The 56th Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament took place over Memorial Day weekend at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. WOW! What a weekend. This was my third time attending the Masters but my 1st Masters as a skier as I was able to finally step onto the waters of Robin Lake. As it is in golf, the Masters is the most prestigious event in the world for our sport. It is the best of the best as they battle on Robin Lake to see who the best is on Memorial Day weekend. For me, it was an honor to be invited and have the opportunity to ski on one of the biggest stages in our sport.
With this being my first Masters, I extended the invitation to my parents to join me on my journey. It was a great feeling to have them in the crowd to support me and be there to share the memories. This was the first time my mom was able to see me ski in person at a pro tour event outside of California and my dad’s second as he joined me in Australia in 2014. They are the ones who gave me the opportunities that lead to where I am today and I will always be thankful for that. I wanted to participate in all of Masters activities and take in the entire event. I watched all of the events including the wake boarders and wake skaters, I went to the Sunday morning service, the finals boat parade and the banquet.
The weekend kicked off with an athlete check-in and meeting followed by pictures of each event and a group photo of all of the professional athletes who were participating int he 56th Masters event.
For men’s slalom, there were 8 of us in the semi-finals with the top 4 going to the finals. There was approximately a 15mph ¾ cross tailwind coming off the starting dock in the semi-finals. The wind was up and down as well as the direction the wind was coming from kept changing so it added to the challenge that Robin Lake normally presents. I had a good game plan going in and I knew what I was going to focus on. I was happy with how I skied 32 and 35 off focusing on my q’s and attacking the challenging course. I had a few bobbles in the first half of 38 off but I knew where I was in the pass and felt like I was still in control to run it as I came into 5 ball. That is where things changed, as I went outside of 5 ball to finish the turn to head to 6, it felt like my ski stuck which through my chest forward and I found myself kissing the front of the ski. I thought I had hit a bump or something. I tried to get the ski back in front of me but there was nothing I could do, I was stood up and I had no chance to throw the ski over and give myself an opportunity to get around 6. A few things felt different as I thought they were due to the conditions of Robin Lake and taking into consideration that it was my first Masters. Obviously as a competitor, I was crushed not to run 38 as I feel I am capable of running it in almost all conditions, but I know it was not for lack of effort. I gave it everything I had and unfortunately it wasn’t enough to make the cut to the finals. This theory on my skiing changed as I arrived home to ski and watch the webcast. Unfortunately, the different feelings I felt was caused by my ski being broken at Masters. I did not hit a bump at 5 ball, I pushed on the ski and the ski just flexed where it would not support me. I was able to see still shots from JD Productions and you can see that my ski is broken as I finish the turn at 3 ball at 32off. My bag was pretty beat up when I arrived in Atlanta and I quickly looked at the my ski to see if it was in one piece and nothing stood out to me that there was something wrong. It is a lesson learned for me take more time to inspect my ski after traveling and that I may need to change the way I travel with my ski. It is unfortunate that this happened to me in arguable the biggest tournament I have skied in but it was still an honor and a lot of fun to ski in the Masters on Robin Lake for the first time. I am going to continue to work hard (and get dialed on a new ski) as I still have goals to obtain for the Masters not only to be back on the water at Robin Lake but to be skiing on Sunday and earning myself a spot on the podium.
As for the rest of the men’s slalom field, it was led by Nate Smith running 3@41off, Freddie Winter 2@41off, Daniel Odvarko 2.5@39off, Thomas Degasperi 1@39, Jon Travers and Chris Parrish ½@39off, Brian Detrick 5@38off and Will Asher 2.5@38off. Thomas injured his back and was unable to ski in the finals as he just rode behind the boat through the gates in the finals. Odvarko ran 4@38off but missed his gates. Then the drama began. Freddie was battling his way through 39 where he had a slow 5 ball turn and he was on the tail of the ski. He pulled to six, made a turn, took a hit out of the gates and threw a big fist pump. Some people on the pavilion weren’t sure if he actually got outside of 6 or not. Next thing we knew he was coming into the course at 41off where he scored a huge 3 buoys; one buoy off of the course record. The jumbo-tron showed his score of 3@41. Nate takes to the water and everyone is excited to see what happens since Freddie put up a big score. While Nate is skiing, the jumbo-tron changed Freddie’s score to 5@39off. Nate runs 39, he throws the fist in victory and everyone thinks he wins. Then we hear Freddie’s score was changed back to 3@41 as Nate is waiting to come back into the course at 41off. They held him for a while and then finally brought him back into the course at 41off. All spectators are confused at what is going on and why scores keep being changed but excited to see what Nate is going to do at 41off. Shockingly he goes inside of ball and they announce that Freddie has won. Then things start to get crazy….I’m going to keep it short and not get into everything but in the end, the judges said Freddie did not get around 6 ball at 39off and when Nate left the dock, the boat judge told him the leading score was 5@39off. So Nate wins his 2nd Masters title.
