The whole vibe of the contest had a Woodstockish feel. No one really showered, wore shoes, or changed clothes.
The following story was done on assignment for SBC Wake Magazine back in August of last year. A few of the best photos have been left out due to future publishing plans
In late May of 2008, Beni Horan held one of the most progressive wakeskate contests at his house in Nahunta, Georgia. Most of the wakeskate world showed up in the backwoods of Georgia for Ben’s winchfest entitled “Raging Pull.” The Horan family had created what seemed to be the perfect environment and formula for a wakeskate “contest.” The vibe was more music festival than athletic event, everyone attending, including myself, had an unforgettable experience and knew to be there for the next one.
Fast forward three years and I find myself on the way to Retention, Nike 6.0 and Ben’s long overdue reincarnation of the weekend long winchfest from years prior. Fellow photographer Josh Letchworth and I decided to car pool together up there the Friday that the contest started. The ride was filled with a lot of camera speak and general excitement about the next two days, people had been showing up earlier in the week so we had seen the photos of Ben’s new insane backyard setup all over Facebook. When we pulled up I didn’t know what was more insane, the pool gap or the scene that had surrounded the pool gap. There were tents all over the woods and everything from Luxury RV’s to VW buses in Ben’s front yard. The Horan’s were showing their true southern hospitality by allowing everyone to camp on their property throughout the week and weekend. We parked in the driveway, right in the thick of things.
The amateur qualifying was underway as we showed up with over 30 riders trying to get 4 coveted spots into the finals that was to be held the following day. The buildout for the event was essentially a concrete winch water park. Two perfect concrete ledges were your start up followed by a smooth 4 foot drop. The attention to detail was supreme, small tiled Remote “R’s” were set in various places. The two winches ran side by side, non-stop and had presumably been pulling for days.
Catching up with everyone was the first order of business, so before unloading the camera gear I grabbed a beer and had a walk around. Most everyone had a good story from the days before. I was warned by multiple people about the rooster that likes to crow at four in the morning and also told how hot it was camping at night. Yan Lecomte told me about his 24 hour car ride to be here and Kevin Henshaw, the only pro wakeboarder present, told me he was “Here for party support.” Andrew Pastura showed me some of his newest Water Monsters gear and Silas Thurman handed me a microphone and had me help him do some announcing. All the while Ben’s Mom Donna walked around with watermelon, and DJ J-Bone pumped jams from the Red Bull truck. The atmosphere was so inviting that my camera just stayed in the car the first few hours. As the day rolled on and the qualifying was complete, the invited pros took to the water to get in some practice. It quickly became apparent that Saturday’s final was going to be a big day for wakeskating.
The next day came early with most people having stayed up past their bed time, and yes that rooster did start crowing unfortunately right around 4 a.m. The heats fired up at 9 a.m. as the winch drivers began what was going to be the longest day of their lives. Riders for the first time had the choice between using a regular winch or the brand new remote control winch by Ridiculous WInches. Having the winch driver next to you on your start seemed like an awesome advantage. Without having to yell you could let your driver know exactly how you wanted to be driven. The heats were each 50 minutes, which gave riders plenty of time to try their best line. Impressing the judges wasn’t going to be easy. Godfather of wakeskating Thomas Horrell was on hand as head judge along with pro wakeskater Dave Hanson and skateboarder Jack Moran. The tricks never stopped and the crowd kept growing as more locals showed up to see what this wakeskating business was all about. Danny Hampson and Kyle Walton were two notables during the day that didn’t ride in the finals. Kyle did a no comply down the gap to win his heat but he also took a board to the head in one of his previous tries of the trick. Brantley County’s Medical Staff was on hand and deemed he had a concussion from the hit so he decided to sit out the rest of the day. Danny put down line after line proving how versatile he is. His boardslide front big to front bigger spin down the gap won him his heat but he decided to sit out the final due to a nagging knee problem. Matt Manzari landed a 3 flip down the gap but his heat was so tough he didn’t make it through. Matt, a little stunned, asked the judges for an explanation and it was given but only after Matt agreed to grab all of them beers.
The whole vibe of the contest had a Woodstockish feel. No one really showered, wore shoes, or changed clothes. Locals showed up bringing bags of peanuts for everyone and anyone with food or drink was willing to share. Hippie smells filled the air and everyone seemed to get along. Nahunta was like a time portal into the 70′s. The Finals that night was like something out of a movie scene with lights, fog, and smoke everywhere. Nike 6.0 had the whole setup lit so good that even amateur photographers and videographers could be getting awesome shots. For 50 minutes under the lights Nick Taylor, Travis Doran, Ben Horan, Andrew Pastura, and Leo Labadenes threw every trick under the sun on that setup. It shows how much wakeskating has matured when there simply just isn’t enough room in an article to highlight the tricks that went down in one heat. Hometown hero Ben Horan stomped the best line, back lip to shuv on the rail and then varial heelflip down the gap, to take home the $5,000 1st prize. An ending only fitting considering all the time he and his family had put into making his backyard dream winch setup a reality.
With the contest ending around 11pm most people stuck around late into the night. As I left early Sunday morning there was a few fires still burning out and a few people up and around from the night before. I was more tired, dirty, and sleepy than I had been in awhile but I was sad to be leaving. The Retention experience is one that will never be forgotten and I will surely be back up in Nahunta as soon as the Horan family welcomes us back again.