When Chad Douglas was 14 years old, he and his family were on a houseboat trip on Lake Roosevelt in northeastern Washington, and one of the water accessories they decided to bring with them was a wakeboard.
Douglas had never been on a wakeboard, which is a snowboard-like device one rides while being pulled by a motorboat. Yet the first time Douglas was pulled by a boat he managed to get out of the water and onto his feet, displaying his proficiency for the sport.
Now 21 years later the Everett native is getting the chance to compete at the national championships in his own back yard.
The 2018 Nautique World Wake Association Wakeboard National Championships are this week on Lake Tye in Monroe, and Douglas is among the approximately 200 riders across 20 different divisions who are taking part.
“I have no expectations at this point,” said Douglas, who now lives in Shoreline and is competing in the Masters (ages 30-39) division. “I’m just excited to compete at a high level, and compete locally in front of a lot of friends and family in the Snohomish County area.”
The World Wake Association (WWA) is in its 30th year, and this is the first time the national championships, which begin Wednesday and continue through Saturday, have been held in Washington. The 20 divisions include professional and amateur riders across all genders and age groups, and they span four different disciplines: wakeboarding; wakeskating (in which a rider’s feet are not attached to the board), and adaptive sitboarding and adaptive standing for riders with disabilities.
“We like to move the national championships around, just to give the riders in all corners of the country the opportunity to have nationals closer to them,” WWA executive director Corrie Wilson said about why Monroe was chosen as the host site. “Tye Park is perfect for wakeboarding. With wakeboarding you want calm, flat water, and since it’s a private lake there aren’t other boats on the water, so the conditions are awesome. And the lake is deep enough that the boats can make a big wake.”
The event will be televised by NBC Sports on a date yet to be determined, though it’s typically about 60 days after the event concludes.
Nationals being in Washington this year prompted the local wakeboarding community to mobilize. Douglas competed at nationals a decade ago in Bakersfield, California, when he finished fourth in the Men’s I division (one step below the professionals), but hasn’t been back because his job as a systems engineering manager at Boeing prevents him from traveling for competition. Meanwhile Douglas’ training partner, Redmond’s Eddie Roberts, who is also competing in the Masters division, is competing at nationals for the first time. Both qualified by winning their division at Crescent Bar River Fest on June 22-24.
“In the past there were a lot more local competitions,” Roberts said. “There hasn’t been quite as many the past couple years, which is why it’s exciting to have nationals come to Washington. That really motivated a lot of the local riders to turn out for the competitions that were available, so they could qualify for nationals. This gives us a chance to compete on a bigger stage, but in our own area.”
The way a wakeboard competition works is that riders complete tricks while being pulled down a 1,500-foot course. A run consists of going down and back through the course, with riders able to execute four to six tricks on each pass. The judges are on the boat and give riders a subjective score out of 100.
Every rider will be pulled by the same Nautique boat, which is designed specifically for wakeboarding, though they will use their own rope and board. The boat travels at 21-23 mph, which is slower than in water skiing, but creates a bigger wake.
Most divisions have semifinals and finals, with the top four from semifinals advancing to finals. The Pro Women division advances six to finals and the Pro Men division advances eight, with all the pro finals taking place Saturday.
“In the Pro Men division, to be competitive and be in the finals you have to be doing not just one double flip, where you go in the air and flip twice, but several,” Wilson said. “So to be in the Pro Men finals you’re going to have to do a couple double flips, as well as some 900 spins, sometimes 1080s, which is three full rotations. Those are the big things to watch out for.”
The favorites in the pro divisions are Harley Clifford on the men’s side and Meagan Ethell on the women’s side. Clifford, who hails from Australia, and Ethell, who’s from Channahon, Illinois, both are defending national champions and current Wakeboard World Series points leaders — Clifford is eligible to compete at nationals because it’s the fifth of six stops in the Wakeboard World Series.
As for Douglas, he’s looking forward to his return to the national stage.
“It was really fun,” Douglas said about his previous experience at nationals. “It was a great crowd, a great group of competitors, and a lot more pressure than I expected.
“Now I’m much older and much more crafty,” Douglas added. “Wakeboarding in your 30s is a whole different ball game. I have to make sure I loosen up my joints a little before I get out there.
“But it’s a really unique opportunity for fans to get out and see the highest level of riding in the sport,” Douglas concluded. “The men’s pros do some amazing feats of gymnastics on the water, and Lake Tye is an impressive venue, so it should be great to watch.”