Shaffer: Benson stoked by high-flying wakeboard park

Hexagon Wake Park at Tucker Lake brings fun of pro sport

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJuly 22, 2012 

— For his biggest trick, Taylor Ewing glides up a ramp, jumps 10 feet high, flips upside-down and grabs the tip of a his wakeboard – a hotshot maneuver known as the hoochie glide.

He’s getting towed along by an overhead cable, skimming over Tucker Lake at 20 mph, pulling off jumps and catching huge air, wowing his dreadlocked, suntanned chums.

But catastrophe strikes midway through his acrobatics, and poor Taylor drops face-first into the water – a move known as biting it, burning the toast or Biggie Fries.

He swims to shore, grins sheepishly and explains, “Today was a train wreck. But it’s addictive.”

Benson, best-known for Mule Days, just got about six notches cooler.

Normally, when you see somebody attempting a feat by holding on to a rope and getting tugged behind an engine, you’re looking at the preview for a redneck funeral. Hey, y’all. Watch this.

But the new Hexagon Wake Park at Tucker Lake draws a professional class of thrill-seeker. Ewing, for example, was wakeboarding at a national-title level until a shelf collapsed and fell on him at Lowe’s – an injury that still hampers his performance.

“The best moment for me ever was catching a double flip,” says the 28-year-old from Virginia Beach. “I’ve only done it twice in my life. That takes precedence over a national title.”

Hexagon opened only last week, one of roughly a dozen of its kind nationwide.

To ride it requires a slab of Fiberglas-coated foam roughly the size of a dorm-room ironing board, a helmet, a vest and pair of hands capable of forming a white-knuckle death grip. All of this can be rented, minus the hands, and an all-day pass can be bought for $45.

Serious wakeboarders appreciate the cable parks because riding behind a boat costs much more, especially when you count gas. The cable carries you over a circuit the size of a football field, and once you fall off, you just swim to shore and grab a new rope.

“It’s got to be one of the most fun thing you can do,” says Adam Fields, 31, who teaches wakeboarding classes at Lake Gaston. “Who doesn’t like being in the sun in a bathing suit, being able to jump in the water with girls in bikinis?”

Tucker Lake, a curious manmade pool sitting off Interstate 40, now cultivates a snowboarder vibe, attracting patrons who punctuate sentences with “dude,” and for whom the word “sick” is a compliment. It’s a contemplative sport, where maximized adrenaline mixes with deep musing.

Fields takes a stab at explaining wakeboarding’s allure:

“You know how when you finish cutting your grass and you say, ‘Wow, I’m glad that’s done,’ but then you look at what you accomplished and think, ‘Wow, it looks great?’ It’s even better than that.”

On Friday, the fledgling sport had no greater ambassador than Cary dad Brent Kappler, father to a pair of 11 and 14-year-old devotees.

Mitch, now 11, started wakeboarding at 3 – the same age Mozart took up the piano.

“What would you say your best move is,” asks amped-up Dad, “a whirlybird or a Tootsie roll?”

“I dunno...”

“Probably a whirlybird,” Dad finishes, “which is an overhead 360.”

In a stable somewhere, the mules of Benson are nervously chewing their hay, feeling less cool by the moment.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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