UF team prepares for Wakeboarding Collegiate Nationals

(this article adapted from an article originally written for the Gainesville Sun)

Over the past few weeks, as UF students have been scrambling to finish up classes, the members of the Gator Wake and Ski Club have also had something else on their mind: their upcoming trip to the Wakeboarding Collegiate Nationals.

The Nationals are an annual championship event organized by the Collegiate Wakeboard Association and televised nationally on the CBS College Sports Network as part of the Alt Games Collegiate Action Sports Championships.

This year, the Wakeboarding Collegiate Nationals are being held in San Diego on May 14-16, and the funds raised by Wakefest, through registration fees and the sale of Wakefest T-shirts and raffle tickets, will help to pay for the UF team's travel expenses.

Members of the UF wakeboarding team already hold several national championship titles from the Collegiate Wakeboard Association, and despite challenges from talented teams like the University of Texas, California State University at Sacramento and the University of Central Florida, have enjoyed a long reign atop the collegiate rankings. But Chris Beckman, executive director of the Collegiate Wakeboard Association, said he has noticed the skill of collegiate riders compounding every year and expects this year's contest to be one of the fiercest competitions in recent years.

"The level of riding has definitely increased tremendously," he said. "A lot of people are really pushing to newer higher levels, and a lot of people are getting involved on the collegiate side. It's really helping the sport."

Members of the UF wakeboarding team are excited for this year's championships, but are also less optimistic about their chances of winning than in years past. This year, the team was plagued by injuries and a shortened practice season, factors that may put them at a disadvantage for this year's championships. However, Ryan LaBerge, a graduate student and competitor for the UF wakeboarding team, said that he and his teammates are still very driven to perform well in nationals.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to win it," he said. "We do every year."

LaBerge said that he and his teammates plan on practicing as much as possible over the next few weeks, and they hope that their strategic knowledge as championship veterans will help to pull them through the contest.

But club president Matt Morgan said that, no matter what the results, visiting San Diego and competing against talented riders will be a great experience, and he and his teammates plan on enjoying it.

"Above all, if you're having a good time then you're not really a loser," he said. "It's kind of cliche to say, but it's so true. We're just going to go out there and do our best."