Personally I think it is unfortunate we had a situation like this for our sport on arguably one of its biggest stages and I believe it could have been prevented if handled differently. I know the biggest question or problem I have and many others do as well is, why did Freddie’s score change 3 or 4 times between 3@41off and 5@39off? We may never know but I hope this issue does not happen again.
Women’s Slalom finals was exciting with Clem Lucine making the finals and being back at the top of her game quickly after having a baby at the end of last year and Manon Costard putting up a big score of 2.5@39off to put the pressure on Regina Jaquess and Whitney McClintock. There was also a little drama for women’s slalom as one of Regina’s buckles to her hardshell broke as she was putting on her ski. I was told she was zip tide and duck taped in. So after she fought through a headwind 38off she came in at 39off where she found herself outside of three trying to bleed the speed to get back to the wakes for the full three to take the lead but she was unable to hang on to the slack as she attempted to take the hit. She ended up tied for the lead with Whitney left on the dock. Sorry but I have to call you out Reg and I believe we have had this talk before….you need to work on those S turns!! haha Since Regina was stuck in her binding being taped in, she asked for a pick up boat to pick her up. It took a while but the safety boat finally picked her up to take her back to the dock. In the meantime they had to do a simulation pass before Whitney could go since the wakeboard photo boat also came into the course to pick up Regina.
Whitney scrapped her way through 38 with a huge 5 ball turn to complete the pass. Unfortunately she didn’t get a great start at 39 and ended up with 2 and a third place finish. It was now run off time for Regina and Manon! Regina went out first running 4 ½ at 38. I felt she left the door open for Manon but it was still a difficult score to run. Manon didn’t get the best one and she tried to kill two ball but overturned and she was in the water. Regina won yet another Masters!
Tricks are not included in many events so it is always great to see these athletes take to the water. I personally have a ton of respect for these athletes as I struggled with tricks with a lifetime PB of 2,480pts. I like to blame the struggle on my lengthy limbs but I know everyone use to get a good laugh watching me do toes and line tricks. There is something I’d like to highlight in tricks besides the results. That is the return of Alex Lauretano. I am not sure where to start besides WOW!!!!!! As many of you know Alex was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis over a year ago and was sidelined for most basically all of the 2014 season. I personally know the struggles she has gone through because my mom has suffered from similar diagnosis, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease; which is a group of auto immune diseases that they are unable to pin point exactly what is wrong. Losing strength, aching joints, not being able to do a whole lot of physical activities are just a few of the symptoms. These diseases are really no joke. Just like Alex, I saw my mom go from water skiing, exercising and being active to having to use a cane to walk, not being able to open a water bottle because she didn’t have the strength and not being able to get up and down off the floor on her own. With talking with Alex, she experienced similar things; which is even harder for her as a young 25 year old that was one of the best trickers and jumpers in the world. It takes not only a toll mentally, but physically and not only on them but it is difficult on the family and friends close to them. I have a ton of respect for Adam Sedlmajer for sticking by her and helping her through this difficult time. Alex was not qualified for the 56th Masters. She went to LCQ and qualified to ski in the Masters. At the Masters, she continued to show that she was back in full force qualifying in the 3rd seed for the finals and that is exactly where she would end up; on the podium!!! I know some may think that she has been there before and that it isn’t a big deal but if you really knew what this woman went through the last year, you would understand how incredible this accomplishment is. Qualifying for the Masters was one thing but to have the performances that she had was INCREDIBLE!!!!! If you can’t tell, I am beyond excited and proud of her!
Clem was also in the trick finals as she was first out and set the bar for the women. Natallia Berdnikova was the 2nd seed in tricks and she put up a huge score of 9510 to put the pressure on defending champ Erika Lang. As Erika was on the dock, she yelled to her mom telling her she was going to do her easy run; which I was told is worth about 9480 or
so. As she went down the lake, she saw Natallia’s score posted on the jumbo tron and knew that her easy run would not be enough. So she decided on the fly to change her run that would give her an opportunity to win. And did she do that…wow!! A flawless hand pass with two front flips played a big part in Erika defending her Masters Title and taking home another Masters Title as well as posting a new course record of 9,770. Men’s tricks was exciting with nearly 11,000pts needed to make it in to the finals. Russell Gay kicked things off and put up a respectable score as he almost stood up both passes. Next was Adam Pickos who had a great first pass going but fell towards the end of his toe pass. He came in on his hand pass with a ski line trick. His ski clipped the rope and instantly there was a huge spray and you could not see him.
