Meet The Trick Skiers on the Verge of 13,000 Points

Meet The Trick Skiers on the Verge of 13,000 Points


Meet The Trick Skiers on the Verge of 13,000 Points

Meet The Trick Skiers on the Verge of 13,000 Points

After years of stagnation, men’s tricks has become the fastest evolving discipline in the sport.

By Jack Burden

The year is 2011. Barack Obama is in his first term as US President, LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” is at the top of the charts, and the iPhone has just become the most popular smartphone in the world. In the world of tournament water skiing, the brand new Nautique 200 is in its second year of production, and a 31-year-old Belarusian is challenging one of the longest-held records in the sport.

On the same day that Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot, Aliaksei “Ace” Zharnasek tricked 12,570 points at a record tournament at Lake Hancock in Florida, breaking Nicolas Le Forestier’s decade-long hold on the men’s trick record.

Until 18 months ago, Zharnasek’s mark seemed unassailable. The only skier to come close was Ace himself, who, during one remarkable period, set five pending records from 2015 to 2017. However, each application was rejected by the IWWF after review, where every trick record is subject to immense scrutiny.

Fast forward to 2022. At 42, Zharnasek, now an all time great, has faded into retirement, and the new kid on the block is young Patricio Font from Mexico. On the eve of Halloween, Font eked out an extra 20 points to break the longest-standing open record in the sport, which had stood for 11.5 years.

Since then, it has been as if the floodgates have opened. Font has started to consistently score in the high 12,000s, and a new generation of trick skiers is starting to push up toward 13,000 points. How has the most stagnant event in water skiing, with only a single record broken from 2005 to 2022, suddenly become one of the most competitive and fastest-evolving fields in the sport? To find out, we spoke to skiers at the forefront of this evolution.

Abelson Sets Pending World Tricks Record At Masters Qualifier

Image: @tiaremirandaphotography

Jake Abelson

  • Age: 16
  • Personal Best: 12,970
  • Personal Best Two Years Ago: 11,720

With a water ski pedigree that includes two elite-level skiers as parents and none other than Patricio Font as his cousin, this American-Canadian-Mexican teenager has had a stratospheric rise through the first half of 2024. He broke 12,000 points for the first time to clinch a runner-up finish at the Swiss Pro Tricks and followed that up with two world record-setting performances over the next month.

Abelson draws inspiration from a variety of sources: the speed and efficiency of Font’s hand pass, the boundary-pushing tricks of Joel Poland, and the blistering pace of Matias Gonzalez and Martin Labra’s toe tricking, to name a few. Far from occurring overnight, the sudden rise in trick scores is the product of “the collective knowledge” of generations of skiers and coaches who have laid the blueprint.

With other skiers demonstrating what is possible, the process becomes relatively straightforward. “At a high level, more speed is required to add another trick or upgrade an existing one,” shared Abelson. For him, this has meant “learning to perform my runs at a higher pace without losing composure, as well as building the endurance necessary to trick at a high level for the entire 20 seconds.” On his signature wake-seven-front, “I spent the winter practicing and repeating” to fit that trick in time.

Matias Gonzalez competes at the 2023 Pan American Games

Image: @mati.waterski

Matias Gonzalez

  • Age: 16
  • Personal Best: 12,860
  • Personal Best Two Years Ago: 11,000

Perhaps no skier moves faster on a trick ski than the young Chilean, the current Under-17 World Champion and winner of the 2024 Swiss Pro Tricks. Gonzalez’s toe run plays out like a sped up tape, and now with a whole host of ski line tricks added to his repertoire over the winter he is ready to challenge the best of the best.

“To consistently trick over 12k, the most important thing for me was to focus on speed,” shared Gonzalez. He too is following in the footsteps of those who paved the way before him, learning from past legends such as Cory Pickos and more recent stars like Patricio Font. “Pato showed that 11 tricks on hands were possible, that set the new standard for everyone coming up.”

Trick action at the 2023 IWWF world waterski championships

Image: @johnnyhayward_photo

Patricio Font

  • Age: 22
  • Personal Best: 12,770
  • Personal Best Two Years Ago: 12,220

The two-time world champion and former world record holder’s résumé would be impressive for any skier, doubly so for one so young. Patricio Font has been the standard bearer for this new generation of trick skiers, breaking a slew of records on his way up through the junior ranks.

Speaking on how trick skiing has evolved even during his tenure at the top of the sport, Font attributed recent gains to everyone pushing the field higher and higher. He shared on the TWBC podcast, “I think now trick skiing has changed so that to win, you kind of have to do the world record or come close to it because you’ve got everyone chasing behind you.”

Tremendo torneo + tremenda experiencia!

Image: @nicoaguilera22

Martin “Tincho” Labra

  • Age: 18
  • Personal Best: 12,590
  • Personal Best Two Years Ago: 11,710

The Chilean three-event phenom has forged a different path to the top of the tricking world, earning comparatively more points through toe tricks than many of his contemporaries. With innovations like the ‘reverse’ toe-wake-five-back and his metronomic efficiency and speed, Labra is now the highest scoring toe tricker in living memory. Fresh off his victory at the 2024 US Masters, the most decorated skier in the history of the Under-17 Worlds is ready to make his presence felt on the professional circuit.

“In my case, what helped me a lot was being with Mati [Gonzalez] since we were like 4 and 2,” shared Labra, who credits close competition with other rising stars in the sport for the dramatic rise in trick scores. “I think we helped each other to be better… we started pushing ourselves to a better level.” Labra emphasized that this is not solely about competition, but also about camaraderie and friendship. “Starting to know each other and be close to each other helped in a good way to improve the scores in tricking”

@world.water.skiers Florida Cup

Image: @johnnyhayward_photo

Louis Duplan-Fribourg

  • Age: 24
  • Personal Best: 12,510
  • Personal Best Two Years Ago: 12,280

While the proliferation of Latin American trick skiers among the elite ranks is undoubtedly one of the key storylines of the past few years, one skier is working hard to maintain France’s historical dominance in the event. The current world overall champion, Duplan-Fribourg, is perhaps the most well-rounded of the new generation of trick skiers. Capable of both a hand run over 7,000 points and a toe run at 5,500, there doesn’t appear to be any weaknesses in the Frenchman’s routine.

“New trick combinations [are the key] for me,” shared Duplan-Fribourg. This includes both following successful trends, such as the now-ubiquitous mobe-mobe-half jack sequence, and thinking outside the box, like adopting the unconventional “French” run, which seamlessly intersperses big-ticket ski line tricks with a front flip in the middle. Ultimately, it is all about finding sequences that work for you. His other key: speed in toes. For Louis, that is what makes or breaks a 12k trick run.