The loud pop of the board hitting the water reminds you to close your mouth before somebody catches you staring like a yokel. But as the rider nails the next trick, you realize this might just be one of those things you have to try yourself. And then you hit the water with your face at 20 mph and realize: This is harder than it looks.
Wakeboarding is a sport that, when done by an expert, looks annoyingly simple. You strap your feet into the snowboard-like bindings and get pulled behind a boat.
Piece of cake. But in reality, it takes lots of practice before you can effortlessly pull off elaborate tricks such as the 360 Indy. Though the sport got its start nearly 30 years ago, for reasons unknown, it seems to have experienced a bit of a resurgence.
"It's gotten huge," said Matt DuBon, manager of Trophy Lakes on Johns Island. "It's been around a while, but it seems to be even more popular now."
From local festivals to new video games, the sport that combines surfing, snowboarding and skiing quickly is becoming one of the most popular water activities around. This week, we look at where you can do it, who's going to teach you and, most importantly, what it costs.
Price, price baby
So let's get the cost thing out of the way right up front since, let's be honest, that's probably the biggest decider as to whether you're going to give this a try.
According to David Clifford, owner of Charleston Watersport Outfitters in Mount Pleasant, for around $350 you can get a new, state-of-the-art beginner wakeboard.
"That's the board, bindings, everything," he said. "You're basically ready to go except for the boat and a rope."
If you're the kind of person who wants to try something before buying it, don't worry, there are other options for you. For instance, Trophy Lakes, which has a two-lake course, offers lessons for $50. They typically last 25 minutes and include equipment rental. Then if you decide you like it, you can go back and buy your first board.
On the water
Though there are several area water sports businesses offering wakeboard lessons, Trophy Lakes is the only one with its own devoted playground. Located on Johns Island, this slightly off-the-beaten-path facility consists of two huge freshwater lakes. One is 275 feet wide, 2,250 feet long and 12 feet deep. The other is a tad shorter, but home to the venue's new wakeboard park.
"When you're on the water, you're the only one out there," DuBon said. "We don't allow other people to put their boats in, so it's like having your own private lake."
On the other hand, if you're more of an open-water person, Tidal Wave Water Sports and Folly Beach Watersports offer rides and instruction on the Intracoastal Waterway near the Isle of Palms and its surrounding barrier islands.
Anne Hardcastle of Tidal Wave Water Sports says that people who might be intimidated by the idea of wakeboarding shouldn't be.
"It's not as hard as you might think. I'd say there's a 98 percent chance that by the end of your lesson, we'll have you standing up. In fact, one time we had a kid whose parents told me, 'He's really unathletic, so you've probably got your hands full,' and we had him riding by the end of the lesson."
When it comes to learning all there is about wakeboarding, the best way to get your feet wet, so to speak, is to attend one of Trophy Lakes' WakeFests.
On Aug. 29, it will host WakeFest VI, a festival celebrating all things wakeboarding. The last two festivals drew upward of 300 people each, and DuBon expects this one to do the same.
"These things have been great," he said. "Honestly, we don't really make any money off of them. We do this strictly for the love of the sport."
However, what money they do make, DuBon says, is put back into Trophy Lakes' wakeboarding park to purchase new rails and slides.
If you make it out there, be sure to watch experts show off their skills or hop in the water yourself and give it a try.
According to DuBon, during WakeFest is the cheapest time to learn how to wakeboard. Just call at least a day ahead of time, and for $30 you can get out on the water and give it a shot. All you have to worry about is the prospect of wiping out in front of 300 strangers.
On the other hand, if you choose the safety of land, there will be plenty of food, drink and live music. Admission to the festival is free.
"It's just like a day at the lake without the worries of owning and trailering your own boat," DuBon said.
Reach Bryce Donovan at 937-5938 or email@example.com.
On the water
The first step in deciding if wakeboarding is the sport for you is to get out on the water and give it a try. Here are some places to start:
--Carolina Watersports at Trophy Lakes
3050 Marlin Road, Johns Island
For $50, you get instruction, all the equipment you need and about 20-25 minutes on the water.
--Tidal Wave Water Sports
69 41st Ave., Isle of Palms
For $300, you and as many as seven friends will be taken out on a boat complete with instruction and equipment for two hours. Quick math: For eight people, that's $37.50 per person and around 15 minutes on the water each.
--Folly Beach Watersports
Operates out of Isle of Palms Marina
The same deal ($300 for two hours), but trips are limited to six people. The price goes up per person, but on the bright side, that means more time on the water.