Wakeboarding is one of the fastest growing watersports in the world, with an estimated 30m active waterski and wakeboard participants globally. The sport derives from a combination of waterskiing, snowboarding, and surfing, whereby the wakeboarder is towed behind a speedboat at around 20-25 miles per hour and performs tricks, such as flips and spins, using the wake of the boat as a ramp.
It’s basically snowboarding on water. So it’s like water-skiing and you use the wake of the boat to hit jumps and do gymnastically-looking flips.
In competitions you have to do a variety of flips, which is back somersaults and front somersaults, and spins, which can be 360-degree, 720-degree, or even more. Then you can mix them up, so you can do a flip with a 360 to put the two together, as you get better.
My parents were windsurfers and when I was really young we had a caravan for the weekends. So we used to go there but it wasn’t that windy. Then a neighbour moved in, when I was four or five, who had a boat and I tried waterskiing. I did it for a few years and then got into wakeboarding when I was about ten.
When I was 17ish I started doing a few competitions overseas and winning a bit of prize-money, and then I got some sponsorship. I was making a couple of grand a year when I was in school and into college, so I had it in the back of my mind. I spoke to my sponsors and my parents lent me a bit of money, and I went from there. I’ve happily paid back my parents and now I’m flying with it!
We have a team of seven people this year. I think I’m the only one doing it as a full-time career but we have some up-and-comers. We’d two girls in the finals in Holland in Junior Women, Aisling Deegan and Nicole Carroll, and they’re flying in that grade. They’re hoping to have a go at it after school. We have a really good level now from people just starting the sport for the first time to people who are getting right up to the top level.
I try to train at home as much as I can but after September and October it gets a little bit cold. Don’t get me wrong, I trained in Ireland for years in the winter when I was in school, but it’s not ideal. So I do spend a lot of time in Orlando in America because they’ve good big boats, it’s warmer all year round and there are good coaches. I spend a lot of time there and in Spain too.
In the winter you could do a two or three month stint away, from January to March, but you’d always try to do a month away and at least come home for a couple of days then.
I think my first European event was when I was 12, so I’ve been going a long time now. About five years ago I won the Junior Men’s Europeans so since then, for five years in a row, I’ve been trying to get on top of the Pro Men’s one. I had a good seeding throughout the competition because I won all of my heats. The advantage of that is that I was last out, so I got to see what everyone else had done. I knew what I had to do and I just had to go for it, which was tough because the Russian guy, Nikita [Martyanov], did fantastically and added a lot of pressure. I dug deep and found some tricks that I could do, so I was delighted.
When you’re in a competition, on average you get a total of about ten tricks within two minutes. I can probably do about 150 tricks so you have to choose a good ten. But you have to be smart because you’re allowed fall once, so you try to plan your fall towards the end, just to get as many points on the board beforehand. I wouldn’t plan a routine too far ahead but I’d maybe link two tricks together. It’s almost an advantage that I don’t plan a run because it doesn’t get into my head if I miss something.
I had three rough runs in my head and it was like a traffic-light system. The green run is one that I’ll never fall on but won’t do very well, particularly not at a European final.
The orange one is a hard one so there are one or two risky things. For the Europeans I had to do the red run, which is the toughest one. So when I was watching Nikita, I was thinking, ‘Right, I have to go for the red run – I have to do it all.’
I guess I did adapt in that way and change from the orange run to the red run but nothing too crazy either – I wouldn’t do anything wild that I can’t land in practice.
The fundamentals of a run would be sound. For example, in the orange run I’d have a 720 spin but in the red run I’d put that up to a 900-degree spin, so you’re adding a little bit of a spin to get more points. Maybe you’d also go a bit higher and try grabbing your board too, to get a bit of an edge.
I’m having a great time doing this so I’d like to keep that going as long as I can.