14 Apr Celebrating Equal Pay, Part 2
All the glory and all the pain goes to greats like Dallas Friday. A real life wonder woman, she is considered the most decorated pro female wakeboarder in the world. Her amazing career has continued to span over the last two decades.
Throughout wakeboarding’s debut decade, as the fastest growing sport in America, the women’s category soared like a phoenix. From the time when Dana Preble competed in the first tour stops, through the 1994 season, where O’Brien signed me on to compete against the men in all the stops. At the end of the year, I placed tenth overall in the men’s Pro Tour standings.
By early May, the Nautique Callaway Masters also added a men’s wakeboarding division for the first time. They invited the top five men in the world and had a Master’s Qualifier at Jack Travers Ski School, where three lucky riders would take home a coveted invitation. Jack was my most beloved coach before I got into wakeboarding. He smiled at me from the dock and something greater took over… Placing third at the Masters Qualifier, and earning a spot to compete in the most prestigious contest the first time they added our sport, became the biggest win of my career while competing against the men.
In 1996, the XGames included Wakeboarding for the very first time. While it was nerve wrecking to share the stage and ride in between Shaun Murray and Parks Bonifay, the women in the crowd inspired me to do my best and to stand up. Since both events had a female competitor in the line up, they soon added a women’s wakeboarding division with equal cash prize.
Paul Singer and Lani Farmer from Malibu Boats, took a leap of faith and presented me with a brand new Wakesetter, another first for the girls. Malibu Boats has remained a big supporter for the women, sponsoring female riders and events since the early beginnings.
After that historic tour stop in Orlando in 1997, the Pro Tour finally added a separate division for the women with cash purse in all the remaining stops. That summer, the European scene got their own tour underway, sponsored by O’Neill and Swatch Watches. It was integrated into the World Cup the following year.
In 1998 the scene exploded. There were more than a dozen events with women’s cash purse in the US, including the Vans Triple Crown, Nautique Callaway Masters, XGames, Malibu US Open, and eight US Pro Tour stops. Tom James, legendary editor of Wakeboarding Magazine, got the World Cup to start “The Race for the Moomba Mobius” providing a boat to give away to the overall female winner at the end of the year.
During 1999, NBC inaugurated The Gravity Games and included women from the get go, with the largest purse to that date. The TV coverage provided worldwide recognition for the sport and in 2000 Condenast Women Sport and Fitness Magazine, honored me as one of the ten top athletes of the year.
Sitting next to Serena Williams, and chit-chatting with Mohammed Ali’s daughter Laila and US Soccer team captain Mia Hamn, brought to my awareness the reality that Women’s Wakeboarding was being recognized as a legit sport next to established giants like golf, tennis, soccer and basketball.
Women’s Wake was on the rise.
In the competitive arena, a fresh crew of young new faces continued to surface. Fifteen year old Maeghan Major won the World Championships on her rookie year, and along with Emily Copeland and newcomer Dallas Friday, gave established superstar Tara Hamilton (who was sponsored by Ford and Mountain Dew) a run for her money.
The IWWF started having gender inclusive contests worldwide, as the plight to become an olympic sport has been at the root of all their efforts. In 2001 there were more than 20 events with a women’s cash purse, and Cable Park Wakeboarding was introduced as a competitive sport.
In 2004, Mike Ferraro’s star student Dallas Friday won all the contests except for one (where she placed second). With the Vans Triple Crown, Nautique Masters, XGames and Gravity Games televised exposure, she received an ESPY from ESPN, as the Best Female Action Sports Athlete Of The Year. The highest accolade any rider in our sport (male or female) has ever had.
By 2005, NBC had cancelled the Gravity Games and in 2006 the XGames made the difficult decision to take out men and women’s wakeboarding from their line up, because of struggles to find an accurate venue.
Meanwhile, on the water, the excitement to watch the women compete was enticing. With a tight race between the girls who barely edged each other out. By 2006 Majors had won two world titles, Hamilton three, Copeland two and Dallas Friday was on a winning streak winning her third one. All of the riders represented the USA.
While the US Pro Tour cut the women out, independent contests like Wakestock responded, along with the birth of the Australian Wakeboarding Tour and the efforts of the IWWF that added three World Cup events in China, Qatar and Singapore offering a substantial women’s cash prize.
In 2007 Australian Amber Wing took the World Championship to her homeland. Beating out all the girls with an incredible performance that left the crowd in awe.
The following year, the “Queen of the Wake” series was added to the Pro Tour, with five cash prize tour stops. Monavie was the main sponsor in charge of getting the women back to the limelight. Once again the momentum caught on, with the addition of the World Games and the return of the Malibu Open.
At the 2008 World Wakeboard Championships a new world champion was crowned. South African born Nicola Butler who represented the U.K. stripped the tittle from Wing and Dallas Friday who was back on the water after recovering from a shattered femur.
2009 was a golden year for Dallas, who came back from her injury winning the Queen of the Wake and reclaimed the World Title at the end of the season. Nicola Butler won the next two World Championships in 2010 and 2011, that same year the Queen of the Wake announced that they would add three more stops to the series.
“The sport’s top pros will now have eight contests to accumulate as many points as possible in their quest for the Queen of Wake crown”.
And once again, the phoenix soared towards infinite possibilities.
To be continued…