November 8, 2004
Madison teens place first in national wakeboarding championship
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
MADISON, Miss.—Gary and Debby Armstrong of Madison may be the only parents in the world who actually want their two sons to throw a good tantrum – not to mention a well-executed whirly bird, slurpy or hoochie glide.
All are tricks of the trade in wakeboarding, a water sport that has taken the Armstrong family by storm.
Blake, 13, and Brad, 16, compete in the INT League, an amateur association that is considered the “Little League” of water sports. Both recently placed first in the 2004 U.S. Championship in Bakersfield, Calif. – Blake in the Junior Intermediate division and Brad in the Men’s Novice division.
The event drew 500 skiers and the INT now boasts of competitions in 30 states, including tournaments in Tupelo, Columbus, Meridian and Olive Branch. Still, the wave of people interested in wakeboarding has hardly reached tsunami force in Mississippi.
“Blake’s school made an announcement about him winning and some of the kids said: ‘What did you win?’”said Armstrong, executive vice president of finance and information at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. “Lots of people don’t know what wakeboarding is.”
Considered an extreme sport, wakeboarding is akin to skateboarding on water – only your deck is much bigger, you don’t have wheels and the boat’s wake serves as your “ramp.”
“It’s the hottest thing going in water skiing,” Armstrong said. “Blake is eaten up with it. We have subscriptions to wakeboarding magazines. We buy videotapes and CDs that teach tricks. And Blake is always looking at wakeboarding on the Internet. Last night, he was going over the new stuff he’s going to learn this year.”
“I like getting air and challenging myself,” said Blake, an eighth grader at Madison Middle School. “If I get good enough, I want to go pro. If not, I’ll wakeboard as a hobby.”
Brad, a junior at Madison Central High School, said he’s not as obsessive, but he has warmed to the sport. “I do see myself doing it for a little while. I’ve made a lot of new friends at the tournaments.”
Because his little brother is a bit more advanced, Brad has taken a lot of ribbing from his friends. But if the truth be known, both siblings have had some falls worthy of a bloopers reel.
“I’ve pulled a muscle in my arm and gotten whiplash quite a few times,” said Blake.
And Brad confesses to some spectacular “face plants” that initially cooled his ardor for the sport. “I hated slapping my face in the water,” Brad said. “It’s worse than a slalom ski fall.”
But now that wipeouts are less frequent, the brothers have gotten bolder. Brad has been trying to land a backroll, while Blake has been trying a tantrum. Blake also has been inventing new moves. “There’s a grab called chicken salad and one called stale fish,” he said. “I combined those two and do a fish salad.”
Blake was the first to fall for wakeboarding, and the infatuation may have been inherited. His parents are habitual boaters. “Debby and I have always had a boat,” explained Armstrong. “And I’ve always been an avid water skier and Debby water skies, also.”
Last year, the family spent every weekend up until Thanksgiving on Eagle Lake in Vicksburg. And they may be celebrating Christmas and New Year’s there this year.
“Now Blake’s saying he’s going to get a dry suit, so he can ski year-round,” Armstrong said. “But I’m not so sure because I don’t have a heater. Blake will be protected, but the driver won’t be.”
That driver, by the way, is dear old dad, who has worked hard to hone his own skills, while mom cheers the boys on. “There are tricks to driving with wakeboarding,” he said. “One of the things you learn is to double-up. That is when the boat turns and hits its own wake. The two wakes then clash, causing a peak in the water and the wakeboarder can get huge air.”
Of course, what goes up must come down. And as someone who works at a rehab hospital that treats brain and spinal cord injuries, Armstrong well knows what can happen when an aerial trick goes awry.
“There have been times when people have hit the water and had a brain injury,” he said. “It scares me to death. Before they go out on the water, I make sure they study the techniques of the trick and practice it on the trampoline.”
To improve their expertise, the boys will be attending a wakeboard camp in Orlando, Fla. during spring break. Dad and mom plan to tag along, ostensibly as chaperones, but dad may be after some competitive secrets, as well.
To tease Brad, Armstrong entered a wakeboarding competition in his division in Tupelo and wound up winning third place.
“If Brad hadn’t fallen twice, he would have beat me for sure,” Armstrong said. “But I have my bronze medal. And I found out there was a division for men over age 45.”
Brad Armstrong, 16, of Madison competes in the INT Leauge, an amateur association that is considered the
Blake Armstrong, 13, of Madison placed first in the junior intermediate division of the INT League's 2004 U.S. Championship in Bakersfield, California.