Orlando, FL – It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday in April at the Orlando Watersports Complex as an energized group of volunteers prepared to start an event. The University of Florida’s wakeboarding club (along with a few other collegiate riders) joined forces with some of the top professionals in wakeboarding to help an Above the Wake event. Above the Wake is a non-profit organization located in Bay City, Michigan and is run by water sport enthusiast and avid wakeboard junkie Tom Hart. Above the Wake specializes in teaching children with autism different water sport activities. The activities they offer include wakeboarding, paddle boarding, knee boarding, and many other activities designed to educate special needs children on the joy of water sports. The motto for Above the Wake is “leave your fear at the dock” and on April 11, 2015 the only fear on anyone’s mind was “am I having too much fun?
The whole purpose of Above the Wake is to show children with autism that no matter what you think you cannot do, you can do it. The event itself was a reflection of the vibes that the wakeboard community around OWC promotes daily, and the men and women involved created a special atmosphere for these kids to learn. The event started at 8 a.m., which is two hours before OWC begins spinning their cables. However, for the first two hours of the event the Above the Wake crew had the park to themselves, which allowed the professional wakeboarders on hand to interact one on one with the kids and teach them how to ride cable. Megan Ethell, Jamie Lopina, Raimi Merritt, Taylor McCullough, and Shaun Murray were all eager to help the children understand the thrill of wakeboarding. At first, some of the children were timid and almost hesitant to enter the water. Shortly after the professional riders arrived and the children stepped onto their wakeboards there was nothing but smiles all day. Many of the athletes (including the collegiate volunteers) had never worked with children with autism so the experience was one like no other.
After a long morning of hardcore shredding and good vibes the kids took a break for lunch before cruising over to the boat lake for a few hours of paddle boarding. The paddle boarding event was very family friendly, and many of the children got to paddle alongside their parents, which created an awesome experience for everyone involved. “Fitting eight people on one paddleboard with everyone standing up was definitely a highlight for me,” said Gator Wake president Dixie Smith. The paddle boarding was just a taste of what the children were about to experience at the boat lake. Shaun Murray paid the kids a visit and strapped on his wakeboard to give the kids a taste of what awesome looks like. The Nautique G21 that OWC has on site was packed full of kids, parents, and spectators as well as a giant tube that put the kids right next to the action. “It was rewarding not only for me but also to see professional wakeboarders take time out of their schedule and share the sport with children with Autism,” said Robert Schwartz.
The boat set ended in good vibes, and Shaun returned to the dock to sign autographs, take photos, and bring smiles to the faces of every child he met. “The boat set ended in good vibes, it’s still such an amazing feeling even a couple of days after the event,” said Tom Hart, the Above the Wake Executive Director, “if you weren’t there you just don’t get it, I still get chills thinking about the event and replaying the event video.” The kids were so stoked about what they had just seen that they almost forgot about the raffle that had been going on all day. To raise money for Above the Wake there was a raffle table set up all day that included brand new wakeboards, bindings, t shirts, stickers, and anything else a wake junkie could dream of. The children were all given swag bags that included gifts from the event sponsors, and many of the kids won awesome prizes in the raffle.
Above the Wake and the volunteers that dedicated their time to the event did something incredible at OWC that day. “Watching children who never even knew about the sport of wakeboarding at the beginning of the day go from scared and frozen on the dock to taking laps around the park with some of the top pro riders in the sport with giant smiles on their face made all the work we did to put on this event worth it,” said Robert Schwartz, one of the event coordinators. On that beautiful Saturday in Orlando twenty lives were touched in a positive way by wakeboarding, and those twenty children lived the Above the Wake motto: leave your fear at the dock.
If you are interested in more information regarding Above the Wake you can find it at abovethewake.org or if you would like to contact them directly you can reach Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org