Wake wonder-woman

Jacinta Allan | VOLUME 29, ISSUE 6
Mildura's Bec Gange is flying high after winning the World Women's Wakeboarding Championship.
Mildura's Bec Gange is flying high after winning the World Women's Wakeboarding Championship.

Don't be fooled by her easy-going nature or the laid-back vibe of her chosen sport.

Australia's new wakeboarding world champion, 25-year-old Bec Gange, is a formidable competitor and a scrupulous perfectionist only now reaching the pinnacle of her career in a sport that is very much on the rise.

Colorful and descriptive terms such as 'Whirlybird', 'Invert', 'Tantrum' and 'Blind' may not yet be part of the everyday vernacular for most boat owners, but the articulate and charming Gange could be the talent that changes all that.

Part surfing, waterskiing and snowboarding, wakeboarding is undoubtedly the watersports phenomenon of the past decade. Once considered an obscure addition to the watersports family, this spectacular sport, together with its stunning custom-designed boats, is the fastest-growing watersport in the world.

Wakeboarding is fun, audacious and spectacular and, like many of its exponents, it was an adrenalin rush Gange fell in love with from the first time she tried it, as a 14-year-old.

Born to wake

"I guess you could say I was born to do watersports, because I come from Mildura, on the Murray River in north-west Victoria," Gange said. "As kids, my brother Tristan and I had other interests like basketball and horse riding, but when I was about 11 my dad and I pestered mum to get a boat. She was sure we would get sick of it after a year - but 14 years later I'm still going!"

Gange admits she initially had no interest in wakeboarding, a sport that, at that time, was still in its very early formative years in Australia.

"I'd never even seen wakeboarding until I was about 13, when Tristan wanted to do it. Even then, I still wasn't interested - I just wanted to ski," Gange said.

"So Tristan and his friends would wakeboard and I kept skiing behind Redback, our first boat. But when we got a new, bigger boat and we put more weight in it to make it better for wakeboarding, the big wake made it harder to ski.

"So then I started to wakeboard, learnt a few tricks - and fell in love with it.

"From that time, I had the dream that I wanted to be the best female wakeboarder in the world - and I've been chasing that ever since... still am!"

Gange's own interest in wakeboarding paralleled the sport's rise in Australia. Its growing popularity has now spawned a customised class of boat with specially designed hulls and additional weight. The aim is to create a large and high-quality wake that allows riders to maximise airtime and complete spectacular flips, spins, rolls and pivots.

And while the moves are part of just another day at the office for Gange now, it wasn't always so.

"When I first started, I just tried to learn some different jumps and 180s," she said. "Then I started trying inverts (moves that involve riding upside-down in the air)."

Years of tears

"I almost gave up on that a number of times. Landing my first invert literally took me years - I would have tried probably 200 times before I landed my first-ever one. Then I finally landed it - and loved wakeboarding even more.

Gange said there were relatively few wakeboarders in Mildura in her early days, and she began contesting South Australian competitions.

"It was a little bit of a slow start - I came third out of three at my first State titles!" she said.

"But the following year I won the SA State titles and competed at the Australian Nationals for the first time."

Altogether Gange has competed at the Australian Nationals 10 times and has won eight.

She said the early days of travelling hundreds of kilometres to contests - often unsuccessfully - were key events in her teenage years and ultimately shaped her philosophical approach to her sport.

"I always got so frustrated and angry because I wanted to ride well and do better. Mum just told me to stop if I'm not enjoying it. She told me she didn't care if I did it or not, but that I had to enjoy it.

"That's when it hit me that wakeboarding is for me, nobody else, and that's the way I've treated it ever since."

Going pro

After completing Year 12, Gange set her sights on a professional career in wakeboarding, despite the obvious difficulties in being a female competitor in an emerging and very expensive sport.

"The sport got much bigger much earlier in the United States, so I knew that was where I had to aim," she said.

"I'm lucky that I have always been really good at saving money. I have worked since I was 15 so everything I earned I saved. By the time I was 18 I had enough money to go overseas. For the first three years after finishing Year 12 I went to the US to work for their summer at the Wakeboard camps.

