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Making a splash
Aaron Witherell and his brother Grant have a jam-packed summer, spinning and splashing their way across the nation's lakes on rail-thin boards and taking on the best athletes in their sport.
It's a good time to surf; after all, come fall, the Witherell boys have homework to do.
Aaron, 16, and Grant, 13, are making names for themselves on the national wake surfing circuit. Despite living far from regular tour stops, the pair have had success early on. In 2010, Aaron started participating in wake surfing contests and wound up taking the Northwest Wake Surfing Association juniors title, with Sequim's Jack McColl in second and Ted McColl in third.
A year later, Aaron took home the men’s amateur skim division title at the Centurion World Wake Surfing Championship.
This year, at the USA Wake Surf National Championship in Ocklawaha, Fla., which ended July 1, Aaron finished fifth in the pro men's skim division while Grant won the amateur men's skim crown.
For Aaron, it all started when his uncle bought him a board to surf on when he was about 13.
"I've always been into board sports — surf, snowboard, wakeboard," Aaron says. "It was something that came naturally."
When school lets out in June, he and the family transition into summer watersports mode with a place on Lake Sutherland. There, atop glassy, placid lake water, the Witherells hone their skills.
"It's pretty much every day," Aaron says.
Wake surfers share some methods with their wakeboarding and waterskiing brethren in that they use a tow line to get on top of the water, but soon after drop the rope and surf the boat's wake.
Wake surf boards somewhat mimic a surfboard used on ocean shores, but are generally shorter, more buoyant and made of different materials. Though wake surf boards feature three fins (or four on some models) on the underside like a standard surfboard, the smaller, lighter make allows for quick movements and more tricks.
A variation is the wake surf skim board, a thinner board that usually features one small fin underneath and is made for tricks such as spins and airs.
Aaron says rides at the wake surfing nationals were relatively short, going two minutes in a down-and-back course. Between start and finish, riders are judged on trick difficulty and progression, style, power and how much of the wake they use.
At big competitions such as nationals, riders are judged for a series of rides, accumulating points as they go.
Since there are few competitions in Washington — just one on the national tour, Aaron says, coming up in Monroe, July 27-29 — the brothers travel long distances to ply their skills. Competitions are often hosted in warm-water venues in Florida and Texas, with the world competition in Arizona.
Aaron says he's trying to get to the top of the pro skim division after success at the amateur levels and he's looking to improve his skills on the wake surf boards, too.
"Right now I'm not at the top of my level," he says.
Grant is showing some of the same success Aaron did at a young age.
"It was just something that he (Grant) started doing; he's doing great," Aaron says.
The two ride for sponsor XXX Surf and Skim.
"It's pretty cool to have him for a teammate," Aaron says.
Aaron also is sponsored by Vitalire Northwest Apparel.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.