Friday 21 July 2017

How attempts to ‘wake on water’ are taking Ireland by storm

Graham Clifford

It’s the fastest growing water sport on the globe and it’s becoming hugely popular across the country. Graham Clifford donned the wetsuit and travelled to Cork to try out cable wakeboarding.

Having watched my friend John glide through the lake like some kind of stealth canoe I smiled smugly as I prepared to go next. Within seconds I was gurgling water as the brown trout swam for safety.

We’d come to the stunning Ballyhass Lakes Activity centre near Mallow in Cork to try out the fastest growing water sport in the world – wakeboarding.

In an old disused quarry a two-tower system was installed in March of this year with a single line crossing the width of the lake.

“I’d travelled a bit in Australia and New Zealand and came across these wakeboarding centres and could see the potential for having one here in Ballyhass”, explains Eoghan McCarthy who manages the Wakeboarding Park.

Within days of opening the centre was attracting inquisitive water sports enthusiasts from across Munster – they clearly liked what they saw. On the day I visit over fifty people are booked in to use the wakeboarding facilities.

Reporter Graham Clifford pictured wake boarding in Ballyhass Lakes activity centre, Cecilstown, Mallow.
Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Reporter Graham Clifford pictured wake boarding in Ballyhass Lakes activity centre, Cecilstown, Mallow. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Reporter Graham Clifford pictured wake boarding in Ballyhass Lakes activity centre, Cecilstown, Mallow. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Reporter Graham Clifford pictured wake boarding in Ballyhass Lakes activity centre, Cecilstown, Mallow. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Reporter Graham Clifford pictured wake boarding in Ballyhass Lakes activity centre, Cecilstown, Mallow. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

A relation of snowboarding, which John admits he tried without telling me (!), it’s also similar to conventional land-based skateboarding.

“Some people say that what you see here is a floating skate park”, explains Eoghan as he hands us our gear.

Once the wet suit, life jacket and helmet are on we station ourselves lakeside bare-footed.

A wake board, for all the world a multi-coloured snowboard with a fin, is produced and we lock our feet into the foot holds. We’re told the professionals change the type of fins on the boards depending on what trick they’re attempting.

The only ‘trick’ up my sleeve is staying upright.

While we’re partaking in ‘cable wakeboarding’ other variations of the sport see wakeboarders towed by motorboats - typically at speeds of up to 40 Kilometres an hour.

Having watched John’s ‘wake on water’ performance I give the cable operator the thumbs up and get into my half-sitting position.

Because the speed of the cables here are controlled to suit each rider I know I won’t be dragged through the chilly autumn waters should the very likely happen.

Within seconds we’re up and away. For a fleeting moment there’s a feeling of exhilaration, I can hear the gliding board beneath my feet, the morning air kissing my skin, I’m feeling on top of the world….before I shift my balance and go toppling head-first into the clear waters.

Always consistent, I repeat the complex manoeuvre on numerous occasions despite the best efforts of the on-shore instructors who keep giving me tips on how to stay upright on the board.

“It’s very interesting who takes to wake boarding initially and who needs a little longer to get to grips with it”, explains Eoghan.

He tells me “yesterday we had a rugby team in here at the same time as we had an 11-year old’s birthday bash. The rugby lads thought they could force the wake boarding and use strength to succeed but they kept falling in – in contrast the 11-year-old girls showed perfect balance and had no problem in the water.”

Mid-way through my 15 minute session, and by now nearly on first name terms with the plankton, I decide enough is enough.

I listen intently to the instructions, spot my friend John laughing hysterically at my submarine impressions and decide that I’m going to do this.

The cable stiffens, I feel the pull on my shoulders, the adrenaline flows, I bend my knees and adopt the advised shape…suddenly we’re up and away and I’m gliding. I see the shock in the eyes of the fish.

As I repeat the ‘trick’ a number of times I allow myself take in the stunning scenery around the lake and the naturalness of it all.

“One of the great things about cable wakeboarding is that it’s a silent sport really, all you hear is the whizz of the wires and it’s environmentally friendly. I think that’s a big selling point for our park here”, explains Eoghan.

As well as the centre at Ballyhass lakes, cable wakeboarding parks can also be found in Dublin’s Docklands at ‘Wakedock’ and at the ‘Cable and Wake’ Park in Belfast.

Converts to the sport appreciate its many benefits.

“People are using it as a new form of fitness, they’re cancelling their gym memberships and taking out a membership with us instead”, says Eoghan, adding “they prefer spending half an hour on the cable out in the fresh air in a rural setting rather than an hour-and-a-half in the gym. We have old aged pensioners out on the water two to three times a week.

 

It’s an all-round great fitness workout and a brilliant lifestyle sport too. The wakeboarding community in Ireland is small but building and we know it will continue to go from strength to strength.”

 

Wakeboarding just missed out on qualifying as a sport at the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo but those in the know believe it could well make the 2024 games.

 

“If we could get in early we could have Olympic hopes within a decade” Eoghans tells me pointedly. I’m sure he’s dropping a hint that I could be that medal hopeful…then again maybe not.

 

It’s more likely he’s talking about people such as professional wakeboarder David O’Caoimh (20), the Dubliner recently captured the Irish Tour title at an event held in Ballyhass and competes globally for Ireland.

 

Session over I climb out of the lake satisfied that I’d managed to stand on the wakeboard eventually. I feel the effects on my exertions in my shoulders the next morning but after just one session I know I want more.

 

I can see why wakeboarding is enjoying such a worldwide explosion and while I may never represent Ireland in the surface water sport, I can have one hell of a good time trying to.

 

For more information on Wakeboarding in Ireland visit: http://www.irishwwf.ie/ or if you want to find out more about the Ballyhass Activity Centre visit www.ballyhasslakes.ie

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