Updated: Jul 1, 2020
All the pain and all the glory goes to greats like Dallas Friday, a real life Wonder Woman considered the most decorated female wakeboarder in the word. Her amazing career has spanned over the last two decades.
Throughout wakeboarding’s debut decade, as the fastest growing sport in America, the women’s category soared like a phoenix. From the time when Dana Preble competed in the first tour stops, through the 1994 season, where O’Brien signed me on to compete against the men in all the stops. At the end of the year, I placed tenth overall in the men’s Pro Tour standings.
By early May, the Nautique Callaway Masters also added a men’s wakeboarding division for the first time. They invited the top five men in the world and had a Master’s Qualifier at Jack Travers Ski School, where three lucky riders would take home a coveted invitation. Jack was my most beloved coach before I got into wakeboarding. He smiled at me from the dock and something greater took over… Placing third at the Masters Qualifier, and earning a spot to compete in the most prestigious contest the first time they added our sport, became the biggest win of my career while competing against the men.
In 1996, the X Games included Wakeboarding for the very first time. While it was nerve wracking to share the stage and ride in between Shaun Murray and Parks Bonifay, the women in the crowd inspired me to do my best and to stand up. Since both events had a female competitor in the line up, they soon added a women’s wakeboarding division with equal cash prize.
Paul Singer and Lani Farmer from Malibu Boats, took a leap of faith and presented me with a brand new Wakesetter, another first for the girls. Malibu Boats has remained a big supporter for the women, sponsoring female riders and events since the early beginnings.
After that historic tour stop in Orlando in 1997, the Pro Tour finally added a separate division for the women with cash purse in all the remaining stops. That summer, the European scene got their own tour underway, sponsored by O’Neill and Swatch Watches. It was integrated into the World Cup the following year.
In 1998 the scene exploded. There were more than a dozen events with women’s cash purse in the US, including the Vans Triple Crown, Nautique Callaway Masters, XGames, Malibu US Open, and eight US Pro Tour stops. Tom James, legendary editor of Wakeboarding Magazine, got the World Cup to start “The Race for the Moomba Mobius” providing a boat to give away to the overall female winner at the end of the year.
During 1999, NBC inaugurated The Gravity Games and included women from the get go, with the largest purse to that date. The TV coverage provided worldwide recognition for the sport and in 2000 Condenast Women Sport and Fitness Magazine, honored me as one of the ten top athletes of the year.
Sitting next to Serena Williams, and chit-chatting with Mohammed Ali’s daughter Laila and US Soccer team captain Mia Hamn, brought to my awareness the reality that Women’s Wakeboarding was being recognized as a legit sport next to established giants like golf, tennis, soccer and basketball.
Women’s Wake was on the rise.
-Melissa Marquardt-Liquid Force’s superstar Melissa Marquardt set herself apart with her unique riding style. She was one of Canyon Lake’s original West Side Riders who rode with Randy Harris and Ricky Gonzales often. Watching her huge pokes, spins and grabs, the WSR influence is clear.
-Maeghan Major-Gail-Women’swakeboarding prodigy, Maeghan Major, took the scene by surprise back in 1999 when she won the XGames and the World Wakeboarding Championship on her rookie year on tour. She defended her World Title the following year landing new tricks like the Tootsie Roll and a handle pass KGB.
-Emily Copeland- Once in a blue moon we come across a person who is genuinely kind and uplifting, like wakeboarding’s two time World Champ Emily Copeland. She started her career as a pro athlete competing on the Pro Tour in 1999. While her sweet presence and demeanor were always a breath of fresh air, once the Colorado native hit the water, she’d turn into a fierce and consistent competitor. Always a graceful and inspirational force, she won two World Titles in 2001 and 2005. These days she is a wife, a mother and a famous American Ninja Warrior.
-Dallas Friday- Six time World Champion Dallas Friday, was 13 years old when she placed second at the XGames in her Rookie year on tour. The following year, she won the Gold medals at the XGames and at the NBC Gravity Games. She continued on her golden path by winning the most prestigious wakeboarding contests. She took our sport all the way into the ESPN Red Carpet in 2004, when she won an ESPY for the Best Female Action Sports Athlete Of The Year (an achievement no other wakeboarder has ever merited). Resilient like a lotus, and plagued by severe injuries, Dallas continues to inspire with her undefeatable spirit. She has reclaimed her number one position, time after time, proving to the nonbelievers that everything is possible.
-Nicola Butler- South African born Nicola Butler is a three time World Wakeboard Champion. Her flawless riding style is a testament of grace, beauty and strength. Whether she is trying double back rolls, going over rails or poking out huge spins, she is not one to hold back. She knows who she is and what she is worth, and it shows.
