Wakeboarding began its development as a sport back in the 1980s and has since expanded into becoming one of the most viable extreme sports across the globe. Over a dozen of the sport’s top competitors locked horns in Florida earlier in the month, and CASSIUS was on hand to witness the high-flying action up close and personal at the Red Bull Double Or Nothing 2021 competition.
The wakeboarding community is strong in Central Florida, no doubt due to the array of natural lakes and the boating culture that exists there. Given that this was our first time witnessing the sport in person, we should note that every competitor and their colleagues graciously explained the nuances of wakeboarding with the patience of a schoolteacher, but with the eagerness that one should expect from athletes who take to the air with ease.
Wakeboarding might be considered by some to be a niche sport, something that Red Bull is hoping to help change by way of producing competitions such as Double Or Nothing alongside the likes of Parks Bonifay.
Now a Triple OG of the sport, Bonifay has been hosting the Double Or Nothing wakeboarding competition since 2004, and while he’s soon to enter his fourth decade of life, his zeal for the sport is just as fresh as it was when he began as a kid. It should be mentioned that at 39, Bonifay took to the water to take on some of the young lions of the lake.
“Putting on Double Or Nothing has been like a dream, and I’m glad so many people are getting interested in wakeboarding,” Bonifay said to us in a brief chat. “I started hitting the water at a young age, and it’s been fun to hang out with folks I consider more than friends. Wakeboarding is like a family, and I’m so thankful that Red Bull is behind us and helping us advance to the next level.”
Double Or Nothing took place on September 12 on the beautiful Lake Ivanhoe, right next to the swanky Ivanhoe Village section of Orlando, Fla. Complete with a DJ and beer garden, there was a healthy crowd of spectators at Gaston Edwards Park to witness the wakeboarders in action. In between the rounds, CASSIUS caught up with a handful of the competitors, who all shared similar sentiments that the sport’s trajectory is only going to grow from this point forward.
Cory Teunissen, a native of Australia and currently a resident of Orlando, opened up his home prior to the competition and took us out on the water at Lake Jessamine, which effectively should be called Wakeboarders Row considering some of the other athletes that reside near the lakeside along with Teunissen.
While in the heat of battle during Double Or Nothing, Teunissen was clear in stating that his passion for the sport started early on and while he’s been a professional since his teens, he has no desire to slow down.
“I just love it, wakeboarding has done so much for me and Red Bull pushing us to take the sport to the world has been great for all of us,” Teunissen stated. “I hope to do this for the rest of my life but I’m also ready for other challenges too.”
CASSIUS also spoke with Guenther Oka, one of the top wakeboarders in the world and he too echoed Teunissen’s passion.
“You can just feel the energy here around us, and yeah, we all want to win Double Or Noting but really, it’s good just to be around folks I consider family, and we couldn’t do this without Parks Bonifay and Red Bull,” Oka said.
We also spoke briefly with Meagan Ethell, a six-time wakeboarding champion, and how she believes that the sport could use a shot in the arm when it comes to women getting on the water.
“Of course, it’s great to see these guys out on the lake and having a blast but I hope one day, we’ll have just as many women competing on the big stage,” Ethell said.
Because of the great weather across the course of the year in Florida, it would figure that other athletes would converge at Double Or Nothing. We had the pleasure of speaking briefly with professional tennis players Mackie McDonald and Jennifer Brady, who both shared a love of wakeboarding and explained that their sport shares similarities to wakeboarding by way of the close ties between the athletes in the respective lanes.
“I’ve been to some events before but this is probably one of the best ones I’ve seen,” McDonald said, who is currently ranked number 58 in the world. Brady, currently ranked 21, added, “It’s fair to say that wakeboarding and tennis share the same kind of energy so it’s not shocking that we’re all here in Florida thriving in our sports.”
Massi Piffaretti won the Double Or Nothing title and we spoke with him briefly before he took the podium. With his laidback style and overall affable energy, it’s no wonder that “The Pizza Boy” took the whole thing.
“I’ve been in the water all my life, starting back to me being a little boy at Lake Como in Italy until now,” Piffaretti said with a wide smile. “I’m looking around and I don’t see people I’m trying to beat. I’m just hanging out with my friends and if it weren’t for Red Bull and all the folks who help support us, especially Parks Bonifay, this would never happen.”
Tyler Hingham, a good friend of Piffaretti’s, took second place and another of his pals, Sam Brown, took third place.
It goes without saying that wakeboarding could use a shot of diversity and hopefully, these grand ambassadors of the sport realize that the more they provide access to the generally curious and those who wish to learn, the greater the sport could grow. We can comfortably say that one day, we too hope that wakeboarding expands and includes communities that have been underrepresented in the years to come.
Photo: Red Bull