Red Bull competitors ready to make waves in downtown Tampa
BY MICHAEL MANGANELLO Tribune correspondent
Published: July 4, 2013
Updated: July 4, 2013 at 02:09 PM
IF YOU GO
The action can be viewed from waterfront locations at the Tampa Convention Center and on Harbour Island. Today is a practice day; Friday's competition is open to spectators from 3-8 p.m. and Saturday's from noon-6 p.m.
TAMPA - Whatever you do, just don't break the fountain.
Soaring high over the fountain in the middle of Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, professional wakeboarder JD Webb wanted to succeed in his first-of-its-kind stunt shot for Discovery Channel's "Stunt Junkies" in 2006. Failure wouldn't have been too bad, as long as he didn't break that expensive fountain.
"I was a little nervous because nothing as big as I was doing had been done at that time," Webb said. "Also, having the Lake Eola fountain in my gap added another factor to it. Don't come up short. They told us if we touch the fountain or break the fountain, it's pretty much irreplaceable and we'd get fined for that.
"There was a lot of pressure."
For his feat, Webb was awarded a key to Orlando and it is celebrated on Sept. 30 - JD Webb Day.
Webb, a 2005 graduate of Auburndale High, will be joined by the rest of the world's elite wakeboarders in downtown Tampa this weekend as they compete in the 2013 Red Bull Wake Open, the paramount event on the professional wakeboarding calendar.
"The Wake Open is the biggest event that we have in wakeboarding today," Webb said. "At the end of the weekend, we'll know who the best wakeboarder in the world is."
The Red Bull Wake Open consists of three events. Two of them - Big Air and Wake Park - are centered in downtown Tampa between the Convention Center and Harbour Island on Friday and Saturday. The boat portion was contested Wednesday at a limestone mine in western Pasco County.
This year, the event will include ramp-to-ramp jumping - like Webb's stunt on Lake Eola - for the first time in competition. With more possibilities for bigger tricks, Webb expects the competition to break some boundaries of the sport.
"Everyone I've talked to said it's the funnest setup they've ever hit," Webb said of tests run in Germany last week. "It's good for us, because spectators actually see us get big air. It's more like snowboarding."
Webb finished fourth in last year's event, a disappointment heightened his motivation to be ready for this weekend. There was, however, a major disturbance to his preparation schedule.
Webb became a father on June 18, when his girlfriend gave birth to a healthy daughter, Ehvie, in Colorado, pulling Webb away from his training.
"We couldn't be happier," Webb said. "Three weeks off doesn't really help you out coming into the biggest event of the year, but it's just part of it. It made me come home and really get to work. I'm in a good spot with my riding, so hopefully it all works out this weekend."
This will mark the second year the Red Bull Wake Open calls Tampa home. Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said 50,000 spectators attended the event over the two days last year and he expects a larger crowd this year.
"The event sets up really well right there between the Convention Center and Harbour Island. It almost makes an amphitheater of sorts for the wakeboarders."
The event also makes a large impact on the local economy.
"Last year, it did 1,500 hotel reserved room nights, which translates into nearly $1 million in direct visitor spending," Higgins said. "Certainly, those are substantial numbers, but the key part is that it happens at a time when our hospitality industry needs it the most."
Webb's primary focus is on growing the next generation of wakeboarders through his interaction with young fans.
"I've put in a lot of hard work to get to where I am today and it doesn't stop now," Webb said. "Wakeboarding is still a small sport compared to the other action sports out there.
"We definitely don't make the money skateboarders do, but for me to be able to do this as my job, I couldn't be happier."