onto the board. It's hard to explain what wakeboarding feels like, suffice to say that wiping-out at high speed is an amazing rush. I also learned that reservoir water doesn't taste as bad as you might expect.

Nick and Julz expect to meet a far more skilled breed of wakeboarder at next month's World Championships, which take place in Orlando, Florida.

After only two years in the sport, they're both hooked. They rarely see their native Newcastle, having to travel the world instead. Asked to explain the attraction, they gaze dreamily into the middle distance. "It's incredible," says Nick. "It's like you can walk on water."

"You're free out there," Julz says. "When you're on the edge of the board, it's an amazing rush. The more you do it, the better you want to get."

THE LOW DOWN

WHERE TO DO IT

The Princes Club offers a 30-minute lesson for pounds 15 (all equipment hire included). They also sell a wide range of wakeboarding equipment for all standards (Princes Shop, Clock House Lane, Bedfont, Middlesex TW14 8QA (01784 253201)

HOW MUCH?

Wakeboarding is not a cheap sport. The cheapest boards start at around pounds 200 and can cost as much as pounds 600

Bindings and a wetsuit can set you back pounds 200 and pounds 150 respectively

Practise without a boat using a pulley instead

DO:

Learn the jargon as every trick has a distinct name

Get as much coaching as possible while you are a beginner

Buy surfwear fashions to wear over your wet suit for X-treme coolness

DON'T:

Get too competitive. In wakeboarding, competition is secondary to creativity and personal expression

Try any acrobatics without proper instruction - you'll maim yourself

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