If you have any inside knowledge about the sport's beginning, or anything else to add for that matter, please send me an e-mail so I can get the story straight.
So where did wakeboarding come from? Who were the inventors of this excellent sport? There is no clear cut answer because the sport has evolved from many different sports at different times and is what it is because of creative individuals always pushing the limits. There are, however, a few people that stand out in the young history of the sport.
If you've ever tried to imagine where the sport came from, surfing will most likely pop into your mind quite easily. Wakeboarding has in fact partially evolved from surfing. The earliest form would most likely be from surfers getting pulled in to a massive wave that they are not able to paddle in by themselves. Think Endless Summer II. Tony Finn, a prominent figure in wakeboarding with a surfing background, developed the Skurfer back in the early 80s. With his partner John Hamilton, they started mass-producing skurfers for Skurfer Inc. Much thicker than today's wakeboards, the boards originally looked more like modified small-sized surfboards. The first models did not have straps, which were eventually added to give the rider more freedom to perform more complex tricks.Throughout the 80s, the boards kept getting better, and more riders were getting on board. The sport was at this time known as either skurfing or skiboarding. in 1990 ESPN televised the first Skurfer Championships, but the number of followers was not yet booming. There was a strong need to modify the boards and boat wakes to allow the riders the freedom to perform innovative tricks that would draw larger crowds. The other disadvantage to the sport was that the first few models were difficult to get up on, because of their high buoyancy.
Another big name to help the sport take a great leap forward was Herb O'Brien, known for his great work in the water ski industry with his company - H.O. Sports. Paul Fraser and his brother Murray (H.O. reps at the time) were out on the water trying to get a pro snowboarder up on a scurfer. On their way home they were discussing how they could make the scurfer into a more versatile board. The image they had was of a snowboard on water. This led to the design of a binding similar to a ski boot. Being H.O. reps they met with Herb and proposed the idea. Herb thought it was crazy. It took two years to convince him to create one. When he finally did it was a hit. Paul Fraser is an ex pro rider and still an H.O. rep today (2007). He came up with the name wakeboarding, although he is not officially credited.
Along with some of the best surfboard shapers in Hawaii, Herb helped develop the first compression molded neutral-buoyancy wakeboard, the Hyperlite Pro. This board was partially responsible for the tremendous growth in the sport. It also had to do with who was riding it. I still remember some crazy shots of Darin Shapiro going huge behind a helicopter. I'm sure like me, many kids dreamed of going off like Darin.
The boards continued to get better throughout the decade, and the number of company's trying to capture this growing market was tremendous. Neptune and Connelly were some of the early successful companies. The boards were not thinner, had sharper edges and phasers (dimples on the bottom of the board) to give a better ride and softer landings. The shape of the boards themselves also evolved - going from surf-style shaped to twin-tipped (or twin-tailed), so that riders could ride both regular and fakie and perform the same tricks.
Jimmy Redmon, who is responsible form many of the rules and regulations of the sport, founded a governing body for wakeboarding in 1990 known as the World Wakeboard Association. He has also developed many great boards for Liquid Force, and also helped get wakeboarding into the X-Games.
Originally part of the Pro Water Ski Tour, wakeboarding made its debut in 1992 when World Sports & Marketing, a Florida-based sports promoter and event organizer, began creating pro wakeboard competitions. These events were shown on ESPN and also ESPN2, which gave tremendous exposure to the sport. By now, the sport was starting to be known as wakeboarding, with the arrival of Wake Boarding Magazine in April of 1993 - though their slogan used to be "the word in kneeboarding and skiboarding". The Pro Wakeboard Tour has now broken away from the traditional 3-event tour and continues to grow and change each year. For the non pros, there are thousands grass-roots tournaments around the world to give all levels of riders a chance to showcase their skills at a competitive level. The 1996 ESPN X-Games showcased wakeboarding to millions of viewers across the country for the first time.
Tony Finn continues to be one of the most influential persons in the sport. He is the co-owner of Liquid Force Wakeboards, the inventor of the original Skylon, the former co-owner of The Wakeboard Camp in Claremont Florida and down a large amount of the commentary of major televised events. Tony Finn and PJ Marks started The Wakeboard Camp in Clermont, FL. PJ became the sole owner of the camp about 5 years ago. In the past year (2006), PJ sold the camp to a new owner.
The field of competitors today includes wakeboarders having various experiences in different sports. However, riders that get their influence from three-even skiing, like the former world and X-Games champion Jeremy Kovak are a dying breed. Many of today's boarders have grown up on the lakes without any slalom, trick, jump or barefoot experience. Wakeboarding is about personal expression. There is a tremendous amount of room for innovation and creativity. This melting pot of cross-over athletes has created a sport which is exciting to watch and more fun to perform.
Recreational wakeboarders cover all age ranges and skill levels. However, the Pros are generally a young crowd ranging in age from early teens to early 20's. The style and attitude are laid back, similar to the skateboarding and in-line crowd but a bit more upscale simply because the sport requires more than a board or blades--it requires a boat (or a cable ski park) to propel them through the air. For the sport to continue to grow, cable parks will have to pop up all over the world, as it is the only affordable way for many people to get on the water without shelling out big bucs.
The bottom line: Wakeboarding, like all extreme sports, is a lifestyle and not just a sport. It will continue to evolve and continue to grow. With wakeskating now clearly on the map (it now has it's own category on the Pro Wakeboard Tour) and sliders and kickers a regular part of the tour, I can only imagine what will be the next breakthrough. The Oakley Launch Pool seen at Wakestock in Toronto (see Wakestock 2006 Photo Gallery) is a great example of a new form of event that continues to push the limits for both wakeboarders and wakeskaters alike.
Source: ESPN X-Games Site - Wakeboard History + additional comments by Thomas Dembie & Bryan J. Smith