Joel Poland wins the inaugural Swiss Pro Tricks

The Rise of the Trick Event, Water Skiing’s Best Kept Secret


And now, for our next trick… The rise of water skiing’s best kept secret

Joel Poland wins the inaugural Swiss Pro Tricks

Joel Poland often appears to be a one-man excitement machine (image: @johnwaldronimages)

By Jack Burden

Hardest, bestest, fastest, strongest – Announcer Tony Lightfoot may have found himself rifling through the thesaurus as he searched for more superlatives during Sunday’s exhilarating action. The second edition of the Swiss Pro Tricks marked the kickoff of the 2024 Waterski Pro Tour in spectacular fashion, showcasing the remarkable talent of elite trick skiers and leaving fans yearning for more. Could trick skiing be on the brink of a surge in popularity?

A survey of the most popular waterski athletes on social media certainly suggests so. Athletes like Joel Poland, Neilly Ross, and Nikolas Plytas routinely draw hundreds of thousands of views with their trick-based content, hinting at the potential for trick skiing to reach a wider audience.

Unlike distance jumping, where it can be difficult to appreciate the speed and scale on a phone screen, trick skiing thrives in the digital realm. Close-up angles captured from the boat provide viewers with an intimate look at the intricacies of high-level trick skiing, making it a captivating spectacle even through video streams. Sunday’s live action during the Swiss Pro Tricks event exemplified this, quickly becoming one of the most anticipated TWBC broadcasts of the season.

Advancements in technology, such as EyeTrick, utilized throughout the WWS Overall Tour, have further enhanced the viewer experience by providing close-to-real-time scores. This innovation has eliminated one of the biggest headaches in presenting competitive trick skiing to the public.

It seems that trick skiing may be on the cusp of a significant breakthrough, transitioning from a supporting role to a main attraction in the sport. With its fast-paced nature and compatibility with the streaming era, trick skiing is well-positioned to seize the spotlight. Tournament organizers are taking notice, recognizing the potential to elevate the sport’s profile.

Alongside the legacy ‘majors’, the US and Moomba Masters, there are three relative newcomer professional trick events in 2024, including the Swiss Pro Tricks, Monaco Slalom Cup, and BOTASKI ProAm.

Clint Stadlbaur, tournament director for the Swiss Pro Tricks, reflected on the genesis of the event, sharing, “We had this idea for about 3-4 years… The level of tricking is incredible, I think it’s very spectacular, very exciting.” Ultimately, his goal is to expand the exposure of the discipline. “I hope there will be many [events] to follow from us and other sites also.”

During a recent episode of the TWBC podcast, Stadlbaur spoke about how the trick event is often relegated to early morning or the back lake, stating, “We want to showcase this beautiful discipline… and have the trickers at the center of the event.” Recognizing the potential of trick skiing to captivate audiences, he added, “If you look at slalom, you see the top slalom skiers go through 13, 12, 11 [meters]; it’s a bit repetitive. Trick skiing [is] very dynamic from the get go.”

Similary, Gregoire Desfond, who organizes the Monaco Slalom Cup alongside Alexis Keusseoglou, sees adding tricks to the event for its second edition in 2024 as “a logical path to step up the quality of the show.” Since launching Waterski Nation in 2017, he has dreamed of creating a professional event. After a successful first year in 2023, they are excited to expand the event to include trick skiing.

The event is a fitting homecoming for trick skiing, which has been dominated by France for much of recent decades. The tournament, hosted just outside Monaco in the south of France, is the first professional trick event on the French mainland since 2005. Desfond sees the platform provided by the Waterski Pro Tour as a major factor in the willingness of sponsors to support professional events. The news that they were adding tricks in 2024 was well received by the event sponsors.

Ricardo Botas, organizer of the BOTASKI ProAm, has ambitions to bring a 3-event pro tournament to Spain. While adding professional jumping remains a challenge, 2024 will be the third consecutive year that tricks will be featured alongside slalom at the event. In 2023 the action was intense, with Patricio Font equaling the world record of 12,690 on his way to the title.

Credit is due also to Nautique, who are currently the only boat manufacturer offering meaningful support to trick events, sponsoring four out of five events in 2024. Brian Sullivan, Nautique’s VP of Marketing, shared after the first edition of tricks at the BOTASKI ProAm: “we want to keep doing bigger and better events, we want to keep growing the sport, at Nautique that’s one of our main goals.”

For now, the prize purses for these new trick events are relatively small. The combined purse from Swiss, Monaco, and BOTASKI for the trick event is less than some individual tournament prize purses for slalom this year. But it is a great starting point for showcasing trick skiing on the elite stage. The top trickers are hungry for more exposure and chances to compete, as evidenced by the 2023 Malibu Open, which attracted five 11,000 point trickers despite offering only a nominal $3,000 prize pool. This added another layer of excitement to the tournament, culminating in Poland setting a new world overall record.

The International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) is also working to establish new platforms for showcasing elite trick skiing. IWWF president, José Antonio Priego Perez, recently shared at the European Congress that two potential World Cup stops are in the works, which would include trick skiing alongside slalom and jump. Historically, the IWWF World Cup series throughout the 2000s was the golden age for professional trick skiing, offering the highest prize purses in the history of the sport.

Overall, these developments highlight numerous positive signs for the event, potentially signaling an end to water skiing’s best-kept secret. Trick skiing’s resurgence on the professional stage holds the promise of an exciting future for the sport and its dedicated athletes.

Ultimately, Desfond sums up the sentiment of many tournament organizers when he speaks to the endeavor as a labor of love, adding “it’s a guilty pleasure to bring [the best trickers] to our event. I cannot wait to see them fight for the title.”

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