Ask the Experts | Four Keys to Better Riding in Contests
By Raimi Merritt
Want to gauge your wakeboarding skills, make progress on the water, and have fun at the same time? Start riding in contests. Going beyond the comfort level of riding with your family and friends takes a bit of guts. It requires discipline and focus, but the rewards are well worth it.
Whatever your actual skill level, many riders think they are "not ready" to compete. But riding in contests lets you evaluate your ability and advance your skills. So start competing sooner rather than later.
The key to a successful first contest is to come prepared with a game plan. I believe that this preparation can be broken down into four areas, which will make your first - and every - contest a positive experience. These are
Even if you believe your daily diet is fairly healthy, pay special attention to nutrition the day before and the day of the competition. What you eat is very important, and many people don't take it very seriously. I eat a small amount every few hours, and have some protein, fat and carbs with every meal. I also like to have a good breakfast, especially if I am competing that day.
The day before and the day of the event, stick to foods you eat regularly and know that your body tolerates well. This is not the time to tempt fate with that extra spicy burrito or greasy 12-oz burger.
Make sure you have healthy snacks, meals and drinks with you at the site because weather and other factors may delay the time you actually ride. Eating smart, along with staying well hydrated and out of the sun before you ride will give you the optimal level of energy when it's your turn to shine.
When competing, you want to use the board, bindings, line and handle you are comfortable with and use consistently. Don't whip out a brand new rope on the day of the competition. First, you have never used it and it may not feel familiar, and second, you have to break in ropes because they stretch. So you won't have the same length line nor will you have the same line tension going into the wake as you have in practice.
Examine your equipment in advance. Check your bindings for wear, and make sure the fins and bindings are tightly secured to the board before the contest. Make sure your line and handle are in good condition.
Plan to be comfortable whatever the weather. Don't wait until the last minute to get your gear together; that's a recipe for leaving something crucial behind. Just knowing you are prepared will significantly relieve your stress.
Chances are you won't be able to choose the boat you will ride behind. At my site in Orlando, I ride behind a Nautique G 23, which is used in many contests. However, other tow boats are used at various competitions around the world. Just before the contest, I adjust the ballast weight in my boat to replicate the wake of specific tow boats.
So find out which tow boat will be used and see whether you can do a few sets behind one. If you can get a practice set behind the actual tow boat to be used in the contest the day before, that's even better. You will get the feel of the boat, the pattern and the site. This will sharpen your focus and add to your confidence when you ride in the actual contest.
Unlike riding for your family and friends on your home lake behind your own boat, riding in a contest requires you to put together a series of tricks for judges in the boat while riding behind the contest tow boat at perhaps an unfamiliar site. But keep in mind that will be true for most of the contestants.
Riders new to competition tend to throw tricks that they occasionally execute in practice, in the hope of making the trick in a contest. However, unless you are making a trick a very high percentage of the time in practice, say 90% rather than half the time, chances are slim that you will make the trick in competition. It is better to be sure you are comfortable enough with all your tricks and feel confident about doing them consistently before going into a competition. Don't make the mistake of getting caught up with what other competitors are doing; stick to your plan. It's not about throwing a big trick and missing it. The goal is to do the tricks you can do but make them look fun.
I like to practice what I am going to do in each pass about a week before I go to compete, so I can have what I am going to do in my mind. It doesn't matter how many tricks you can throw in a run, it's just a great way to gauge your riding skills and then start working on the discipline to become a better rider. Besides technique, learning to do the series of tricks with style and flair is important. For me, the intensity of getting big air for tricks like S Bends defines my style. Competing with others helps immensely with developing your own style.
Always remember a key goal of being a successful contest rider, no matter your skill level, is to ride out of the course with the handle in your hands. Standing up the complete run will surely increase your placement at the event.
Approach your first contest with a positive mindset. The day of the contest, I stay out of the sun, and focus on my riding prior to the competition. But I also socialize with the other riders and spectators at the event. Remind yourself why you are competing, and make sure you are always having fun. Don?t let negative vibes or people get in the way of how you look at the competition or influence what tricks you are going to do. Stay with your plan.
Remember to use riding in contests as a way to gauge yourself as a rider and to develop the skills needed to go beyond your present performance level.
One more comment about attitude. Remember the competition can't happen without judges, drivers, and other officials. A "thank you" after your set or at the end of the day will be very much appreciated.
So go out and enter a contest, meet some new riders, see new tricks, watch a variety of riding styles, and maybe see a new site. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the experience. And yes, as your calendar fills up with contests, don't forget to leave time to train!
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Raimi Merritt, 2013 Masters Wakeboard Champion and IWWF Open Women Wakeboard World Champion, is sponsored by MonaVie, Nautique, Hyperlite, Rollei Actioncam America, Breathe Boardwear. OrigAudio, Wakami, Peripheral LS and Fly High. For all her latest news, check out www.raimimerritt.com. Raimi also offers personalized coaching in Orlando, Florida. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a lesson.