-Raimi Merrit-Rutledge- With unspeakable courage and fierce determination, multiple time World Cup Wakeboard Champion Raimi Merritt was the first girl to land the dangerous S-Bend. Growing up in West Palm Beach and training with her father, former World Barefoot Champion Steve Merritt, Raimi looked up to Tara Hamilton. She was one of her first coaches and a great source of inspiration.
-Lauren Harf- “As a 12 year old girl I was struggling with self esteem and growing up, and truthfully, getting up on a wakeboard not only boosted my confidence but it became my happy place! I wanted to ride everyday! It truly set me up for life teaching me that my natural talents and abilities will only take me so far. I would fall a hundred times to learn one trick but I’d keep getting back up and making small tweaks until I mastered it. I learned my talent and basic abilities are just the starting point. The real magic is in the hard work, dedication, and falling over and over again. But eventually you land that new trick and you are so proud!”
-Amber Wing-Smith- The Australian multi-talented 2007 Women’s World Wakeboard Champion, wetsuit entrepreneur and creator of the Foundation for Women’s Wake, often blazes her own trail by revolutionizing the sport. She was first female to land a 720 … into the flats. “The first time I wakeboarded it was 1998 and I went on a water ski trip to the lake with some friends. They had a 128 trip with XL ultra suctions and had just started wakeboarding. I was asked if I wanted a turn, I said of course! With my waterski background I got up first try and loved the feeling. I then watched the boys try back flips (tantrums) and backrolls, they were getting slammed. I thought to myself if I can flip on the ground (level 10 gymnast) then I can flip on the water. That is when the love and passion for the sport started for me!” Note that I have a ladies size 6 foot (tiny) in XL men’s boots.
-Christy Smith- “My first experience wakeboarding was when I was 9. We had an HO Skurfer that we would jump the wake with. A local marina brought Pro Kneeboarder Johnathan McDonald for a day to give lessons. My dad signed up and I tagged along with him. We went out there and Johnathan was trying to help my dad land his barrel roll on the kneeboard. I was in the boat and we told him that I wanted to do a flip on the kneeboard, but I was too small to throw the kneeboard over me. He said, “Why don’t you try to do it on a wakeboard?” I told him we had a Skurfer and he was like “No. You need to get a wakeboard”. He told us that it would be easier for me . My dad always told me that I couldn’t do it because I was a girl (he knew that I hated that, and it fueled me to try harder). My parents wouldn’t buy me a wakeboard because it was expensive and they didn’t think I would take care of it. They told my sisters and I, that if we paid half then we could buy one. My sisters were not key on the idea, but I talked them into it and we bought our first wakeboard. It took me a year but I landed my first flip when I was 10”.
-Robbie Rendo- The stunning Argentinean ripper set her style in and out of the water. “The very first day I got on a board, I fell in love deeply with the sport, and without a doubt it became my greatest passion.”
-Hayley Smith- “I believe I was 12 the first time I got up on a wakeboard out on the Port Hacking River, Australia. From memory I got up quickly and remember being so excited when I got back in the boat, with that adrenalin come down. It's a feeling I have had many times since and the thing I loved most about the sport If only I knew then the places wakeboarding would take me and the amazing people would meet along the way! ”
-Gretchen Hammarberg- One of the first girls that brought her snowboarding style and background moves into the women’s wakeboarding circuit. The Coeur d'Alene, Idaho native made it through the ranks competing around the globe. In 2007 she was one of the girls featured in the “girls-only” movie the Chick Flick.
-Steph Tor- Pioneer wake-skater and fashion designer Steph Tor, allies over a rock during a photoshoot in Cabo, Mexico in 2006. The following year she was featured on the Chick Flick, paving the way for the first generation of female wake-skaters.
During 1996, a few girls got cameos riding on wakeboarding movies like Ron Sydenglazz 24/7, Gravity Sucks and FLF’s Hit It! The following year, “Beyond 3” became the premier film of women wakeboarding. It was shot by Filmworks with an all-women cast. Soon after, girls started to have their own riding sections in movies like “Skurf’s Up” and Herbie Fletcher’s “Fire It Up”.
-Race for the Moomba Mobius- Only one year after raising our own cash prize, the women’s wakeboarding crusade soared as the World Cup offered a boat to the overall female winner.
In 2012, Cable Wakeboarding was added to a short list of eight sports being considered for the 2020 Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee added one event to the summer games in a vote that took place in 2013. Stayed tuned for part three on the evolution and get to know today’s riders.
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All credit to Wakeboarding Hall of Fame, see original posting here.