The lifestyle was fun, but Gange was bitten by the lure of a pro career. She returned to Australia, working at a surf store, bar-tending and coaching to raise the funds she needed to support herself for six months in the USA over summer to give her a shot at the Pro Tour.

Gange was thrilled with a third at the World Cup in 2012 after getting a wildcard entry into the event, but needless to say she was ecstatic to take first place in 2013 - in her first season on the Pro Tour. That season was also marked by Gange becoming the first and only female to land a whirlybird 540 (a backflip with a 540-degree rotation), winning her the Indmar Female Trick of the Year award.

The successes propelled her to further placings at international and American Pro Tour level. Her most memorable career moment came in October this year, winning the World Wakeboarding Association World Championship at Fort Lauderdale, in Florida.

"The title has motivated me to train harder and become even better. It was unbelievable to win - it's been my dream ever since I started and now I can tick that off my list."

Gange said the focus of being immersed on the Pro Tour for six months of the year in 2013 was critical in honing her skills, increasing her repertoire and building her confidence.

"The lifestyle in the States is totally different," she explained. "I basically live on my own in America so my main concentration is wakeboarding. That is pretty much all I do for six months. I wake up and go wakeboarding. Come home, cook a healthy lunch, then either go wakeboarding again or go to the gym. Then come home and cook a healthy dinner. Other days we might film or do photo shoots, but most of the time I am just training or competing."

One of Gange's longtime supporters and now a major sponsor, Josh Sanders, is not surprised by Gange's rise to success.
A former world champion himself and now head of Supra Boats Australia, Sanders said Gange was a standout because of her attitude and determination.

Passion to perform

"I remember running a clinic Bec was at about seven years ago. She was a young girl from Mildura, who hadn't had any formal coaching at all, and she was trying to do her first flip. She eventually landed it, and even though she was at the very early stages of development, you could tell she had the dedication, commitment and the passion that it takes to get to the top," Sanders said.

"I've seen plenty of kids who have the potential, but she was one who just had that extra drive.

Sanders said Gange was a sponsor's dream in both her approach and her approachability.

"She comes from that grassroots background all the way through. She is really good with other up-and-coming young girls and does a lot of clinics and teaching, helping other girls to improve.

"When she is at an event she always makes time to go and talk to the younger competitors and have a photograph with them or whatever."

Club Marine is another fan and sponsor that has come onboard recently to support Bec's world-beating campaign. South Australian State Manager, Mike Sinclair said it wasn't a hard decision to get behind the relative youngster.

"Bec is so committed and professional that we're honoured to be able to support her in such a great and exciting sport," he said.

"If it wasn't for companies like Club Marine getting behind me, it would be harder to compete at this level," said Gange.

Her achievements have made it easier for her to recruit sponsors, but the financial struggle of trying to maintain a sports career is constant.

Dollar wise

"Being a money saver definitely helps," she explained. "When you are aiming for something and you set yourself goals, your brain just naturally does everything in its power to achieve it. I have had this dream for so long that it's just second nature to me on how I prioritise my money," she said.

"It will always be a tough journey, but I think if it's not tough and you're not feeling under pressure, then you aren't pushing yourself enough.

"If it starts to become easy I think that means you're losing interest. You have to make sure you are the one who wants it most. But you also have to be patient, to always have fun and believe in yourself, no matter what anyone else says."

It's a mark of Gange's maturity and her love for her sport that she organised the inaugural South Australian vs Victoria State of Origin Titles in Mildura in November --- the first wakeboarding competition ever held in her home town.

"I really want to get Mildura behind wakeboarding and introduce new people to the sport," she said. "It is getting more popular; the river is getting more popular, but people don't know a lot about wakeboarding yet, and I'm hoping I can help it to grow, especially in my home town.

"Whatever happens with my own career, I hope to keep helping this sport grow into something much bigger."

Given all she has achieved to date, her ambition for her sport certainly seems on track.