Kirby’s School of Wake goes to the World Championships
By Amy Gatlin
Kirby Liesmann, owner and team captain of Kirby’s School of Wake, along with several of his athletes, attended the WWA World Championships in September, in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Kirby is a Wakeboard Pro and has run Kirby’s School of Wake at the Lake of the Ozarks since 2008, teaching both enthusiasts and competitors the basics of wakeboarding and the skills necessary to advance in the sport. Kirby’s relaxed, yet attentive, teaching and riding style helped prepare him and his athletes to make their names known in the wakeboarding industry during the 2022 competition season.
Kirby, along with 16 year old Brody Spriggs, 13 year old Chase Mentzer, 12 year old Landri Hall, and 9 year old Connor Gatlin traveled to Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, to compete amongst the top wakeboarders and wake surfers in the world, and represent the United States and Lake of the Ozarks. Kirby and his students were well prepared for the competition, entering with podium ranks from Regional, National, and other qualifying competitions during the 2022 season. “This event is one of my favorite competitions,” Kirby said. “We are fortunate to compete against the best athletes from all over the world, at a place that we would not otherwise get to ride – the world famous Callaway Gardens. Only the best of the best water skiers, wakeboarders, and wake surfers get to ride on this lake.”
The wakeboard competition season runs from April through mid September. For Kirby and his athletes, however, practice begins as soon as the water is warm enough to dewinterize the boats, and continues well into the late Fall. “The cool part of this story is that the World Championships are toward the end of the season,” says Kirby. “The Lake traffic starts to slow down and we all get more time to ride and train together, and just relax and have a good time, building our relationships with one another, while getting practice in.” Kirby leads by example, getting ride time in while his students are on the boat with him.
“The most important thing for me is that now that I have had my career of riding in the Pro Division, I can now ride in the Master’s Division, with people my age who used to be Pro Wakeboarders. Most of us in that division – we used to ride together and be so competitive and take it so seriously, but now we can also have fun while we are competing and do the tricks we like, which revived the passion of the sport for me. We get to go there with our own little wakeboard community, and see our extended wakeboard family. All of the riders and families get close to one another and build strong relationships. I was excited to take 1st place last year in the Masters Division. This year was even better because I was able to land the run I had been practicing all year. Taking 1st place again this year made the competition even sweeter. Having my wife, Sydney, and my daughter, Brighton, there to cheer me on topped it all off. Last year, Brody, Connor, and I all went to Worlds on a whim. We were like, ‘Hey, they have openings and they aren’t making us qualify. Let’s go give this a shot.’ This year, we had to qualify and work our way to the top. We left last year knowing we wanted to make it to Worlds this year; we left with one thing in mind – qualifying for Worlds in 2022. We did it together. We trained hard and we made it together. When we were there this year, they announced Worlds will be in Portugal in 2023. We left there, this year, with the same thing in mind – qualifying for Worlds in 2023. We will go to Portugal.”
Kirby says he is going to compete as long as he physically can. It motivates him to stay sharp and always have the World Championships to look forward to and look the best at that event each year. “Having students on the Kirby’s School of Wake team, who also want to compete, motivates me to stay sharp and continue pushing forward with competitions and training too, so we can all do it together. If I could put a bow on the whole thing, out of all of the excitement of training and competing, is going with a group of students who I have mentored along the way – helped them through the pressures of being put on the spot to compete and want to do their best…helping them from my own experiences of success and failures. I have seen their confidence grow so much at competitions. They are truly great competitors and Team members.”
Kirby took 1st place in the Masters Division in wakeboarding. Connor Gatlin took 2nd place in the Adaptive Division in wakeboarding and 3rd place in the Adaptive Division in wake surfing. Landri Hall placed 3rd in the Jr. Women wake surfing division. Brody Spriggs was in the Jr. Men Division and qualified for finals but came up short with making the podium, although he had an incredible season and placed in the top 6 at Worlds. Chase Mentzer placed 3rd in Nationals in the Boy’s Beginner Division, however he did not make finals at Worlds. The entire Kirby’s School of Wake Team represented the Lake of the Ozarks area and made their names known in WWA wakeboarding and surfing history throughout the entire 2022 season. No matter what their world rank is, Kirby wants his team to “know how big of a deal it is for them to compete at the highest level, in whatever their division is. They are competing amongst the top athletes in the entire world and they are all ranked in the top 10 in the entire world.”
Whether looking for a fun day on the water with tubing, wakeboarding, or surfing, or looking to grow your skills and become a competitive athlete, Kirby has the experiences and services to help you achieve your goal. As the season wraps up at Lake of the Ozarks, Kirby is preparing to return to Fort Myers, Florida, where he runs his wakeboard school during the winter. Kirby will return to the Lake in late May to help tourists and locals enjoy a day on the water, and to work with his Team again to prepare for the World Championships in Portugal.