Minnesota natives flock to pro water event

The Professional Wakeboard Tour drew past and current U students to Island Lake to enjoy the tricks and learn from the world’s top wakeboarders.

by Nick Gerhardt

Former University student Nick Clausnitzer found his calling on the waters of Minnesota. It didn’t take long until he decided to follow his dream of becoming a professional wakeboarder.

Clausnitzer, a 2006 graduate who was active in the University water ski and wakeboard team, moved to Orlando to advance his riding skills and try to earn a place among the professionals.

“(Wakeboarding is) pretty underground, but all the Minnesota kids are heading down south to try to do something with it,” senior and vice president of the water ski and wakeboard team Dan Prody said.

But last weekend – with a splash of irony toward Clausnitzer’s travels – it was the professional wakeboarding scene that made its way up to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The Pro Wakeboard Tour came to Island Lake in Shoreview Saturday and Sunday for the second straight year to showcase some of the world’s best riders.

It is the third stop this season on the PWT circuit, and professional riders competed in heats Saturday in hopes of advancing to the head-to-head championship stage Sunday.

Phillip Soven took home the title after knocking off PWT point leader Rusty Malinoski.

The home state festivities were appreciated by those in the stands and even by some on the waters.

Keith Lidberg, a Coon Rapids native and five-year pro who rode in the homecoming event, personifies the dream for many Minnesotan kids as he followed his quest of becoming a pro wakeboarder.

Lidberg grew up water skiing and worked at a marina near his home before he became involved with the sport.

“I ended up getting together with a couple of guys I worked with and we started riding on Forest Lake after work,” Lidberg said. “That turned into a little more interest, and I really got into it back in 1998.”

Lidberg first came into prominence after winning the 2005 Pan American Wakeboarding Championships, but he said the path wasn’t always easy.

“My route is a lot different than other guys,” he said. “I couldn’t really afford to ride. It was a long few years before I started to actually make money at it, but perseverance took over getting me there.”

Lidberg said he encourages other riders to pursue the road to becoming a pro despite the hardships he faced.

He said he knows there are a lot of good riders in the upper Midwest, and they shouldn’t shy away from following their dreams to Florida.

Most professionals reside in the Orlando area. Clausnitzer and

former teammate Meghan Gruszynski realized in order to succeed in wakeboarding, a move was necessary.

She enrolled at the University of Central Florida and joined their wakeboard team.

“A lot of people think that their dreams are just going to happen,” Gruszynski said. “But you actually have to make it happen.”

Clausnitzer began training there and participated in the first stop of the 2007 Pro Wakeboard Tour in Acworth, Ga.

He failed to qualify for the tour, but continues to wait for his chance.

“It’s hard to make it without a sponsor,” Prody said of Clausnitzer. “He’s landing 900s (a two-and-a-half rotation jump) up here, but down there he’s just another rider.”

The University water ski and wakeboard team – where Claunitzer’s dream grew and Prody continues to take part – started six years ago and practices four times a week on Lake Owasso, Island Lake and Goose Lake. The team allows riders like Clausnitzer to improve their skills consistently.

During the PWT competition, the team played an active role that had nothing to do with riding the wake.

The team helped over the weekend by preparing the ropes for riders before they took to the waters and watched the pros pull tricks they might attempt to land in competition down the road.

And watching professionals might help this squad improve on an already impressive depth chart.

In 2005, they took first place in the Tommy Bartlet Extreme Championship for wakeboarding. This past year they went to the collegiate nationals and placed third.

That success along with Midwestern riders migrating to Florida to become professionals makes the Minnesota wakeboarding scene look vibrant.

“People aren’t aware that wakeboarding is on the up and up in the Midwest,” Prody said. “Midwest riders on the tour are definitely coming up in full force.”