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Annual Wake Fest held at Cowpen Lake for the first time

The first Wake Fest was held in 2000 on the Univeristy of Florida’s private lake, Lake Wauburg in Micanopy.

Twenty-four years later, the wakeboarding and wake surfing competition is still going on, and this year for the first time, it took place at Cowpen Lake, east of Hawthorne. The new setting allowed competitors on Saturday to have more flexibility with the range of tricks they could perform.

The University of Florida Wakeboarding Club hosts it, and the annual competition invites everyone from beginners to professionals to ride and enjoy the festivities for which Wake Fest is known.

Students from UF, University of Central Florida, University of North Florida and Georgia College and State University were among the competitors this year riding behind a 2001 Super Air Nautique ski boat.

“Wake Fest is really just a chance to show off what you’ve been learning throughout the year,” said Kyle Watson, a 19-year-old freshman at UF studying aerospace engineering. “Everyone just gets to come out and do what they love.”

He said that he came across the wakeboarding club when he was applying for colleges and looking to see what he could get involved in.

“It gives people a chance to get out of their comfort zone and try things they haven’t tried before,” Watson said. “Not a lot of people have access to wakeboarding equipment or a boat, and we’re giving kids the chance to go out and learn new things.”

However, while the club has been around for over 20 years, it is just now getting back on its feet.

“This is the first year that we really have it up and running since COVID-19,” said Sofia Aguirre, a 22-year-old senior who serves as the secretary for the club.

Not only did the pandemic shut down all of the club’s operations, but the sport of wakeboarding is also just becoming popular again according to the competition’s boat captain, Josh Hallberg.

“Wakeboarding was huge in the ‘90s and it was very popular when I went to UF back in 2005,” said Hallberg. “Then it started to die because those people started to get older and there wasn’t a younger generation doing it.”

Hallberg explained how hard the sport is on your knees, especially when constantly going up in the air and landing on the wake.

“These guys love the sport and want to keep giving back,” said Watson. “Even after they graduate, they come back to help out.”

Chad Guernsey, a 21-year-old studying business management and marketing at the University of North Florida, is the president and the only member of their team who showed up to Wake Fest.

“What I love about the wakeboarding community is that they don’t care if you are good or not,” Guernsey said. “It makes me want to keep trying.”

He said that Wake Fest is a great opportunity for kids from all different colleges to come together and ride, and he feels lucky to be a part of it.

As a freshman, Watson hopes that the sport can continue to grow as more and more of the older members pass it on to him and younger generations.

“These guys are like a family,” he said. “I know I’m going to be friends with them forever.”

Katie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing
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