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Boarders gather in Headingley for national championship

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Intensity, execution and composition -- these are what the athletes aim for in a sport that requires them to go big or go home. And out here in Western Canada, it can only be found in Winnipeg.

It sits off the perimeter highway just west of the city, a large beach house surrounded by smooth sand and bright blue water with towers that string together lines of cable. Adrenaline Adventures never goes unnoticed. It is one of only two facilities in Canada (the other is in Montreal) that boasts full-size cable wakeboarding and later this week it will host the 2014 Canadian National Wake Park Championships.

Ashley Leugner of Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask., is a wakeboarder on the Canadian national team, specializing in the variation of the sport that pulls the riders by boat. Last week she was pulled to her fifth national wakeboarding championship.

She is known for her intense, aggressive style during her runs. "I like to go big and do crazy stuff," she laughed.

The wake park championship is in its fourth year and this is a tournament she hasn't been able to add to her trophy case.

"Cable (wakeboarding) just kind of brings the sport to everybody because not everybody has access to a boat," Leugner, 29, said. "But everybody can come buy a pass, rent a board and a helmet, get the gear and go out. So there can be kids that have a lot of talent coming out of nowhere."

This week she's hoping to change her luck.

The sport has taken Leugner all over the globe for various world cups and world championships. During the early months of every year, she can be found on the water in California, Florida or Mexico.

When summer kicks into full gear, she makes frequent trips to Winnipeg to make use of the park for training and hosting clinics.

"I always come back to Canada (in the summer) because I like to give back to the sport," she said. "I actually went to Japan and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) was at that event to kind of see how it would run when Tokyo hosts it for 2020. Wakeboarding will not be in it for 2020, but that kind of set it up...

"It still kind of sucks that it wasn't put in the Olympics but maybe in the future. Then I'll probably be too old but I'll still be involved."

Wakeboarding is a water sport that blends aspects of snowboarding and surfing into a package full of airborne grab tricks and 720-degree spins, all while holding onto a cable that is pulling the rider forward. The cable will allow six to eight competitors to ride at one time in a circle, rather than the traditional one person straight-line cable.

At Adrenaline Adventures, the water park is scattered with ramps and rails that allow riders to perform a variety of tricks in order to impress the four judges. What makes a good run is a rider's technical skills and the ability to make it look fluid.

Unfortunately one of those judges will be Winnipeg's Jess Polley, the reigning men's champion from last year's event in Quebec and a wakeboarder who knows a thing or two about making a run flow.

Polley suffered a broken foot two weeks ago during training, forcing the 20-year-old Canadian national team member to sit this one out.

"Yeah, it's definitely a disappointment," said Polley, who has been on the national team for two years and competed at the world championship in the Philippines in 2012. "But that's part of an athlete's life, right? You win some, you lose some really."

Polley said it's almost fitting the event will be hosted here. And with a handful of locals in the field, he is excited to see the new generation of riders since the arrival of cable wakeboarding.

"Recreational-wise, wakeboarding behind the boat, you see it everywhere on the lakes," he said. Along with tubing as well, but we try to stay away from that. Since the cable popped up there's just been so many people introduced to the sport. It's really accessible and it makes it great for everybody."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2014 0


Updated on Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:40 AM CDT: Replaces photo

10:19 AM: Fixes typo

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