Brady Fredericksen @brady_fred
Sep 28, 2016 at 9:29 PM
Sep 28, 2016 at 9:29 PM
The groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday of the new USA Training Center and Water Sports Complex in Auburndale, a new chapter in the new era of the sport begins.
AUBURNDALE — For decades, Cypress Gardens was the home of water skiing in Florida. The Winter Haven staple was the birthplace of several careers as it became synonymous with the sport around the world.
But times change, and so has water skiing. The rise of wakeboarding in the late 1990s and early 2000s ushered in a new era as extreme water sports themselves changed and rose in popularity.
The Cypress Gardens of old is gone.
And at the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday of the new USA Training Center and Water Sports Complex in Auburndale, another chapter in that new era begins.
“You look all over the world, everyone comes to Central Florida for wakeboarding, water skiing,” professional wakeboarder JD Webb said. “To have it come from the Cypress Gardens days to now, you’ve got cable parks to one of the biggest facilities and most advanced ones coming into this area.
“It’s cool to see the history of water sports in general just grow,” he said.
The Auburndale graduate and resident has been wakeboarding professionally since 2004 and doesn’t live far from Lake Myrtle. Obviously, having a world-class training facility a short boat ride away is nice.
But Webb looks at the groundbreaking as a big step toward bringing the old school of water skiing and new school of wakeboarding together in one place in Polk County.
“Coming here today, you see so many people that skied at Cypress Gardens that are all hall-of-famers,” he said. “And then people like myself who are in the industry now. It’s just cool to get the generations together and see how far the sports have evolved.”
Wednesday’s groundbreaking was held on the south shore of Lake Myrtle near Five Star Family Growers. It will be the location of one of two planned manmade lakes, this one being a water ski and wakeboard lake while the other will be a trick lake.
If Webb represented the new school, Carl Roberge was a representative of the old school.
The Canadian-born skier is in the Water Ski Hall of Fame after a successful career as a professional ski jumper. Roberge looks at the evolution of water skiing and wakeboarding as a positive. The more people are on the water, the better.
“The sport is going to continue to evolve, and I think we’re still at the tip of the iceberg of people doing some crazy stuff,” Roberge said. “What’s interesting is all of the sports’ disciplines, as I look at it today, are still seeing growth.”
Auburndale Mayor Tim Pospichal was one of 25 officials taking part in the ceremonial groundbreaking. Enthusiastic about the project, Pospichal grew up in Auburndale and thinks the park will attract more pros like Webb.
The project, which includes a cable wakeboarding park, will serve the general public along with the top-level competitors.
“This is going to bring all of the young people that are aspiring water skiers to come here and train,” Pospichal said. “You’re going to have young people coming down here that are just … the talent is just going to be unbelievable.”
The $8 million project, which is being handled by Rodda Construction, will also include a new headquarters for the USA Water Ski Foundation, two museums, a rentable rooftop garden and a café. It is scheduled to be finished by 2018.
As the evolution of water skiing and wakeboarding continues, the epicenter of both in the United States may become this facility in Auburndale. That’s the hope, at least.
“It’s incredible,” Roberge said. “This whole area is so conducive. Most of the athletes are here all winter, and then they usually travel in the summer across the world. This provides the environment year-round to be able to do it, and that’s what’s key.”
— Brady Fredericksen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7553. Follow him on Twitter: @Brady_Fred.