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13 Jul 2010

Wakeboarding! – Last Friday, after a particularly rough day at work, Hyunjin was feeling a bit stressed out. We had planned to go away for a few days when the semester ended, but weather and various scheduling difficulties made that impossible. So we decided to just go on a day trip somewhere. After doing some looking around on the internet, Hyunjin suggested that we try wakeboarding (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s like water skiing, except you use a board (like a snowboard) instead of skis). I was more interested in doing something a little less strenuous, but I had reason to acquiesce.

“...finally it happened: she got up out of the water and was wakeboarding.”

Four years ago, during one of our trips to the States, we spent a few days at Lake George in upstate New York (this trip is chronicled in the New York, 2006 gallery, and the first part of that gallery shows our Lake George trip). On one of those days, we went out water skiing. Brian and I had learned many years ago, when a camping neighbor at Lake George was kind enough to teach us. With our good neighbor’s instructions, I got up out of the water on my first try and never looked back. Brian had similar success, and after that we always tried to work in some water skiing whenever we went to Lake George.

Well, during our 2006 trip, Hyunjin wanted to learn how to water ski. Yet despite our best efforts to teach her, including me getting into the water to show her how it was done, she was unable to get up. She has been carrying around the memory of that day with her for the past four years, determined to one day succeed where she had once failed. Wakeboarding is supposed to be easier than water skiing, so I had to let her take her shot.

We had originally thought of going to a lake some distance away, but then we found the website of a place called Leisure Dreams, which operates on the Han River near Ttukseom Resort. I had seen people water skiing and wakeboarding on the river before, but I never thought I would be doing it myself. This is mainly because I’ve never really thought the Han River was all that clean as it ran through Seoul—I imagined it would be like water skiing on the East River. But when we arrived at Leisure Dreams and asked our instructor about it, he said that he was in the water every day and suffered no ill effects. I examined him closely and saw that he did not have any extra limbs, so I decided it should be safe enough for wakeboarding.

There were four of us in the team that was to go out, but one of our team members, a younger girl, showed up a little later (this was her fourth time, so she didn’t need to be around for the initial lessons). So it was just Hyunjin and me plus one guy for the dry lessons, which involved holding on to a handle attached to a nylon rope that was tied around a pole. Hyunjin went first, and the instructor complimented her on her form and told her that she would do great. When it was my turn, though, he spent quite a bit of time correcting my form, and I started getting a little anxious. I knew how to get up on water skis, and the principle was supposedly the same, so why was he spending so much time with me?

My fears were not alleviated when the instructor spent the same amount of time on the third member of our team as he did on Hyunjin. I hadn’t been especially nervous before arriving, as I figured I would quickly get the hang of things, but now I was nervous. When the fourth member of our team arrived, we went down to the docks, got into the nicest boat there (the other outfits had smaller speedboats that, while faster, didn’t look nearly as comfortable), and headed out onto the river. When we got out into the middle away from traffic, the girl strapped on the board and went over the side. She got up out of the water with ease and seemed to be doing pretty well, but when she tried to cross over the wake she took a spill. She eventually did manage to get over the wake, but I can’t remember if it was during her first session or her second session (we each went into the water twice, with time in between for recovery).

We let Hyunjin go next (ladies first, after all), and I was probably more nervous for her than I was for myself. On her first attempt she was nearly out of the water when she fell. I thought she would have it on her next attempt, but she only got more tired, and eventually decided to take a break. I told the guy that he could go next, hoping to put off my own run as long as possible. Like Hyunjin, he didn’t manage to get out of the water, and then it was my turn.

I strapped on the board (there are actually boots of a sort attached to the board that you slip your feet into) and went over the side into water that was colder than I expected. It also wasn’t nearly as dirty as I had expected. It did have a familiar bouquet that I associate with rivers in populated areas, but it was not entirely unpleasant. The boat drove away and then whipped back around to bring the rope within reach. When I had hold of the handle, I assumed the position: knees bent and spread out, arms straight with elbows touching the insides of my knees, and my chest out and shoulders back. I gave our instructor the thumbs up, and the boat started to move.

I had been told that wakeboarding was similar to water skiing, and I can understand why people say that, but I was struck by a few things. The first thing was how much more resistance there was, which makes sense, seeing as a wakeboard has a lot more surface area than a pair of skis (especially when you consider that only about two-thirds of the skis at most are in the water when you start), but I guess I wasn’t expecting that much pull. The second thing that struck me was, well, the water, although I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I did the striking. I managed to get halfway out of the water, but then the pull became too much and I fell forward.

