The 2017 Moomba Masters is officially over, with the banks now cleared and another set of athletes going down in the history books as winners of Melbourne's prestigious event. This year won't go down just as another Moomba Masters, this year things changed. 2017 is the year waterskiing made a comeback in the spectators eyes. Not only did course records consistently get matched and others tumble, this year saw record spectator numbers fill the banks and embrace our great sport. With an estimated 1.2 million people attending the Moomba Festival, plus 200,000 keen viewers vying for the best viewing position across the weekend, Melbourne provided the perfect backdrop for the event with beautiful sunshine and warm weather.
Slalom provided some of the most scintillating viewing in a waterski event in a long time, with the men's course record being pushed but never broken. Before this weekend Chris Parish and Nate Smith both shared the current record with 3 buoys a piece on the 10.25 line, in the semi finals not only did Nate Smith match his record, but so did Will Asher and Freddie Winter. In the finals the Italian Stallion, Thomas Degasperi added himself to the ever growing list matching the course record, almost assuring himself a podium spot, but forced to wait on the dock to know which it would be. As the final skiers took the course, both reigning champion Will Asher and World Champ Nate Smith both fell short of victory, ensuring Degasperi the victory over Nate Smith who placed 2nd and Swiss Benjamin Stadlbaur in 3rd, both with 1 and a half buoys on the 10.25. In the women's division things proved just as tight, while course records were neither matched nor broken, Reigning champion and current course record holder, Whitney McClintock went head to head with Manon Costard. With matching scores the whole way through the preliminary and semi final rounds, the only thing to seperate them across the weekend being the last half a buoy which Whitney took in the final for the win with 1 buoy on the 10.75, while Manon had to settle for a half buoy, to provide 1st and 2nd on the podium, while 3rd place went to long standing Nautique athlete Clementine Lucine with 3 buoys at 11.25.
Earlier in the day trick continued the trend of tight competition, through the entire weekend little over 1,000 points separated the top 3 competitors. Pierre Ballon won out in the preliminaries with the highest score of the weekend of 10,730, though fell an agonisingly 40 points short to Franck Desboyaux who would be taking first seed into the finals. The Men's finals really showed how tough the card was with only 710 points seperating 1st from 4th. Jimmy Seimers and Adam Sedlmajer tied it out for 3rd place with Sedlmajer winning out having seeded higher in the semi's, while the top end came down to the top 2 seeded with Pierre Ballon losing out to Franck Desboyaux putting up a solid pass to win with a final score of 10,630. On the Women's side the preliminaries showed the strength of the competition, Anna Gay came out early to set a new course record of 10,350, though dropped off and unfortunately despite this high, failed to make the podium in finals. The honours fell to Natalia Berdnikava of Belarus for third with a score of 8,730, while Erika Lang and the young Neilly Ross filled out the top of the podium, with second and 1st place respectively to provide an all Nautique podium, the winning score of Ross coming in at 9,920.
As the day wore on, competition was only getting fiercer, with head to head battles breaking out across both jump divisions. The Women's Jump put high flyer and local Victorian Jacinta Carroll head to head with the United States, Alex Lauretano. While Lauretano consistently broke the 50m barrier, she fell short of Jacinta Carroll, who could do no wrong breaking the course record not once but twice, to finish the final with the new record of 56.7 metres to take first place, as Alex Lauretano finished with the silver with a jump of 53.4, her best jump of the weekend. Rounding out the women's division was Natalia Berdnikava, who after not attending last year, had a finals jump of 50.5 and add another award next to her trick medal.
For the Men's they had the entire crowd on they're feet as the dual between current Jump world champion, Ryan Dodd and the course record holder Freddy Krueger raged from day to day. Continuously escalating, exchanging blow for blow through the entire weekend, Dodd consistently edging the man known as 'The Nightmare' out by a meter in each of both the preliminaries and semi finals, all the while managing to break Freddy Krueger's previous jump record setting a new 70.8, adding 20cm. It all came down to the Monday Afternoon showdown though, while all the final jumpers pushed themselves, they were vying for 3rd position with Zack Worden proving the best with a 67.4metres. Finally the 2 pillars of the sport hit the water to put on a show for the full banks, Freddie Kruger jumped first providing 2 jumps of 70.2 and 70.4, but saved the best for last with a whopping jump of 72.3 and breaking Ryan Dodd's freshly minted course record. Last off the dock was the first seed, Ryan Dodd, out to prove why he is the world champion. With a first jump of 63.1 metres it was going to be an uphill battle, pushing a second jump just over 2 metres short of the mark at 69.7m. As he rounded the turn for the final jump, with a head wind and the crowd behind him and a weight on his shoulders, he fell short of the mark with a 63 metre flat jump, surrendering to Freddy Krueger for the 2017 Moomba Masters top spot.
In the twilight of the afternoon wakeboardings best took the water, consisting of a large portion of the next young generation of wakeboarders. In a changing of the guard of sorts, last year we saw some of the long standing athletes of the sport give way to the younger riders on the podium and this year definitely showed why. In the women's department it was one of the youngest squads on average we've seen in a long time, with the youngest of the field Zahra Kell taking the number 1 spot with a flawless pass from the 14 year old, while last years winner Raimi Rutledge, formerly Merrett, from the United states came second, as new comer to Moomba Jamie Lopina also from the United States came third to finalise the podium.
The men's side was a whole other story though, with the story of the competition surrounding the comeback of Harley Clifford after missing a year with a torn ACL, and he did not disappoint. In what was a shot at redemption, he came out in the qualifying round to post his second perfect score of 100.00 in his career, which is also only the second time in history, adding another record to what has been performed behind Nautique's G23. It wasn't to be that easy though, while Mike Dowdy had a close to winning pass in qualifying, he had some uncharacteristic falls in the finals, to fall out of favour to be on the podium as the rest of the competition stepped up. Tony Iaconni showed us how far he's US season had taken, him putting in a stand up pass to place in 3rd, the competition then become Cory Teunissen's to lose after putting up one of the strongest passes we've seen in a finals, posting a close to perfect score of 98.00 with a huge double flip, plus the worlds first 1080 in competition. last off the dock was Harley Clifford, coming out with a bone to pick with whatever higher being was listening, for knocking him out for an entire season. Standing up 900's and double flips, only to fall short on his pass back and lose a trick, pulling up devastatingly short of Teunissen with a score of 95.00, putting a sour note on his much awaited comeback.
Yes Moomba Masters 2017 had it all, from comeback stories to devastation, records matched and broken, this is the kind of stuff you can't script. 2017 is definitely a Moomba Masters that will go down in the history books as one of the best ever, while there has always been heated competition and tight contests, it had been a long time since we had seen a Moomba that had provided such an even spread of athletes and score, all the while capturing the hearts of the spectators and filling the banks, when we look back in years to come, we will see this as the year that the Moomba Masters was reborn.
By Jesse Chiminello