Most days, Daniel Johnson can be found on Lake Norman, working on the tricks, flips and spins that have made him a championship-winning wakeboarder.And he’s only 8 years old.Yet Johnson – six years removed from his first ride on a wakeboard, and four years since competing in his first tournament – has already won two national-level titles, as well as dozens of local, state and regional championships.“I never imagined this would happen,” said Daryl Johnson, Daniel’s father. “But when he won his first state title at age 6, against kids age 8 and older, we started thinking, ‘Hey, he’s getting pretty good at this.’ But this is the first year where we’ve let him compete on the bigger stage.”Last month, Daniel won his division – junior boys beginners, open to boarders 9 and younger – at the World Wakeboarding Association Wakeboard National Championships in West Chester, Ohio.Add the WWA Nationals to his first national-level title – at the Nautique Wake Games in Orlando, Fla., last April – and Daniel is considered a favorite in his division at the WWA World Championships, being held Aug. 15-18 in Pleasant Prairie, Wis.“I’ve been training for this for about four weeks,” said Daniel, a member of the Cornelius-based Icy Wakes Surf Shop wakeboarding team. “We’ll have to see what happens.”But no one in the Johnson family imagined having a national champion in the making when Daniel first got on a wakeboard at age 2. He got the idea from watching his father and older sisters – Rebecca, now 21; Allison, 19; and 17-year-old Emily – all boarding on Lake Norman. The family lives on West Maranta Road in Winslow Bay, Mooresville.“All my sisters did it, and I told Dad I wanted to wakeboard,” Daniel said.His father, Daryl Johnson, said “We had tried water skiing, but he said ‘This isn’t fun, I wanna go wakeboarding.’ ”“He actually called it, ‘wakeaboard’ – he couldn’t pronounce the name right,” said Susan Johnson, Daniel’s mother.It wasn’t until two years later, in 2009, that Daniel took up wakeboarding seriously, entering his first competition – Lake Norman’s annual Wake the Lake tournament.“He was the youngest participant to ever register for Wake the Lake,” Susan Johnson said. “The wake was as big as he was. ... They didn’t even have a division for him, so he rode against the big kids.”Daniel says “I wanted to see how I could do. After that, I wanted to enter every (tournament) I could.”Daniel soon began competing in the International Water Sports Organization’s INT League, which conducts local and state-level wakeboarding and waterskiing events almost weekly during spring and summer.In 2011, at age 6, he won his first state championship in the INT League, taking the boys junior novice championship against boarders as old as 13, then followed that with a win in the INT Eastern Regionals.“It showed me that I could do things that other people can’t,” Daniel said. “But it also showed me that others could do things that I couldn’t.”That’s why Daniel undertakes an extensive practice schedule, which has him on the water working on tricks and jumps at least three days a week. The rest of the time is spent on the family’s trampoline, which has a special arm fitted with a tow rope handle to simulate being pulled by a ski boat.“It’s all really in how I train,” Daniel said. “I try to practice like I want to compete. Now and then, when I’m free riding, I’ll try different grabs (where a boarder grabs a different part of his board while doing an airborne trick).”Daniel is entering the third grade at Lakeshore Elementary.“I really want to be a professional some day. I’m working on it. I just go out there and try new stuff, either on the trampoline or on my wakeboard. Everybody’s so good, I just feel like I’ve got to throw something new out there.”But there’s also a natural ability – a “style” – that Daryl Johnson said sets his son apart from other boarders his age and older.“All the kids can do the same tricks," Daryl said. “But it’s easy for the judges to differentiate him from the others because of the different style and grabs he’s got.“Since a lot of the judging is subjective, how do you tell that one kid is doing it better than the others? By doing something different with it each and every time. That’s why he does so well.”
Friday, Aug. 09, 2013
Daniel Johnson, wakeboard champ, is 8 years old
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