The Other Side: Raimi Merritt
To say the future of wakeboarding is in the hands of Raimi Merritt is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. But not by much.
The home-schooled sophomore out of Orlando, Fla., is an up-and-coming phenom in an up-and-coming sport. At age 16, she is a world champion who's redefining women's professional wakeboarding as the youngest and most daring rider on the International Water Ski Federation tour.
Merritt turned pro in 2007. In 2008, she won a pair of IWSF World Cup events -- one in Egypt and the other in Qatar -- and finished fifth in the Queen of Wake standings. Not simply satisfied with taking the sport by storm as a rookie, she spent the time between the 2008 and 2009 seasons working on her moves.
"I want to be as good as the guys,"Merritt says. "I know everyone will say, 'She can't be as good as them.' But I try and think positive and know that I can."
Merritt took a step toward her goal by spending much of the offseason perfecting a dangerous trick most female competitors won't even try. On her first attempt, she paid the price for her boldness. The second time she made history.
In March, Merritt became the first woman to complete a behind-the- boat S-Bend -- a twirling move in which her body flies parallel to the water in a Superman pose and her torso spins around 360 degrees. At first, Merritt overshot her landing and slammed into the water, ricocheting like a crash-test dummy. On her second try, she nailed the S-Bend.
"She is in full stride to take the top spot, and the other girls know it," says Merritt's coach, Mike Ferraro.
"She's coming up with these tricks that no other girl has ever tried."
According to Ferraro, wakeboarding is gigantic in Europe largely because of its presence on cable TV. It trails action sports like snowboarding and skateboarding in terms of popularity here in the United States, but it's quickly catching up. If Merritt continues pulling off tricks like the S-Bend, she could help give wakeboarding the kind of exposure it needs to grow even more.
"The future is bright," Ferraro says. "There's so much room for the girls to improve because there are so many tricks that haven't been done." Thanks to Merritt, that list keeps getting smaller.
360: Around the Other Side
Hawaii native Coco Ho, who will graduate from Elite Element Academy (Honolulu) in June, is the youngest surfer on the 2009 ASP Women's World Tour. She finished third at the season's first event, March's Roxy Pro Gold Coast.
Brian A. Giuffra covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.
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