Photos: Hamish Bourke @Hamishbourke
Stop One: New Zealand
“The last person I brought to this spot blew out his knee on his first try,” Hamish Bourke, our filmer, says to me with a grin. “It took us a long time to haul him out of the lower pool and up that damn wall. It was a sh*t fight.”
I’m staring at a massive 12-foot dam drop in a hidden creek off the side of the road, somewhere outside of Auckland. It’s the first day of our winch journey through New Zealand – a voyage that will take us all the way from Auckland to Queenstown. I’m in a foreign country, attempting sketchy new winch spots, and I’ve been dropped straight into the deep end. It might sound crazy, but that’s exactly what I wanted.
I’ve spent the past five years of my life traveling from wake event to wake event, nine months a year, usually to the same familiar wakeparks. The same spots. Over and over. Non-stop. I needed 2017 to be something different. Something more. I wanted to visit new countries, places where rumours of a crazy winch spot were whispered from rider to rider, where features were found – not built. I wanted to find new places to ride… away from the wakepark. I wanted more. I wanted to explore.
I’ve always been fascinated by islands. There’s so much water, so many bays and rivers, estuaries and inlets and dams, opportunities for new wake spots. I first thought about New Zealand after seeing an edit of a few crazy underground winch spots. They didn’t say exactly where they were, but it was clear they were in NZ.
Then I saw Mick Fanning’s “Irish Crossroads” edit, and got pumped on the idea of flying to Dublin. Ireland is a country I had never visited, but being so close to the U.K. (which is normally my European base in the summer season) it made sense to search around the corner.
And so it was settled. Two islands. One in the Northern Hemisphere, one in the Southern Hemisphere. Kind of like my life, growing up between Thailand and England.
Now I’m here, staring at this vertical dam drop that is just screaming how badly it wants to buckle my knees.
So the battle begins. I have to swim assisted against the current at the top of the waterfall, because there is no other way to have a straight pull with the winch line. As I jump, the rope catches on top of a nearby tree branch – I’m mid-air, and it doesn’t release until I hit the water. That means zero tension from the winch pulling me, which makes the impact from the drop just that much heavier.
Eight attempts and a whole lot of mishaps later, we’ve finally bagged a clip worthy enough for this devilish spot. I was really lucky that my knees held up. Otherwise I don’t know how they would have fished me out of that pool, so far below.
All around, New Zealand is stunning. It’s so full of crazy scenery, and the best road trip country I have ever seen. Mountains pop up out of nowhere, and the transitions between are ridiculous. I feel that every natural feature in this land is just begging to be ridden. I mean, yesterday I got pulled behind a 4×4 truck on the beach – it was a new experience for me, and something that is so easy to set up. I want to ride this way whenever I have the chance. If only we had endless open beaches and waterways like these at home in Bangkok!
We spend most of the trip finding hidden little features in mangroves. Nice ledges to slide and a 12-foot heavy impact drop for breakfast… it’s perfect. A lot of the spots have super easy setups – at one particular spot the winch sat on a bench perfectly, and I walked the rope all the way back until I needed to get ready and go. To top it off we also found a really nice skatepark. It’s amazing how many communal city skateparks there are in New Zealand. Driving past abandoned quarries, streams and salmon farms, there is so much potential everywhere. We just have to execute it. It’s all there for the taking. It’s like this land was created by a wakeboarder. New Zealand stole my heart.
Stop Two: Dublin, Ireland
As our flight is descending, Ireland looks stunning. The land is so green and the sun is popping. I’m fresh off a chain of wakeboarding competitions, and I’m ready for adventure. It’s my first time in this storied country, and all I can think of is Guinness, potatoes and leprechauns.
I hopped on my flight to Dublin via London to meet up with upcoming British wakeskater James “Mini” Harrington. We meet our local guide Ron at the airport, load the bags into the cars, and head off to where we will be staying for the next couple of days. On our drive we cross a bridge with symmetrical concrete ledges. Within 20 minutes of being in Ireland, we’ve already found a winch spot. Nothing crazy, but an unreal way to get the trip started. Never has finding a winch spot been so easy and so fast. Ireland is already proving to be holding wakeboarding leprechauns with pots of gold.
My eyes are puffy in the early morning, but we’re powering through, staring at Google Maps looking for any dam, weir, ditch or puddle we can find in this rainy country. Ron tells us about this big dock he knows of in the city center. As we arrive to the spot, it’s literally bang in the middle of downtown, surrounded by towering office buildings, rushing traffic and lots of people on their morning walk to work. It’s like finding a winch spot in the middle of Times Square.
Right away we know this will be a hard operation to pull off. It’s way too high profile, and surely there is police or security that will stop us from shredding. Ron points out a large crowd of people setting up what looks to be a rowing event in the waterway, so we come up with the brilliant idea of pretending like we are working for the rowing event. So far we’ve had the luck of the Irish on our side… so how could our plan not work?
I hide in the corner of the street trying to put my Flash Bomb wetsuit on as Ron and Mini get the winch out of the car and put it in place. Ron covers the area with caution tape to make it look official. Everything seems to be going according to plan as I run out with my board, streaking past the morning office workers in suits, commuters looking at me curiously. I keep looking straight ahead… after all, I’m going to work too.
I put my bindings on and am about to give Ron the thumbs up when, in the distance, I see security officer coming our way. I shout to Ron, hoping he can start the engine of the winch and get this show rolling before we get denied. But it’s too late. The security guard is running and shouting, and we’re busted. We try negotiating but the guy’s not budging, and when he radios in for backup, we decide to leave and not push our luck. We pack up our gear and head out in search for the next location.
In Ireland, castles are everywhere, every which way the eye can see. Lucky for us, many of these castles have moats… moats that happen to be perfect for winching. During our drive around the country we scout for the perfect one, and finally, find it. It has a huge drop and is set in what feels like the middle of Game of Thrones. As we start setting up a crowd gathers, onlookers wondering why someone is swimming around in a moat with a rope and wetsuit on. Little do they know, I’m about to be pulled up out of the water and fly down the massive drop in front of them. I can’t help but think how moments like these are so important… how publicity and interest like this can help the sport of wakeskating grow. Instead of trying to attract a crowd to a wakepark event, we are bringing the show directly to the people in their own backyard.
It’s now our last day and we have unfinished business. We’re returning to the downtown pot of gold that we were denied at earlier in the trip. The spot is so perfect, we just have to go back and give it another try. Up to this point, all we’ve hit is drops and up-ramps. We are hungry for a big ledge. So we plan it out, and we know we’ll have to be quick. I’m already putting my wetsuit on in the back of the van as Ron gets the winch ready, and Mini mans the camera. I literally get the rope and run. “This is going to be a one hit wonder,” I tell myself. “One and done.”
Sure enough, we nail the shot within 15 minutes of parking our car in downtown traffic. What a way to end the trip. Success like this is one of the best feelings in my job. To celebrate, we find a local eatery and treat ourselves to a full Irish breakfast… a round of Guinness and all. We raise our glasses and toast to this beautiful country, and everyone who makes it up.
“To Ireland! Where wakeskating is not a crime!”