By TERRY TOMALIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000
With four of the five top wakeboarding crowns to her credit just one year after joining the pro tour, 16-year-old Meaghan Major hopes to add the national title to her resume this weekend in Orlando.
Major will face tough competition at the National Championships of Wakeboarding held today through Sunday at the Orlando Watersports Complex, but the Clermont teenager might have a psychological advantage over her opponents.
"I dyed my hair a pinkish-purple for this event," said Major, who is known for pulling off big moves when the competition is tight. "I saw somebody on TV with their hair like this and thought that looks cool, why not do it for the nationals."
Major, a native of Missouri who moved to the wakeboarding mecca of central Florida two years ago so she could train year around, won gold at the ESPN X Games and World Championships in 1999.
She followed with a U.S. Masters Championship in May and won the Gravity Games in Providence, R.I., in July.
"Those are four of the big five," Major said. "Now all I need is to win the nationals."
Major will be performing in front of her hometown crowd, as will dozens of other entrants from central Florida. The area, with its plethora of clean, spring-fed lakes, is home to most of the sports pros. Major trains every day at the Orlando Watersports Complex with world and six-time U.S. Pro Wakeboard Tour champion Darin Shapiro.
"If you want to make it in wakeboarding, this is the place to be," Major said. "People come from all over just to train here."
This is the first time the national championships will be held in Orlando. More than 300 riders will hit the water for a shot to represent the United States at the World Championships later this year.
The Orlando event also will include some new disciplines for the wakeboarders. In addition to the freestyle competition, the nationals will feature an obstacle course similar to ones used in skateboarding contests. Riders will have access to a slider, kicker and jump ramp.
To earn points, riders perform a subjectively judged routine. Competitors can perform any maneuvers they choose in any order they prefer.
"My specialty is the Tootsie Roll," Major said. "There are no other women doing this trick now. But if you want to win, you have to push the limits."
Riders have two passes behind a boat traveling in a straight path. At the end of the second pass, the riders are given a "double-up," in which the boat does a wide turn and crosses over the old wake. The wakes crossing together form a "double-up" or a wake that is three times normal.
Wakeboarding has been heralded as the "fastest growing watersport" in the world. According to industry estimates, participation has increased 100 percent over the past three years. Wakeboarding is to water skiing what snowboarding is to snow skiing.
The sport can trace its roots to 1985 when San Diego surfer Tony Finn developed the Skurfer, a hybrid of water ski and surfboard. There were no straps or bindings on the boards, and the riders stood on the board as they carved out their moves.
The introduction of foot straps changed the sport. For the first time, wakeboarders were able to catch "big air" and take the sport to a new level. The development of the first compression-molded neutral-buoyancy wakeboard, the Hyperlite, sparked the massive growth of the sport now known as wakeboarding.
According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the number of wakeboarders increased 21 percent from 1998 to 1999. Today, there are 2.7-million people wakeboarding ... from 6-year-olds to senior citizens.
The sport's hard-core group is made up of men and women in their mid-20s. But every year, the fan base expands as water-skiers hang up their slalom skis and embrace the new, double-ended boards.
"I don't know how long I'll be able to compete, but from what I can see, the sport is only getting bigger," Major said. "I'll just keep at it as long as I am having fun."
WHAT: National Championships of Wakeboarding.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Sunday.
WHERE: Orlando Watersports Complex, 8808 Florida Rock Road.
ADMISSION: Free today, $5 on Saturday and Sunday.
DIRECTIONS: East on I-4 and take the exit for 441 South (Orange Blossom Trail, then go left on Landstreet and then left on Florida Rock Road.