By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
In a showcase of athleticism and courage, some of the world’s top wakeboarders will be at Monroe’s Lake Tye this weekend for the fourth stop on the 2013 MasterCraft Pro Wakeboard Tour.
Close to 50 riders from several countries will be performing aerial and acrobatic maneuvers as they compete in two divisions — pro men and junior pro men, the latter for wakeboarders 18 and under.
A top contender in the pro men’s division is Josh Palma of Orlando, Fla., a former collegiate baseball player at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Palma took up wakeboarding when his baseball career was ended by a shoulder injury.
Now in his eighth season of pro wakeboarding, Palma says he enjoys the tour’s competitiveness and camaraderie.
“There’s a really cool atmosphere at these contests,” said the 28-year-old Palma. “In our pro men’s division, there’s 30 to 40 of us and we’re a pretty tight-knit group. It’s real competitive, but we’re all kind of pushing each other. And as we’re able to do more progressive runs, it pushes the sport to new levels.
“That’s one thing I really enjoy. We’re very competitive, but these are also some of my best lifelong friends.”
Top wakeboarders can earn six-figure salaries, Palma said, with some of that coming from sponsorship and endorsement contracts. There is also the chance to travel, with Palma making overseas trips to South Africa and Dubai for clinics and other public appearances.
The sport, he said, “has provided me with some pretty cool opportunities. And they’re opportunities I never thought I’d have.”
Wakeboarding can also be a punishing sport with “risk and danger that is just kind of inherent. And it’s something you always kind of respect,” he added. “I tell kids that if you can’t get over the hump of committing to trying new tricks and overcoming that fear, you’ll only get so good.
“It’s a ballistic sport and you’re going to get banged up. And if you’re not willing to sacrifice your body and take some falls when you’re trying new tricks, you’re only going to get so far.”
For spectators, Lake Tye offers good viewing areas to see an exciting show, he went on.
“What I remember from being there last year,” Palma said, “is that (the crowd) can get close to the water. They’re really close to the shoreline, and there’s really no better vantage point to watch the guys riding.
“Guys are doing tricks right in front of you,” he said, “and you can really get a sense of the intensity involved with what we’re doing.”