Produced by Kaard Bombe | Multimedia Reporter
Music beats, a roaring engine and bursts of laughter broke the silence of the gleaming Saguaro Lake on Monday afternoon, as the members of the Wake Devils wakeboard team shredded the wakes and threw flips high in the air.
Even after becoming the Collegiate National Wakeboard Champions two times in a row, the team doesn’t take a break from practicing, though now it is more relaxed.
In just four years, Ryan Platt, Wake Devils’ founder and president, transformed the team from only one rider to 40 members and led the Wake Devils to becoming the first ever back-to-back Collegiate National Wakeboard champions at the beginning of April.
“We’d hate to go a competition and lose, or hate to be second-best team,” Platt said. “We always wanted to be the biggest, the best team. That was always something we strove for. It’s something we can’t fight. It’s in our blood.”
Although the team has won many competitions, collected numerous awards and gained more than 30,000 followers on social media, the way to the top didn’t happen overnight.
Path to success
“I didn’t think we were going to do it twice, until after we won last year, then instantly, my views changed,” Platt said about the second victory. “There was a lot of debate that we were not going to be able to pull it off, but we pulled it off. That was awesome.”
Platt’s wakeboarding life kicked off when he was 10 with the help of his family, who bought a Malibu boat in 2003 and used to take the kids to the lake on the weekends.
“That was our church on Sunday,” he said. “Ever since, it’s been my biggest passion.”
When Platt came to ASU, he found out that the previously existing Wake Devils team had a very bad public image and eventually fell apart. That was the turning point for ASU wakeboarding history, as Platt decided to take the initiative and start a new team from scratch.
A lot of people didn’t show much support for his idea, Platt said, but he always told them they were going to become national champions.
Being the only person on the team during the first year, Platt made a lot of effort to contact people, establish a network and spread the word. Representing the team as an individual rider at one of the first competitions in San Diego, he met business junior RJ Pabon, who has become one of the greatest influences on the team, Platt said.
Working in sync during the second year, the guys managed to get a lot more attention and attract the first sponsors—Monster Energy Drink and Elevated Clothing, who have been supporting the team with energy drinks and apparel since then.
“And next thing you know the club turned from one (person) to 20 in a matter of (a) few weeks,” Platt said.
However, every year was a different challenge to overcome, Platt said. Losing to Chico State at the Nationals during the second year only fortified the wakeboarders’ unfaltering spirit to pursue excellence.
The team approached its third year with a strong determination, which bore fruit when the Wake Devils became national champions for the first time.
Only a week ago, from April 3 to April 6 at Lake Las Vegas, the Wake Devils members consolidated their success by leaving behind all other strong teams at the national championship. The team riders had to buckle down to repeat their championship and celebrated the second big victory by popping the bottles of champagne.
“We were set in our minds that we were going to win it and so we were not going to let anyone stand in the way,” Platt said. “We managed to step up and ride just enough better than the teams we were facing that day.”
Behind the success
The strong team spirit that turned the Wake Devils into a family was the reason for the first victory at Nationals in 2013, Platt said.
“We all bicker and fight like we’re family, but at the same time if anyone needs anything, everyone is right there to help out,” he said.
Having qualified in the top 10 riders of the year, Platt attributes all his success to the team, he said.
“A lot of my success came from the people I met and how they’ve inspired me,” he said. “Just growing with each year, facing challenges with these people and coming up with best solutions.”
Older team members are not the only ones who have become best friends, but everyone on the team is close to each other and spends a lot of time together outside of wakeboarding.
“A lot of the underclassmen are best friends as well as the upperclassmen,” Platt said. “Everyone is just friends and you’re not viewed as someone lower just because you joined the team that year. You don’t see a lot of teams like that.”
A lot of efforts of the team members go into showing new members the meaning of being a Wake Devil and establishing trusting relationships within the team.
“We were able to show all these incoming freshmen and new people on the team what it means to be a Wake Devil because there’s so much family aspects tied into it,” Platt said. “You’re not just joining a wakeboard team; you’re becoming a part of a family.”
The Wake Devils grow together as riders by pushing each other in different ways and being able to openly express their opinions.
“A huge thing about the chemistry is when people can walk up and tell me, ‘No, it’s not a good idea. I think it should be this way,’” Platt said. “I’m very open to everyone’s ideas.”
Platt said another reason for the team’s success is the mix between his and RJ Pabon’s competitive nature.
Platt noticed Pabon’s passion for wakeboarding when they first met in San Diego and offered to move in the house with him after 20 minutes of knowing each other. Since then, their apartment was a place where ideas on how to build up an unrivaled team were thriving.
“We’ve been feeding off each other over the past few years, and it’s been crazy to see where the team has gone,” Platt said.
One of the most important ideas was born in the minds of the roommates when they noticed that it was hard to cram 30 to 40 team members in their tiny apartment. The idea was to get a central place for the team to get together. After several attempts, the house opened the doors for the team members to live and come together.
