By Lisa Skubovius
In a sport with many ups and downs, local wakesurfer Caroline Villeneuve literally fell just short of becoming a world champion last month.
The thirty-year-old Elko resident rode her way to second place at the World Wake Surfing Championships at Lake Las Vegas in the Women’s Pro Skim division. As always, the two one-minute passes made by competitors held many surprises.
“My first pass was pretty good but I fell on a big trick at the end of the pass,” Villeneuve explained. “On my second pass, I fell on something I never fall on, my signature trick. It threw me off, so I just did two out of three of the big tricks I had planned after that.”
One of those tricks was one she had never before landed in competition, so although her passes weren’t perfect, Villeneuve was “very stoked” to end her longest competitive season ever by completing the ‘front-side shove it’.
Her main competitor from California also had two nail-biting passes, falling three times on her first, which meant that with even one more fall on her second pass, she would have been done. However, she managed to avoid another fall and remained in the competition which requires surfers to perform tricks on waves made by a boat, without being attached by a rope.
“We knew it was going to be tight with the judges, and we had to wait hours for the results,” the local wakesurfer described. “When they announced it, I was a little disappointed, but at the same time being second in the world is pretty good.”
It was Villeneuve’s third trip to the World Wake Surfing Championships, and her best-ever showing, netting her an $8,000 cash prize. With nine events this season held all over North America, the local athlete’s winnings will just cover the rather steep expenses of her six-month training and competitive season.
With an accident causing a groin injury only six days before the World Wake Surfing Championships, Villeneuve lost some precious training time and had to rally both physically and mentally just to compete.
“I was super nervous about riding,” she elaborated. “Two days before the competition, I tried to ride but after five minutes I had to stop because it was too painful.”
The wakesurfers invited to attend the World Championships still have to qualify once they arrive by placing in the top five after performing two passes the day before the big event. Villeneuve successfully strategized to take it as easy as possible on the qualifier runs while still doing enough tricks to advance.
“Once I got through that, the day of the championships was a different kind of stress,” she explained. “I wasn’t caring about my injury – I could deal with it later. Now the stress was about doing the best I could.”
Villeneuve also volunteers as a judge for other divisions of the sport, and when planning her passes, tries to see them from the eye of a judge. Nonetheless, even with a good plan, a wakesurfer never knows what will happen.
“There’s quite a lot of strategy behind it. You can’t have the exact routine every time because it’s always a different wave, and you can’t plan where you’ll fall,” she said. “You need a plan, but once you fall, you have to decide do you repeat that trick or do something else. It takes a lot of experience just to deal with different waves every time.”
Villeneuve, who also runs the H20 School for wake surfing on Lake Koocanusa, is already looking ahead to her next season.
“This year was the first time I felt I had the chance to become world champion,” she concluded. “Maybe next year my strategy will be to be more relaxed, don’t rush. You know you can do it, so you just keep working towards those perfect runs.”
Although it wasn’t the world championship, recently Villeneuve was elated to win an online wakesurfing video contest. Her top-prize video can be seen at http://mywake.tige.com/video/ufOQ3MHBSfY
Another local wakesurfer, Emily Agate, also competed at the World Wake Surfing Championships last month, winning the Outlaw Surf division, which is between the Amateur and Pro divisions.