Wake Up to Wakejam
Travelling to Wakejam, Sinead McNicholl meets NI's young star Paul Johnston
Wakeboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in NI with Lough Erne hosting the annual Wakejam. Sixteen-year-old Paul Johnston is one of NI's up-and-coming boarders.
How did you get into wakeboarding?
'I happened to see some people wakeboarding out on the water and myself and my brother thought it looked like really good fun, so I got some lessons and took it from there. My brother went to a competition, I wasn’t big into it but I saw the guys doing flips and spins and just wanted to be out there doing that as well. This is now my fourth year in the sport and I have spent the past three years competing. I guess I started off lucky as I was training with some of Northern Ireland’s top riders, who really pushed me to improve. Now I’ve caught up with them and am pushing them so we're all getting better.'
How much training do you do?
'When I’m at school I train every weekend. On the school breaks and over the summer I’m in Enniskillen constantly. I’m basically out on the water every day. I’m always practicing. Where injuries are concerned, thankfully I've not received any major ones - touch wood. I’ve had a few concussions but haven’t broken anything. I have had a few friends who've knocked themselves out on the water, but that's the worst of it.'
Where has your sport taken you?
'I’m just back from Florida. I was at the Wakeboard camp with three friends. It was brilliant and we were riding three times a day in warm water which was a change. I'm planning to go to France and Spain for other competitions including the European Championships.'
How did you feel competing alongside the adult professionals in this competition?
'This is definitely the best event I've been to this year. You’ve got the castle in the background and there's a huge crowd to cheer you on. It’s fantastic when you're riding and you can hear the crowd cheering, it’s such a boost and it makes you want to do even bigger tricks. To perform on home soil is great because you know everyone and when you get out of the water you get congratulated on your run. Sometimes when you don’t know anyone in the crowd your head can go down and you would not be as confident as you should be, so it really helps to perform at home. It’s great promotion also to have an event like this. Wakeboarding is the fastest growing sport I’ve seen in quite a while. Since the first wakeboard competition here the amount of wakeboard boats and the number of people wakeboarding has just exploded, it’s just awesome.'
Were you nervous coming into the event?
'Yeah, definitely. When I arrived I thought 'these guys are international professionals and I won’t stand a chance'. I came out for the practice runs and some of the guys were trying these really big tricks but falling, so I thought I had a chance. Also some guys had bad runs today so I’m feeling better about my own boarding and more confident in the competition.'
What tricks did you perform?
'I didn’t put in too many spins because I like to go a lot bigger. The spins tend to take much more technicality so you have to concentrate a lot more, but I’ve done some flips with spins in them and performed some switches with my opposite foot forward and things like that. One of the tricks I did is called a raley, which is where you lay yourself out like Superman with your arms extended and the board out behind you. I love those because they look so good.'
If someone wanted to begin wakeboarding what would your advice be?
'The first thing would be to get some lessons and look for your local club and join them. You don’t necessarily need to have a boat. In fact you may not even need to buy a board, they might have a club board that you can use. So to start out it doesn't have to be that expensive. Many people don’t know that the clubs are out there, so it would be best to check that out and do a bit of research.'
I know your dream would be to make it on the professional wakeboarding tours, but what does the sport really mean to you?
'Wakeboarding is everything to me. That’s what I do in my spare time. When people ask me what I'm doing for my holidays I tell them that I’m going to Enniskillen, and when they ask me if I would not rather go abroad, I say no, I’d rather go wakeboarding. People go to theme parks and water parks but for me wakeboarding is far above that, it’s a far better rush.'