Jeff Langley rides a wakeboard Wednesday at the SunWest mine in Aripeka during the Red Bull Wake Open. The competition continues Friday and Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center. More than 30 of the best wakeboarders in the world are competing in the event. ANDY JONES/STAFF
ARIPEKA - They travel around the world and have nicknames like "Bone Crusher," "Metal" and "JDizzle." And to a one, the professional wakeboarders who competed Wednesday in the first phase of the Red Bull Wake Open said the SunWest venue is second to none.
"SunWest is insane," said Steel Lafferty, a Florida native and 2011 rookie of the year. "The water's so blue - you can't get better conditions than this."
And the kicker: "A wake park here would be epic."
Some riders, like J.D. Webb, are familiar with SunWest. "I've come out here quite a bit," he said. "I've shot movies out here, so I'm comfortable with this location."
But even he didn't know about Pasco County's plans to build a cable park here. "That's great," he said. "Wake parks are growing all over the U.S. More people are riding than ever before because it's feasible to go to a cable park. You can ride all day for $30 or $40; it's less expensive than taking out a boat and having to fill it with gas."
The Wake Open, which continues Friday and Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center, isn't a part of the official pro tour, but it's the only event that combines all three wakeboarding disciplines: boat, cable park and big air. For the first time this year, Red Bull will crown an overall champion.
"This is a huge event for wakeboarding," said Danny Harf, a four-time X Games champion and considered the most innovative rider of all time. "It's cool to be invited to be on the roster."
More than 30 of the best wakeboarders in the world are competing in the three-day event. Highlights from the boat competition will air during the national broadcast of the finals Saturday at 4 p.m. on NBC. There's no competition today, but spectators can watch the riders train for the cable park and big air competition all day in downtown Tampa.
"This year it's bigger and better," Lafferty said. "The Tampa course is sick. It's an awesome place for fans to come."
Lafferty said fans will get an even more spectacular show this year because Red Bull is introducing a "ramp to ramp" jump for the first time in U.S. competition. Some riders have never even attempted a ramp-to-ramp trick before. "I'm excited to hit it, but also a little scared," he said.
Riders say the second ramp allows them to go twice as far as they would if they landed in the water. Harf compares it to snowboarding in the water. "You're going to get maximum hang time," he said.
Webb holds the record for the biggest ramp-to-ramp jump at 70 feet.