Over the US's Memorial Day long weekend, Nautique hosted the 57th Annual US Masters for waterskiing in Atlanta, Georgia. Only the best are considered for the invitational event at Callaway Gardens, pitted against the strongest fields on what is arguably the biggest stage for waterskiing and wakeboarding alike. Unlike the previous Nautique event, the Moomba Masters, the top of the podiums didn't show much surprise, though for the 2nd and 3rd placings, we saw a big mix up and possibly a sign of things for the future of waterskiing. From comebacks to first time podiums at the event, this years US masters showed a bit of everything, as well as much of the things that we have become accustomed to seeing.
In the slalom division, the battle between the USA and Britain continued, with Nate Smith and Will Asher duking it out for the number 1 spot once again. Will Asher showed plenty of promise with 5 buoys on the 10.75 line, though Nate Smith showed determination and prowess to come through with a single buoy on the 10.25 line to take first and play role reversal to the Melbourne event. It wasn't until 3rd place that we saw change with Canada showing off it's ability, both Jason McClintock and Stephen Neveu shared the 3rd place falling just shy of Asher at 4 buoys from the 10.75 line. The win is Jason's first podium at an international event, not long back after a brief hiatus from the sport. In some surprise for the women's division, Whitney McClintock failed to pass the elimination round after completing only 2 buoys from the 11.25, while the finals rounded out with Regina Jaquess finishing atop the podium, while Clementine Lucine and Manon Costard finished second and 3rd respectively. Between the 3, less than 2 buoys separated them, with Jaquess completing 5 buoys on the 11.25 line, and Clementine Lucine and Manon Costard completing 4 and 3.5 buoys on the 11.25.
For Tricks, there was some surprise across the board, while in first spot for mens there was never any doubt. When Aleksei Zharnasek posted a total score or 12020, it was going to be tough for the most fierce competitors to match. When Aussie young gun Josh Briant took off behind the Ski 200, he almost set out to re write the script, putting the pressure on, though falling just short for second place, posting a final score of 11740, while the ever consistent frenchman, Franck Desboyaux rounded out the podium with a score of 11600. For the women's there was some upset as Erika Lang failed to make finals, while Anna Gay continued her solid start to the season with another 1st place, and a total score of 10010. Second place went to Natalia Berdnikava, who on her comeback from a knee injury, posted a score of 9420 to beat out Alex Lauretano, who finished in 3rd and 9020.
If there was such a thing as following a script in the waterski industry, then the jump finals was it. The final placings we're almost identical to the elimination finals placings, with Freddy Krueger, who missed the opening tournament at Moomba, but came out with a bang and a huge final jump of 233 feet or 71.1 metres to snare first place. Much to the dismay of current men's jump champion, Canadian Ryan Dodd, who fell a near 21cm short of beating out Freddy, finishing with his biggest jump of the weekend at 70.9 metres. The podium was finalised with the German Bojan Schipner, falling just over a metre short of the 2 front runners posting a final jump at 69.7 metres. On the Women's side it was much the of the same, as the final placings mirrored the elimination rounds, only differentiated by the final jump totals. Their was never any doubt that the wing woman, Jacinta Carroll would snare first place, after an elimination score that fell 1 foot short of the course record. Jacinta came out and shattered the course record by 4 foot, finishing on top of the podium with a final score of 188 feet or 57.4 metres, while the rest of the field failed to match their elimination jumps. Regina Jacquess who jumped 50.7 metres in the elimination, finished the finals in second jumping 48.8 metres just under 2 metres shorter, as Nancy Chardin finished the podium just shy of second with a jump of 48.5.
Switching to the wakeboarding, everyone was surprised to see the lack of a current world champion in Harley Clifford, stripping the race for podium spots even further open. Without Harley, odds on for favourite was Mike Dowdy. With a final pass that consisted of a 900 and his signature double flips, Dowdy cleared himself as an outright sure thing, completing a pass with a score of 93.67. Not to the surprise of the wakeboard world, but to those on the outside, second place was snagged by JD Webb. This season JD Webb has become one of the most relevant wakeboarders in the world, taking himself well and truly back into the spot light, highlighted by his exceptional consistency, shown in both his elimination and final passes, 87.00 and 87.67. On the other side of the coin, in no surprise to anyone, Noah Flegel placed himself on the final spot on the podium. Since shifting to the Pro men's division, Noah has continually edged himself into the top 3, rising through the ranks to make a name for himself. This 3rd spot and a score of 63.67 adds to his 3rd place that he landed at Moomba in 2015. Meagan Ethell continued her strong form into Masters, posting a score of 80.67, proving herself as possibly the one to beat across this US summer season. 2nd and 3rd places were subject to some surprise, as Nicola Butler came back to steal second with a score of 76.00, as the final spot went to Erika Lang on her redemption run after falling short of the Trick finals, scoring 73.00. Much to the surprise of everyone was Raimi Merrett falling short of the podium, after an uncharacteristic run which had her finish score a lower 43.33.
The 57th Annual Nautique Masters, was in one way everything it is supposed to be, a coming together of the powers houses of the sport, as well as a celebration of waterskiing. In other ways it was also in part possibly a changing of the guard. Across the board we had the best of the sport a top of the podium, but also some fresh faces, who are finally breaking through and providing some strong competition. In all the Masters showed us a how bright the future was for the sports, with years to come likely to produce ever increasing competition that is as tough for the athletes, as it is eye catching for the spectators.