Just Don't Call It Wakeboarding
It's a perfect Austin afternoon; we walk the dock between Hula Hut and Abel's on the Lake just a hop, skiff, and a puddle jump from Tom Miller Dam. Leigh Fulkerson gently pulls up in her Super Air Nautique G23, a boat the sales brochures say was "created from the wake up." The boat is all-sinew, built for speed, power, and a nuanced agility to turn lake water into consistent wake surf.
Fulkerson – pals with J.B. Hager, best known as half of the Austin morning radio team J.B. & Sandy – has offered to pilot her craft so we might catch J.B.'s daughter – the women's world champion in wakesurfing – in action. Pretty soon, popular J.B. may have to adjust to being better known by his other role: as Raleigh Hager's dad.
Generally, power boats don't get names (the Minnow, the Bismarck, the African Queen ... ), but if they did, says Fulkerson, she'd name this baby B.A.B., or Big Ass Boat. She, like the younger Hager, enjoys wake sports. Once we clear the wake-free zone and get near the 360 bridge, Raleigh puts in and begins her ride. In no time, she's doing things in the air and the curls of the wake that defy logic and perhaps physics.
Raleigh Hager is 12 years old and on top of the world.
J.B. and wife Erin, like all good parents, want the best for their child. Early on, Raleigh faced challenges with focus and restlessness. By age 5, J.B. says, their daughter had "never relaxed" in her life. Then one summer, they went to San Diego, and on the last day of vacation, took a surf lesson. "She took to it," he says, like nothing they'd ever seen before. After the lesson, they found her lying out on a towel on the beach. Again, something they'd never seen before. Soon after, Raleigh came to dad and said, "Dad, this is what I want to do!"
"You have a hyperactive kid and a long, hot summer: You need solutions!" says Hager. So he bought a few ocean boards and began regularly hauling the fam down to Corpus to acheive the sort of Zen that can only be had riding the waves.
Then wakesurfing took off and began eclipsing wakeboarding in Austin.
"Austin's always acted like a beach town with no beach," says Hager. "Now you have surf culture: same lingo, same lifestyle. Only problem is, you need a $100,000 boat."
Fast-forward seven years, after Raleigh's time studying with coach Dean Lavelle in Pompano Beach, Fla., after blowing women twice her age out of the water (pun intended), after winning eight first-place titles in the sport, including two world-championships, and the boat ... Well, hold on to your boardshorts: Young Raleigh Hager, Austin's wakesurf phenom, has landed a professional sponsor contract with Centurion Boats, a powerhouse in the watercraft industry, a major "get" in the budding sport, especially for such a young competitor.
"It's huge," says Todd Gaughan of Centurion Boats. And while the terms of the contract are strictly confidential, he beams, "She'll stay in the latest and greatest boats we have [like the Enzo FX44]." With this arrangement, Raleigh will become a brand ambassador, a member of Centurion's globetrotting team of pro athletes, give feedback to engineers about the crafts' handling, have a stake in influencing design, and learn about the boat industry and its emergent technologies. Not a bad career kick for a middle schooler.
While dad J.B. jokes about how his daughter has already passed "that sweet window between the ages of 8 and 12, when her mom and I were her rock stars," he says her work in the field has helped in other areas, too.
"She's shy by nature, but she likes promoting the sport, coaching her friends, and explaining it to people." He smiles, "Just don't call it 'wakeboarding.'"
The original "bad boy" of water sports, surfing traditionally takes place in the ocean with a surfer riding a long- or shortboard on a wave rolling toward the shore.
Originally known as "skurfing" this sport is a cross between waterskiing, snowboarding, and surfing. Being towed (typically) behind a motorboat, a wakeboarder rides a blunt-nosed board over the wakes.
Picture wakeboarding: Then drop the rope, and ride the boat's wake. The wake is much like a small ocean wave. Boats have been developed with adjustable ballast for optimal rides, and wakesurfboards are a shorter version of ocean shortboards.