The Red Bull Wake Open can be viewed from waterfront locations at the Tampa Convention Center and on Harbour Island. Admission is free. Today's competition is from noon to 6 p.m.
TAMPA - After an almost three-hour delay for torrential rains, wind and lightning that sent hundreds of folks scrambling indoors - yes, after all that - Kaesen Suyderhoud leaped 20 feet high on his wakeboard over the waters near downtown Tampa. Finally, the 2013 Red Bull Wake Open was under way - albeit under cloudy skies. What followed were 35 of the world's best wakeboarders participating in the "Big Air" portion of the two-day competition, an event that involves whipping around a cable-system loop of 100 yards, flying over a ramp and landing on another gigantic ramp about 15 feet away. In mid-air there were plenty of twists, flips and wipeouts, along with a persistent unknown: the ramp-to-ramp setup was the first of its kind for the Wake Open. Some of the athletes, in fact, had never before competed on such a setup.
Fans seemed to love it, though few likely were wakeboarding authorities. The bottom line was that the degree of difficulty was readily apparent, especially when viewed on the giant video screen near the Tampa Convention Center. "It's amazing how skilled these guys are," said Tampa's Abby Pekkala, 22, who visited the free event Friday. "I didn't know much about (wakeboarding), but I have to say I'm impressed after seeing it." For Louisiana's Marc Roger, 49, the Wake Open was a pleasant surprise to his day. Roger, who lived in Tampa 15 years ago while serving in the Army at MacDill Air Force Base, happened upon the event while reminiscing at sites in Tampa. "This is awesome," said Roger, in town to visit friends. "What a great thing to have in the city. I'm amazed at all the development around here. Tampa looks great." Competition continues today in the "Wake Park" portion, which begins at noon and involves riding on the cable system over several twists and jumps, much like flying around at a skate park. A winner will be determined after all three phases, with the "boat" competition completed earlier in the week. Defending champion Raphael Derome of Quebec led after the first round and appeared solid on Friday. Who wins, however, isn't so important to Valrico's Terry Gammill, 46. For Gammill, it is more about the atmosphere. "This makes me want to come to Flugtag," Gammill said of the boat-flying event based more on showmanship and craft ingenuity than skill. Just one problem: Red Bull's Flugtag, which was held in Tampa in previous years, is not scheduled for a bay-area stop in 2013. But the wakeboarders will be back today.