© Bryan Soderlind/Red Bull Content Pool
Wakeboarding champ Meagan Ethell continues to overcome challenges
Meagan Ethell has won numerous titles in the wakeboarding world and now she's found a bigger purpose within it.
What does it take to become Wakeboarding Magazine Women’s Rider of the Year 6x, be a 5x World Champion and a 6x Master's Champion? Just ask Meagan Ethell. The 22-year-old has been riding the highs of her career as of late. Recently taking home the win at this year's Wakefest in Tennessee, Meagan is more focused than ever. "This has always been my life," Meagan told us about wakeboarding. We caught up with the champ to learn more about how she found her passion, the biggest challenges in her way as a professional wakeboarder and what is coming next.
Red Bull: You started wakeboarding at a young age. Who introduced you to it and the lake life?
Meagan Ethell: I grew up in Chicago and my family had a condo in Michigan, I grew up going there every summer. When In was 8, that's when I tried wakeboarding for the first time. One thing led to another and I went to a coach there. I came to Florida for an event and that's how it started for me.
When you started wakeboarding at 8 years old, was it just a hobby or did you already know you wanted to make a career out of it?
It was something that was just fun for me. But my dad and the other people around me saw the potential in me. I also have a gymnastics background so I learned pretty quickly. It wasn't a hobby because everything moved quickly for me. I moved to Florida when I was pretty young for boarding.
Do you recall a time where you wanted to do anything else other than wakeboarding?
I've always been focused on wakeboarding. Growing up, I liked to do other hobbies and I was very athletic. I really liked to play volleyball and other sports because they were good for me. But I was really good at wakeboarding and I always had the dream of becoming a pro. I had a lot of goals for myself.
You recently took home the big win at Wakefest, again! Congratulations! How was it this year?
Thank you! It definitely was a little bit different. Everything this year is different with social distancing, but it was really fun. I got to hang out with all my friends and it was a good time.
What goes on in your mind during competitions? Do you have any rituals you like to do before a big competition?
I definitely have a ritual, sometimes I change it up. But I like to make sure I'm warmed up really well and I do some visualization. I try to think about the my tricks so I can go out there and land them. I just try to make sure I'm breathing and staying calm.
What makes Wakefest stand out from other events? What do you look forward to the most every year before the event?
Wakefest is definitely so different than any other event. I think it's the people there that make it so awesome. I look forward to how excited people are for the event. It’s really cool how the only way to get to the event is by boat. You can’t be on land and watch it from there. You have to get out there by boat. All these boats are tied up on both side - its called a flotilla - so people are in their boats in the water watching you. That's what makes it so different.
Do you have a favorite place to wakeboard? Where's the coolest place you’ve traveled to do it?
I’ve traveled to so many different places! They’ve all been really cool, the different people that I've met. One time I went to Lake Como in Italy and I was 17 I think. We did a Red Bull camp there. That was one of my favorite places I got to travel to for wakeboarding. I definitely love riding in Orlando at my home, its always very consistent. It’s just a very comfortable environment.
I have not gone everywhere on my list though! I would really love to go to Lake Powell. Growing up, I used to play a video game called Wakeboarding Unleashed featuring Shaun Murray. The first level was at Lake Powell, and I would play that game all the time and saw so many cool videos there that I really want to go ride there at some point.
Has your training changed in the new “normal”?
There are less contests so we haven’t had to do that as much. But the focus kind of shifted to being more creative. You have more time to do things you wouldn't normally get to do in a season because you're so focused on competition. I've been able to film more and work on different things.
Speaking of working on different things, how do you spend your time outside of wakeboarding?
I do all of my own social media stuff, so I'm usually editing. I try to keep it like a job, where I give myself the time and day to work hard and the evenings are when I get to chill a little bit more. I like to spend my time outside or with friends and family. I love to cook as well! I make so many different things - I'm really good at grilling. I live in a canal and it's right in my backyard. I've made really good homemade salmon burger.
We heard you've found a new passion with photography...
I’m still pretty amateur I would say! Right when I got back from Australia at the end of March - we had our first contest of the year there - and that was the beginning of the craziness. I've been wanting to buy a camera for a while and I did some research. I have a lot of friends that are into photography and videography. I ordered a camera (Sony A65 Markaret with a 18-105 lens) off of Ebay. And I just started watching YouTube videos and messing around and taking photos of my friends and on the boat. And now I try to bring it everywhere with me. I had it with me in Tennessee in Wakefest.
Do you feel that being able to do awesome tricks and get different visual perspectives help you behind the lens?
It’s hard for me to say because I don't have too much experience. But because I spend so much time with photographers with what I do, I feel like I have a better head start with it all. I feel like, even on my iPhone, I'm telling people how to frame something up or how to adjust the lighting. I would say I've gotten a lot of compliments, but who knows! It’s still a lot of fun for me.
It’s challenging, but it's one of those things if you don’t fight then change is not going to happen.
What has been the most challenging part of your journey so far?
In the beginning of my career, when I was at the end of 15, turning 16, I hurt my knee - I blew out my ACL. That was definitely a challenge, but at the same time, I wasn’t super busy with my career yet. I was still in high school and I got to experience what it was like to be a normal high school student. When I was 19, the year after I graduated, I blew out my other knee and that was probably the most challenging injury I've ever had. I was riding really well and I had a goal that year - I wanted to be undefeated and I won the first four contests of the year and then I got injured. It was really hard for me. But I got through it and I had a really good comeback year. And the years following has been great. Now, the challenge that I face is dealing with women’s equality in my sport. And trying to be that voice for it. Dealing with people that don't agree and the frustration of being a woman in sports. It’s challenging, but it's one of those things if you don’t fight then change is not going to happen.
We really admire you for that!
Thank you! It's a bit tiring sometimes, but it also gives me a bigger purpose within my sport and not just being so focused on myself and what I'm doing. But to make a change for all the women and girls who are coming up in the sport as well.
What has been one of the highlights or career high for you so far?
I have a lot of really great highlights! At the end of last year, I won the Wakeboarding Magazine Female Rider of the year for the 6th year in a row. I also won this contest for the 6th time in the 5th consecutive time - it's called Masters. I held this event two years in a row for breast cancer survivors, it's called Breast Cancer Survivor's Day On the Water. That was a really cool accomplishment for me to plan that, get those women out and have a really cool day for them.
What inspired or motivated you to start Breast Cancer Survivor's Day On the Water?
I'm a very big advocate for living a healthy lifestyle. I really wanted to find a way to get more involved in the Orlando community. Especially being around women. These women have been through a lot - they’re really strong - and to give them an experience they never experienced before, it was a really cool feeling teaching somebody how to wakeboard for the first time.
You’ve accomplished so much at such a young age - what’s next?
I definitely want to continue to grow women's wakeboarding and the equality side of things and make a bigger change for that. I feel like I am that voice, I have a good following to make those changes. I want to do more Red Bull projects and travel to cooler locations. It would be really cool to make a new video and land bigger and harder tricks as well.