I suppose getting up on water skis may be hard because you have two skis that may not want to stay aligned. So not only do you have to worry about maintaining your form, you have to make sure your skis don’t cross and send you face first into the water. I never had a problem with that, though, and getting out of the water on skis always happened very quickly. You have to be more patient on a wakeboard, though, and maintaining your form is very important. On my second attempt I managed to get up but soon found myself down again when I failed to turn the board properly. That’s another difference that took a while to get used to—with skis, going straight simply means pointing everything forward, but on a wakeboard your feet are pointing perpendicular to your forward motion.

I wiped out again on my third try, but I finally got the hang of things on my fourth attempt. I didn’t feel really stable, though, and it was a struggle not to fall down. After I did fall, my first session was up and the instructor told me that I needed to stand up straight—I had been bending over on the board, which is why I was unstable (and probably why my back was very sore the day after).

Hyunjin needed a little more time to recover, so the order for the second session went: the girl, the guy, Hyunjin, and me. I considered going third and letting Hyunjin have even more time to recover, but I chose to go last because I fully intended to tell the instructor to give Hyunjin my time if she failed to get up after a reasonable number of attempts. There was no way we were going home without correcting that injustice of four years ago. I watched with increasing anxiety as Hyunjin failed to get up out of the water time after time, and the instructor said, “OK, last time!” And finally it happened: she got up out of the water and was wakeboarding. Granted, she was only up for about a second before she fell, but she did it! (Oh, the guy managed to get out of the water on his last attempt as well. And I think if Hyunjin had failed again on her “last time,” our instructor would have kept going until she got it or gave up out of exhaustion. He seemed to be a very laid back guy and not too concerned about keeping to a schedule.)

Then it was time for my last session, and I was determined to make it over the wake. On my first attempt I did make it over the wake but immediately fell. On my next attempt I made it over the wake, stayed outside the wake for a while, and then cut back in to jump over the wake... and of course fell. I finally got the hang of it on my third attempt, and managed to go back and forth several times, even catching air at least one time, before falling again. My fourth and “last” attempt was a bit off, and I fell before I even made it outside the wake. When the boat pulled around, I thought the instructor was going to tell me to get in the boat, but instead he said, “What happened? One more time!” I was tired, and part of me wanted to get out of the water, but the greater part of me (this would be the part with the extremely competitive streak) wanted to give it one more shot.

That final run was a long one. I was up for at least ten minutes, and I did some tiny jumps over the wake. I spent a lot of the time inside the wake, though. For some reason, the water seemed a lot choppier, and it was all I could do at times just to make it over the waves inside the wake. The course of the boat was a bit odd, too. Every other time the instructor had driven straight, but this time he was weaving back and forth, almost as if he was trying to hit every wave on the river. The run finally ended when I went over one particularly big wave and got too much slack in the rope. From my experience with water skiing I knew what would happen if I tried to hold on when the line went taut again—I would be yanked forward with tremendous force and land face first in the water. So as the line went taut I just let go and sank gracefully into the river—like that was what I had meant to do.

After my run we returned to the docks. I asked the instructor about my form, and he gave me some pointers on getting more speed out of my turns (via sharper angles). He told me that we could work on that next time, and with that Hyunjin and I took our leave. We took quick (and cold) showers, got dressed, and decided to walk along the river a while before turning north and heading to Konkuk University Station, where we would have dinner before going home. On the way, I mentioned the erratic course on my last run, and Hyunjin said, “Yeah, the instructor kept saying, ‘He’s doing really well! Let’s see if he can handle this! Wow, I can’t believe he made that! How about this one?’” So it turns out that he really was trying to hit every wave on the river.

All in all, it was a fun day. I was very glad that Hyunjin managed to get out of the water, and I was also glad that I didn’t embarrass myself completely. I was worried that perhaps I was expecting too much out of myself, but my experience with water skiing did in fact make a big difference. Which isn’t to say that I’m some phenom on the wakeboard. I was never more than a beginner on water skis, and I’m certainly no better on a wakeboard. I know for a fact that my form could use a lot of work. My sense of balance makes up for some of my deficiencies in form, but I’d definitely like to get better, if only so that I’m not as sore next time.

Despite the fact that I am still pretty sore, I want to do this again, and I want to do it as soon as possible. Water skiing was always a once a year thing at best in the States, and after moving to Korea it became a once in a blue moon thing during our rare visits to the States. But with a place so close by, there’s really no reason not to do it more often. I’ll never be a pro, of course, but I think I could probably get good enough to do simple tricks, like maybe a simple grab. But I would be happy if I could just get to the point where I could get decent air without wiping out on landing.

First things first, though: recovery. The one downside to our day is that I was completely out of shape going into it, and we didn’t warm up at all. That may have worked ten years or fifteen years ago, but it doesn’t work for me now. Once the soreness goes away I’m going to start running again to get in shape, and I’ll try to work a good amount of stretching into my routine as well. The next time I go wakeboarding, it would be nice if I could actually move the next day.

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