Ben Howells is a film-maker and photographer who cut his teeth with snowboarding, but also dabbles in the worlds of mountain biking and wakeboarding. Having collaborated with us a few times over the years, he got in touch last year when we shared a classic Pingu article entitled 'How To Survive The Summer'.
Whilst the piece did come out in favour of summertime drag lifts, the implication was that wakeboarding is a shameful act, to be done far from the public gaze in kooky wetsuit/boardies get-ups. It clearly touched a nerve, and he was in touch straight away with a riposte. Twelve months later and it's finally fit for digital publishing!
All the photos are by Ben, and if you need further proof of his and wakeboarding's chops then be sure to check out his forthcoming film Ice Cream 1.5, premiering on the 14th July.
So recently I read Whitelines’ stuff to do in the summer article and had a ‘mild’ disagreement with the ragamuffins (aka. writers) regarding snowboarding's warm weather cousin. No, not surfing, the other one... Instead of being told to go shove a gherkin in an uncomfortable place, I got offered to set the record straight in words. So remember kids, be a dick, get what you want! Anyway, let's begin…
Wakeboarding – that weird watery version of snowboarding, done by tossers who wear boardshorts on the outside of their wetsuits. Between sessions they prance around on a fancy boat bought with Daddy’s money (pretty rich coming from snowboarders, but more on that later) and when they crash it’s just water, so it doesn’t even hurt. Right?
Along with a few young sports (by which I mean younger than snowboarding), wakeboarding has come of age recently. The wack boardies over the wetsuits are gone, most lakes no longer have a park comprised of boxes wide enough to park a car on and, best of all, style has really come a long way, to the point it's almost unrecognisable compared to ten or fifteen years ago.
But why should you care about any of this? Because it's actually pretty damn fun, and not so different to snowboarding.
In fact, there are more snowboarders with wakeboard backgrounds than you may think, the best example perhaps being the McMorris brothers, who were wakeboarders before snowboarding took over. The reverse is also true, with 2017 X Games Real Wake (the wakeboard version of Real Street) Gold medal winner Felix Georgii simultaneously pursuing a career in snowboarding alongside wakeboarding, making it to the finale of the Nike Chosen series in 2012 and riding for Rome and Smith before choosing to focus on wakeboarding full time.
Wakeboarding is also really quite accessible in the UK (well, England at least). It's (sort of) possible to ride all year round if you're not expecting to be getting much snowtime through winter.
At the risk of causing mild offence to boat wakeboarders, we're going to focus mostly on cable parks (or wakeparks as they're now called, despite involving absolutely no wakes at all). There are a few reasons for this, the first one being boat riding is expensive as fuck.
With a fifteen minute session coming in at about £30, and private ownership is accompanied by its own wonderful world of problems, mainly because boats spend most of their time going wrong, cableparks offer a relatively cheap alternative that allows you to ride laps and hit rails or kickers all day at a flat rate that doesn't involve surprise repair bills.
So what is a cable anyway? Just think of it as a big T-bar suspended 10m above the lake and going around in a circuit. Dotted around this roundhouse of fun will be a delightful variety of kickers, rails, pipes, boxes, stair sets, bonks, blah blah blah. It's a snow park on water - you get the idea.
Depending on size, between six and ten people can be hooked up at once, meaning you can ride around in circles for as long as you please or until you fall over and have to swim back. There’s no wake, but the added bonus is not burning a litre of fuel a minute.
"The wack boardies over the wetsuits are gone, most lakes no longer have a park comprised of boxes wide enough to park a car on"
And while we're not blessed with all that many snowsport options in the UK, wakeparks are in abundance, with at least 30 scattered all over the place from Glasgow to Cornwall. Many are of the two-tower variety, which, instead of taking you in a circuit, go in a linear back and forth motion and only take one rider at a time.
While usually offering fewer park features than the larger, full-size cables, they allow you to session features much faster and offer immediate pickups if you fall. The better ones also allow creative line choices and custom features which are harder to set up on regular cables – Spot On in Warwickshire and Hannam's Wake Hub in Cambridge are both great examples.
Full-size cable parks generally offer a larger park setup and the option to just turn up and ride whenever instead of having to book a timeslot. There are loads of great parks but Liquid Leisure in Windsor is undeniably leading the way, as one of the best not only in the UK but worldwide, with a huge, creative park setup which is constantly changing. It also hosts the annual Plastic Playground world contest series.
So, this all sounds great right, but how much is it gonna cost? Kind of a lot, unfortunately, although no more than the average yearly snowboard investment. As mentioned, the lack of boat does keep the cost down, but you're still gonna have to fork out a fair bit of cash to ride regularly – yearly pass prices depend on location, and vary from £600 to just over a grand.
Board design has improved massively in the last ten years, meaning a less aggressive rider should expect a setup to last several seasons will have to shell out £700-1000 for a quality new board and bindings. Second-hand options are plentiful and usually decent.
"The lack of boat does keep the cost down, but you're still gonna have to fork out a fair bit of cash to ride regularly"
If you want maximum snowboard feel, some brands now offer separate bindings and boots, instead of the traditional all-in-one design - for example, the slightly fiddly Jobe Evo and Hyperlite System.
You'll also need a helmet (no, don't use your snowboard helmet unless you want it to fall apart come winter) and approved life jacket to ride at almost all locations. This being the UK, a decent wetsuit will help keep you warm and a second, thicker one is nice if you intend to ride in the colder months.
That all sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But that'll cover you for almost year-round riding, all-day every-day in the warmer months. Winter temperatures combined with cold water means things get a bit harsh in winter (as in, fucking brutally cold), but you'll be snowboarding then anyway, right?
If you don't plan on riding day in, day out ten months a year, the occasional two-hour ride may be all you need - wakeboarding is surprisingly hard on the upper body, don't be surprised if you can't ride more than a few hours a day and then spend the next two days aching!
If you're still reading, I'm going to assume you're keen, and even if not, there's loads more summer options at the wakepark or boat lake - wakeskating, wakesurf, boat-riding, urban winching (ever thought of who developed those motorised winches snowboarders started using for street spots?) and so much more.
Not sure where to ride? Mpora already compiled a handy list of a few UK spots to get you started.
So, no excuses not to get down your local lake, give it a try, figure out what you like and be prepared for a whole new world of summer pain, expense, broken boards and fun!