Over the top: Fierce acrobatics of wakeboarding

The boat has a price tag bigger than most houses. It’s handmade, computerized and powered by a 550-horse Corvette engine that launches the 25-foot hull, loaded with 3,000 pounds of ballast, from a dead stop to the ideal, preprogrammed speed in just a few seconds. That’s one of the perks enjoyed by Ricky Krieger, a professional wakeboarder who honed his flying feats of derring-do growing up on the shores of Long Lake.

Going for a ride with Krieger is like having a front-row seat at an outrageous aerial circus. The boat leaves an exaggerated wake that forms a huge kicker, sending him high in the air. Krieger defies gravity with eye-popping spins, twists, corks and inverted grabs. Somehow, the tricks end with a flawless landing and a megawatt smile on his face.

Krieger, 29, started waterskiing at age three. He became hooked on wakeboarding when he was a 16-year-old student at Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls. He turned pro at 21. But according to him, you don’t have to spend a lifetime on the water to share his experience. He’s introduced people of all ages to the thrilling sensation of flight at the end of a rope with clinics and private lessons on lakes throughout the inland northwest.

“I’ll have you getting up and crossing the wake in the first day,” Krieger said. “If kids have a strong snowboarding background and they aren’t worried about crashing, I’ll have them jumping the wake and doing all sorts of flips, spins and other tricks in a couple of weeks. It depends on your fear level.”

If you’re interested in learning from a pro, Krieger can usually be reached at Tobler Marina in Hayden, Idaho, where he sells boats and operates his retail wakeboard shop. But don’t anticipate getting pulled by his over-the-top-of-the-line Super Air Nautique G25.

“I prefer to help my customers maximize their performance behind their own boat,” Krieger said. “When customers ride with me, the boat is set up professionally and they get used to progressing when everything is perfect. Then they go home and everything from boat speed, to driving technique, to the body placement of passengers can feel wrong.”

Aspiring wakeboard acrobats will be glad to know that Krieger charges per hour, not per person. Groups of people can get together, pool their money and Krieger will spend a day on the water with them. He said if you follow his advice, the chances something will go wrong are slim.

“As long as you have all the proper gear and everything is done right, the worst thing that’s going to happen will feel like a belly flop off a diving board.”

A properly sized wakeboard is the key. He said it’s common for parents to buy a wakeboard the kids have to share. As a result, the board and the boots are either too big or too small. The average beginner-to-intermediate set up is about $300 for the board, bindings and boots. A life vest is about $100 and a quality rope is about $100.

“If you want to get into it and save money,” Krieger said, “find a friend about your size, get yourself a nice pair of boots and share a board.”

Raising a family with three young children doesn’t give Krieger enough time to be active on the pro tour these days, but he’s arranged his life to stay deeply involved in his sport. He recently opened his second wakeboard shop in Nine Mile Falls and is frequently asked for design input for boats and boards from sponsors such as Nautique Boat Company and Hyperlite.

Krieger’s high-flying acrobatics can be seen locally at special events throughout the summer. His next appearance will be Aug. 9-10 in a wakeboarding, waterskiing, kneeboarding and wakeskating tournament at Lake Spokane Recreation Area in Nine Mile Falls. Inland Northwest INT sanctions the event. The INT League was started on Greenlake in Seattle in the early 1980s and has since expanded into 27 states hosting over 250 events a year.

The INT event is an opportunity for local wakeboard enthusiasts to watch professionals in action. Who knows? It could also be a chance to ask Krieger for a ride.

“To come out on my boats, pack your bag with your own wakeboard, your own rope and handle and your own lifejacket,” he said. “Anybody who shows up with all their own gear and a gas can will be welcomed back over and over again.”

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