Somehow Adam was able to stay up on his ski and wasted no time getting back into his run. It is impressive how the trickers are able to adjust so quickly on the fly. Adam took the lead with 9720 which guaranteed himself a spot on the podium. Next up was defending champ Pierre Ballon, he looked impressive as he moved into the lead with 10,680 with only the World Record Holder, Aliaksei “Ace” Zharnasek left on the dock. Ace posted a score of over 12,000 points in the prelims but had an uncharacteristic fall very early in his first pass which knocked him out of contention for a win and podium finish. Ace came back in to do a hand pass on his second pass and he still managed to trick nearly 7,o00pts!! Pierre secured himself back to back Masters wins with Pickos is 2nd and Russell in 3rd!
I never talk about wakeboarding but a couple of things that went down at the Masters has to be talked about. For the first time EVER, an athlete, Erika Lang, participated in the Water Ski Trick Event and in Wakeboarding at the Maters. This was my first time seeing Erika wakeboard in person. I have seen a lot of her videos she has been posting as I have been following her on social media. She had a great run but just missed out on the finals by one spot. Still impressive to almost make the finals in two different water sports! Also for the first time EVER in wake boarding history, Harley Clifford, threw down a perfect score, 100.00pts, in the finals. Not only did he do a couple of 540’s, 720’s, 980’s and back to back double back flips, but he came into the double up for the grand finale and threw down another double back flip off of the double up. This was the first time 3 double back flips have been thrown in one run. The crowd and his competitors went crazy after seeing a run like that. Everyone was stoked for him and then we all learned that we just witnessed history with the first perfect score; 100.00! Congrats Harley, that was exciting to watch! You can watch his run via this link… A Perfect Score – Only Behind The Super Air Nautique G23
Then we were left with the last event of the 56th Masters, the crowd favorite jump finals. In the prelims we saw Marion Ellis boot a 180ft leap to secure the second seed with Jacinta Carroll taking the top spot with 184ft. Regina and Natalia advanced to the jump final becoming the 2nd and 3rd women to qualify for the 2nd final at the 56th Masters (Clem was the first). On the men’s side, the prelims kicked off the wrong way with Felipe Miranda crashing on jump one and jump three. He seemed to be ok Sunday but I hope for a speedy recover for Pipe. Next up was his brother Rodrigo and he turned things around with a big jump of 208ft that secured him a spot in the finals as the 3rd seed. Russia’s Igor Morozov, beat out Damien Sharman by one foot, .3 meters, to lock in his spot to the finals in the 4th and final spot. The final two finalists, not to anyone’s surprise, was Freddy Krueger and Ryan Dodd as they jumped 218 and 226. In the finals Igor and Rodrigo went 214ft and tied at down to the meters then Freddy’s best jump was 232ft. He came into the dock shaking his head a bit and said that wasn’t going to
be enough. Ryan goes out first jump and boots a 234ft leap for the win and to also win back to back titles. During the trick finals, Ryan told me that he had a talk with Carl Roberge and Carl told him to go out there and do a one and done. That is exactly what happened and it is exciting to see Ryan jumping so well and consistently in the 230s+.
The Masters ended with the awards banquet giving out all of the awards and scholarships. It was a nice evening with great food and they moved through the awards quickly which were lead by Dano the Mano and Tyler Boyd; who did a great job announcing all weekend! These are two great guys that do an awesome job commentating many major events in the water sports industry. Overall, it was a great weekend! I highly recommend making the trip to Georgia Memorial Day weekend next year if you have never been. It is an event like no others and I can guarantee that you will have a great weekend watching the top skiers in the world compete as well as hanging out on the beach, going through the vendor tents and having fun in the sun!
I didn’t fly out of Atlanta until Monday evening to my parents and I headed to Atlanta to explore a little bit. We started off with a great brunch with Lauren Morgan and Damien Sharman. We went to Cypress Street Pint and Plate . They are known for their donut burger which the donuts are hand made down the street by a local donut shop that delivers the donuts fresh ever day. As many of you know I eat pretty healthy all the time but my dad twisted my arm to split it and another item so I gave in as we only live once and I had this as my cheat meal. It was a little bit too sweet for me but the presentation looked great! The food was really good and I highly recommend this place for anyone in the Atlanta area. Afterwords we did some site seeing and came across this huge park; Piedmont Park, which is 189 acres and it is an urban park. An interesting fact is that Atlanta’s first professional baseball team, the Atlanta Crackers, played in the park from 1902-1904.