At ten p.m. on Friday - while most are gearing up for a weekend of festivities or gearing down from a long week - Piper Harris was changing out of formal wear from attending a school event, swapping for boardshorts and a tee shirt, and crawling into the back seat of a rental car to commute nine hours north to Roxboro, North Carolina for the Rider Experience presented by Malibu Boats. The event is part of the World Wakeboarding Association's schedule of regional tour stops and an opportunity to qualify for nationals. After settling into the backseat after a bit of chatter, Piper was fast asleep on a pile of pillows. Her father drove through the night until the effects of Rockstar energy drink finally lingered sometime before sunrise. I took the start of second shift with a full bottle of chocolate milk across the lap, which later became a stronger funk than wet wakeboarding gear in the rear of the SUV… For those that know that smell, yes, it was that much worse by Sunday evening.
We grabbed a few beautiful sunrise photographs along some winding country backroads before finally stopping at a small greasy spoon diner a half hour out from Roxboro. Full bellies, bladders emptied, and faces washed, we piled back into the rental car and finished the trek to Lake Hyco arriving just in time for the rider meeting. The event was hosted on a small peninsula reaching out into the lake providing a beautiful backdrop of fertile tree-lined shores and crystal blue skies. Several private boats anchored on the far side to watch the competition from a floating vantage point. Despite not having an accurate speed dialed in for her run, Piper placed second in the Junior Women’s Division. Shortly after finishing her run with the competitive spirit satiated, she joined the ranks of other teenagers who diligently pursue this sport and got to act like a kid again running around and splashing in the water with her friends.
With the competition finalized and the awards ceremony complete, we ventured to Jibtopia Wake Park for some late afternoon antics on the System 2.0. Ten minutes after arriving, a squall came ripping through the country landscape blowing over trees with a complete whiteout of rain and some gnarly thunder and lightning. We took shelter beneath a large lanai awaiting the passing of the heavy gale and downpour. I found a weight bench on the backside and tossed a few reps with Wayne then grabbed my jumprope to endeavor some alternating step technique. Despite the hurricane equivalent storm not ten feet from us, everyone was fairly casual, hanging out and chatting or having some food… and then hot shards of wood came flying across the lanai simultaneously with a searing white flash of light. Everyone stood in shock with the 'deer in headlights' countenance while looking at one another. As I brushed a chunk of wood off my clavicle, I remember muttering, “I don’t think I want to jump rope any longer”.
Lightning had struck the tree not more than fifteen feet from the edge of the lanai and grounded on a nail driven through an old wakeboard used as decoration. The board was blown to pieces along with six vertical feet of bark shaved clean from the tree. This is the closest I have ever been to that calibre of lightning connecting with a ground - my neck and back felt the heat. Poor Piper was plugging her phone in at the same time and it scared her clean out of her chair. After everyone finally settled down and a mission to recover board fragments had been executed, we all shared a laugh at the intense experience. As quickly as the storm converged on Jibtopia, it dissipated and passed to the next county. Within minutes, we were geared up and enjoyed a few quick sets before dark.
The next morning, we visited Hexagon Wake Park to visit my old friend, Jon Bemis. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit, do so on your next trip through North Carolina. The water temperature was perfectly refreshing, the kickers and sliders are perfectly aligned and spaced, the cable operators are some of the most down-to-earth people, and the riders are just plain rad locals who love the sport - possibly the friendliest staff I have ever encountered at a cable park. We spent most of the day riding hard then explored a water park on the adjacent side of the lake. There are two Tarzan swings and plenty of opportunities for back flops (and flips) and good times. I truly wish more parks like Hexagon Cable Park existed here in the Orlando area. After a full day of play, we packed the car, said goodbye to new friends, and jumped on the interstate for the long commute home… after stopping at South of the Border for some good ‘ole fashioned, overpriced fun.