“Everyone in the house is always talking about wakeboarding,” Platt said. “Even if no one from our house is going to the lake, everyone will meet at our house first.”
The place called the Wake Devil House features a trampoline in the back yard for practicing tricks and a fridge full of energy drinks, provided by one of the major sponsors, Rockstar Energy.
“Having everyone live under one roof has definitely made the team more successful,” Platt said.
Recently named women’s college rider of the year, chemical engineering senior Chelsea Clark said a lot of practice and drive are essential for becoming a champion, though there were moments when she questioned if it was worth it to hurt herself.
Such doubts are more likely to cross women’s minds, she said.
“I think girls are more hesitant,” she said. “When we go to ride I think about what’s going to happen if I don’t do it correctly. Am I going to hurt myself? I think about all the factors. I can even watch women, when they’re trying new tricks, they’ll actually pause when they’re doing the trick. You can’t pause in wakeboarding. That stops your momentum.”
The tournaments in a professional world don’t cater to women and need girls who will push the score, she said. To get closer to the men’s level of riding, women need to get rid of the fear.
Marketing senior Ash Hannig founded BabeShredder in December 2013. It is a company and social community to support women and promote equality in action board riding.
“I feel like the girls are trying to live up to the male expectations,” she said. “It should be more equally driven.”
BabeShredder is hosting the first all-female cable wakeboarding competition on May 3, in Parker, Ariz., at Wakeboard Island, a part of the BlueWater Resort and Casino, which invites all level of riders to a very welcoming environment.
Because of some of the team members’ personal connection to cancer, the Wake Devils, with the help of Elevated Clothing, decided to organize a charity event for breast cancer in December 2013. It managed to raise more than $800. Future plans incorporate organizing a similar event on a larger scale, which would hopefully involve the whole wakeboard scene in raising money for different types of cancer.
“We’re trying to give back to the community a little bit,” Platt said.
The community, consisting of more than 30,000 followers and fans, has been very supportive of the Wake Devils in turn, following them to competitions all over the country.
The team practices all year round, mostly at Bartlett Lake, daring the cold weather in wet suits. Many members of the team say riding on the lake makes them forget about the troubles of the day.
“There’s no better feeling than being out on the lake, hanging with your friends, and just enjoying being out on the water,” Platt said. “You’re not worrying about anything else, it’s just you, the board and the water. It’s my peace and relaxation. I wish I could spend every day on the water.”
Despite the calming effect produced by riding, landing tricks can be quite a challenge. It requires perseverance to make 60 attempts to land some of the toughest tricks, such as a toeside 720 and a dum dum.
“There’s nothing better than that feeling landing a new trick,” Platt said. “There’s just something crazy about it.”
However, some of the failed attempts can be extremely painful, Platt said.
“Wakeboard is definitely a sport you can get injured in,” Platt said.
After a very bad concussion that took about a month to recover from, it took a while to finally overcome the fear to try a new trick, he said.
“If I get hurt wakeboarding, I’ll be glad I got hurt wakeboarding versus doing something else,” he said.
Pabon broke his leg while riding at semi-finals at the National competitions last year. After staying away from the water for about nine months for recovery, he was glad to be back on track two months before Nationals 2014. He finished second.
Now he’s trying to get a cleaner riding style and sees the key element to success in motivating the team by personal example, he said.
“(We), the top members, show how motivated we are and that motivates the team,” he said. “Kind of like monkey see, monkey do. We are motivated, so it makes them (motivated).”
Platt is getting ready to pass the presidency to his successor, accounting sophomore Greg Crusco. Although many other riders are graduating, Platt said he’s confident to leave the team in the hands of Crusco, who joined the team two years ago and was lucky to be a part of the two back-to-back victories.
When the Wake Devils won, the atmosphere was insane, Crusco said, leaving him with one of the best feelings he’s had this year.
“It was definitely not any more or any less exciting when you get the second time,” he said. “It was equally exciting being the first team to go back-to back national champions.”
Although Crusco feels the responsibility on his shoulders of taking over for Platt, he is ready for new experiences.
“I’m pretty stoked on what we’re looking forward to next year,” Crusco said.
Other members, such as Clark, support the decision of having Crusco as the team’s leader. She said he has been trained well to continue the drive and passion.
“This is our guy,” she said. “He really loves wakeboarding and he’ll be the perfect person to carry on as president.”
Platt was hired by Elevated Clothing, one of the team’s sponsors, to push the brand on the market. During the summer, he is going to teach kids to wakeboard at one of the best cable parks, Barefoot Ski Ranch in Texas, and said he hopes to compete in pro and amateur tours and competitions.
He will support the Wake Devils as long as he lives, Platt added.
“As much as I don’t want to leave the team, I feel like there’s so many people now who share the same passion that I have that kept me pushing through all the ‘No’s,’” Platt said. “If the team failed, they’d get up and do what it takes to make sure the team is still alive.”
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