Prior to our Murray River adventure - when we cruised upriver from Waikerie, SA, to the NSW/Vic boarder - if you’d told me you’d like to show me your ‘whirlybird 540’, I’d have expected you to wheel out your new helicopter. Such was my ignorance of the parlance of wakeboarding.
I was in the company of Bec Gange and Parker Siegele at the time, two young Australians literally flying high on the international wakeboarding stage. I would soon see them performing whirlybirds and many other startlingly complex tricks out on the river.
Bec and Parker, who are both supported by Club Marine, accompanied us for the early part of our Murray Trailer Trip and were both well-prepared for a couple of days of river boarding. Parker’s father, Joff, would be piloting a Malibu MXZ, while joining us at the helm of a very impressive Malibu 21 VLX was dealer principle of Adelaide’s Elite Ski Boats and Watersports, long-time Malibu dealer Stuart Myles. Not only was it a great opportunity to see two superstars of wakeboarding strutting their spectacular stuff behind a pair of state-of-the-art towsports boats, we also managed to spend a little time with Bec and Parker off the water. It was fascinating to learn what it takes to perform at the pointy end of a sport, which has a growing following in Australia and NZ, but which has enormous backing and following in the US.
Both are immensely accomplished professionals who each year spend six months in the US, competing in a hectic schedule of events based around the global epicentre of wakeboarding in Orlando, Florida.
Bec’s resume includes being eight-time Australian national womens champion, numerous state titles and the 2014 WWA World championship, the 2013 International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation World Cup, plus a gong from the World Wakeboard Association for being the first female to perform the aforementioned whirlybird.
She began competing in local events at around 13 years of age and now, at 27, is considered almost a veteran in a sport in which teenagers can be world-class professionals. Her practice regime includes hours in the gym when she’s in the US, as well as plenty of time on the water working on her routines.
Prize money for women’s competitions is nowhere near the scale of that for male ‘boarders, so she spends most of her time back in Australia between seasons, working to raise funds to return to the US.
While she is supported by Malibu via its Axis brand, as well as the Jetpilot brand of sportswear, her US winnings don’t match that for male ‘boarders, especially given how much travel is involved each season.
“If you make it into the finals and win an event, you can make up to US$3000, but it’s a tough circuit over there and you have to cover a lot of expenses,” she said. “So when the season is over, in around October, I come back to Australia and work to earn enough money to go back again in April.”
Based in her hometown of Mildura, Bec says she’s hoping that being a contestant on a new Channel Seven reality show later this year called Instant Hotel will help her profile locally and possibly lead to more opportunities to fund her career, both here and in the US.
“I’m very lucky to also have the support of my great family to help me,” she said.
Parker Siegele, 21, also says family support has been crucial during his competitive wakeboarding career. Father John ‘Joff’ Siegele, who is dealer principal of Barossa Nissan, in Nuriootpa, South Australia, has provided plenty of encouragement and help along the way, but when he’s in the US, Parker is on his own and has to rely on his performances on the water to keep his place amongst the pros.
From a relatively young age, he has amassed an impressive portfolio of achievements, including a host of national and state awards as well as being selected for the Australian national world titles team three times. This was followed by a host of Junior Men’s gongs in the US before he made the professional ranks in 2015.
Parker says despite being accomplished as a junior, stepping up into the pro ranks has been an eye-opener.
“It’s pretty tough – really intense actually – and I really knew I was in amongst the big boys. There’s definitely a lot more pressure at the events.”
And there are plenty of events to keep him busy during the US pro season, from April to October.
Supported by Malibu, O’Brien Watersports and Fox sports apparel, Parker competes in around 18 separate events each season, including the WWA series and the IWWF international events. A typical season can involve travelling to numerous international and US venues, and spending plenty of time in airports.
“We’re competing at least every second week end all over the country in America and last year we also went to Canada, Asia and Europe to compete.”
Apart from competing and practising between events, he says sponsorship obligations, including catalogue photoshoots and public appearances, also carve into personal time.
In comparison to the women’s tour, professional male wakeboarders can make a comfortable living at the top of the sport in the US, with first-prize cheques typically between US$10,000 and US$13,000.
For the past two seasons, he has finished in the top eight in the Pro Men’s rankings and hopes to improve on that this year.
Both Bec and Parker are now back in the US and we’ll keep you posted on their fortunes over the coming few months.
In the meantime, for some great footage and wakeboarding hints and tips, check them out on Club Marine TV via YouTube, on the Club Marine website or via the Club Marine App.