If you drive past Moonshine Beach near the Table Rock Lake Dam this weekend and think you're seeing some great skiers in action, what you're actually seeing is some of the world's best wakeboarders appearing as part of the Mastercraft Pro Wakeboard Tour, making its first-ever appearance in Branson.It's an extreme sport that combines waterskiing with snowboarding and surfing techniques as competitors fly through the air doing amazing stunts and perform tricks along several pieces of floating rails...all this while judges look on.
The 40 men and 15 women who make up the Pro Wakeboard Tour are competing for $26,000 in prize money this weekend in Branson, which is the third of eight stops on the tour that concludes in August with national and world championships.
"It's not just a little different, it's a lot different for Branson," said Ross Summers, the president of the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce about the first-time event. "It's brings in a brand new crowd, a very young crowd. And these are the best in the world at what they do."
Wakeboards are somewhat like snowboards and the competitors strack themselves into boots attached to a fiberglass board and take off on a wild ride full of adrenaline and athleticism.
19 year-old Raimi Merritt of Orlando, Florida is a six-time World Champion who was raised in a waterskiing family, including a father who was a national champion as a barefoot skier. But Raimi got hooked on wakeboarding at age 10, and with the sport's tricks offering a high-risk of injury (Raimi has dislocated her kneecap and tore a bicep), she practices on land using a trampoline.
"You can just hook a ski rope to a tree," Merritt explains, "and then just jump on the trampoline with that rope and visualize what trick you need to do and where you're gonna place the handle. Being able to practice on the trampoline is a lot easier than being on the water because you don't have to take as many hard crashes."
While the sport is big in Europe, it still trails in popularity in the U.S. to snowboarding and skateboarding. But as Raimi will tell you, it is a great way to make a living.
"You see all these people who have to work 8 to 5. Then they ask me what I do for a living and then you realize you're on a boat all day in the sun having fun in the water. It's crazy how much of a good life you have."