Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014

Local phenom taking the wake surfing world by storm


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Living on a lake has its perks.

For Lake Placid's Jodi Grassman, it's been the perfect place to pick up a new sport.

"My family has lived on a lake for about 12 years," Grassman said. "And we've always done different types of water sports, but a couple of months ago, I took up wake surfing."

And a routine trip to Ocala was all took to get her hooked.

"I found out you could do tricks on it," she said. "I saw all of these great people out there. They were so amazing. I wanted to do it and be just like them."

"I'd messed around with wake surfing before, and I really enjoyed it, so I decided to get serious about it."

A variant of wake boarding and typically done on a lake, wake surfing also involves towing a rider behind a boat so they can surf on the boat's wake. But unlike wake boarding, the rider eventually lets go of the rope, surfing the wake freely as if it were an ocean wave.

Riders compete by performing a myriad of tricks to earn points. Trick names range from the usual 180 spin and hang 10 to the flashier fire hydrant (placing one hand on the board and taking your front foot off) and lip slide ("floating" on top of the wake with the board turned sideways). Each trick is worth a different amount of points, so the more tricks a rider is able to perform, the more the points add up.

"My favorite is the shove-it," Grassman said. "It's when you're carving up the waves, you kick your legs in a scissor motion and spin the board around while doing a 180 or 360."

While Grassman doesn't have a trick named after her quite yet, she's certainly on track to get one.

A rising star in the world of wake surfing, Grassman captured first place in the USA Wake Surfing National Championship earlier this summer. And on Friday she'll be competing in the world championship in Las Vegas.

"I would love to go pro," Grassman said. "But I'm just going to go out there and do my thing since it's only my first year competing."

A natural athlete, Grassman took to wake surfing rather easily. She's spent much of her life involved in athletics, including competing on the Green Dragons softball and swim teams.

"I try and practice every day. But my gymnastics background definitely helped," she said. "Gymnastics involves a lot of balance and coordination with your feet, so it wasn't all that different when I was trying to stay balanced out on the water."

Only a junior, Grassman said she's had some thoughts about carrying her wake surfing career into college despite the limitations it brings.

"Not too many colleges even have a wake boarding team," she said. "Hopefully, wherever I went, they would add a wake surfing team. But the school would need to have access to a lake."

Whatever decision she makes, though, she knows that she'll have her parents right behind her.

"They're very proud," Grassman said. "They're excited over how much I've improved. They don't pressure me too much, either. If there're times when I don't want to keep trying a trick, they don't push me, they encourage me."

The world championship begins on Friday and will carry over into Saturday. Winners from the past three years have taken home an average of $24,000 in cash, along with other prizes.

bhoward@highlandstoday.com

863-386-5841

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