There’s a new way to wakeboard that doesn’t involve a boat or a lake, but it’s one hell of a rocky ride…
It’s not often that extreme sports champions get scared, but the unique marriage of white water and wakeboarding at Red Bull Up Stream has some of the best in the world trembling in their bindings.
When the event starts in Slovenia on September 12, contenders will be pulled by a cable the wrong way up a fast-moving torrent of water while dodging rocks and pulling tricks – not quite the usual day out on the lake, then. The Sava river, where the event is held, is so demanding that it will be home to the wild water kayaking world championships next year, and certainly isn’t the usual habitat of Europe’s wakeboarding elite.
“The first time I tried wakeboarding on rough water like this last year was pretty much the first time anyone had tried it,” says Robert. “When we came to the spot, I have to admit I was scared – I didn’t know what to expect, as it’s not a place anyone would wakeboard. I mean – it’s an artificial kayak course. And the white water was pretty white.”
But after a few falls in practice, the live battle saw international wakeboarders rise to the challenge in front of more than 1,500 spectators, and this year promises to be even bigger and better. Among those strapping up for the ride are three-time wakeboarding world champion Bernard Hinterberger and current European champion Dominik Gührs. They will be joined by world-class US riders Adam ‘A-Train’ Errington and podium regular JD Webb.
“The list of riders is really nice this year,” says Robert, “and we really thought about the course – it will be great.
“It’s going to be much smoother and longer than last year, and so much easier to make nice tricks. The rock side of the course will be smoothed out so we can ride it better, and there’s going to be a kayak that riders can just jib or whatever. And we’re going to have a little slider which goes straight up and down and kind of looks like a roof.”
Robert says the contest is also spreading the word about wakeboarding in Slovenia as people get inspired watching the pros’ high-octane rock wrangling.
“I’ve been wakeboarding for eight or nine years now,” he says, “and I’ve been national champion for years now, but that’s not a huge accomplishment here – there aren’t many riders in Slovenia! I love the fact that people started understanding what wakeboarding is – not in the usual way, as this is a really extraordinary contest. But people hear about it and go to try wakeboarding, and that’s really special to me.”