By Any Name, Wakeboard Champ Tom Fooshee is Still 'King'

By Carson Hooks – June 4, 2012
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

Exit 195 off of I-35 southbound just north of New Braunfels is not unique. There is a three-way stop that requires maneuvering around and between 18-wheelers in order to turn left and cross over the interstate. Then it’s a right turn at the next stop sign to continue south on the frontage road running along the east side of I-35. MasterCraft boat signs are visible almost immediately upon turning back south. It takes a little longer to find the signage denoting “Texas Ski Ranch” up ahead.

The signs point to an enormous building that, from the front, looks like a huge boat warehouse, especially judging from all the very conspicuous MasterCraft signage. Through the double doors, there is indeed a MasterCraft boat showroom on the left and wakeboard apparel to the right. Straight ahead there are wakeboard rentals. Through another set of double doors to exit the back of the building… a whole ’nother world. I-35 is now miles away. Welcome to the Texas Ski Ranch (TSR) wakeboard oasis–a land of water, wakeboards, sun, and sand. This is the realm of the “King of Cable,” wakeboarding legend and pioneer Tom Fooshee.

Tom Fooshee (pronounced Fü shay`), a three-time wakeboarding world champion and 2010 Alliance Wakeboard Rider of the Year, has been a fixture at TSR, the central Texas cable wakeboard park, even longer than he’s been dominating the cable aspect of professional wakeboarding. And that’s a long time. After all, he’s won four straight and seven overall professional cable wakeboard titles at TSR’s annual Cablestock competition alone.

“I came down to [TSR] when it first opened,” Fooshee said. “It wasn’t nearly as big or developed as it is now. I rode the cable and thought it was cool; it was alright.” Surprisingly, it would take a return trip to TSR for Fooshee to get hooked on the cable. “I went back home and was still riding behind the boat, and then I came back down here again with the opportunity for a team they had out here. I came out and tried out for the team, and I made it. I made that when I was still in high school.”

That initial Fooshee-TSR encounter has blossomed into a symbiotic relationship that now has each almost synonymous with the other. Known for its wakeboard cable, TSR is really some sort of amusement park for recreation with a skate park, a lake designed specifically for wakeboarding behind a boat, even a smaller lake with the “Little Bro” cable tow for beginners. And then right there in the middle of it all is the beach. Here bikini- and baggy-clad spectators sporting Reef flip-flops recline in the lounge chairs among the palm trees, sipping on $1.50 cans of Miller Lite and downing fare from the Wahoo’s Fish Taco situated upstairs, overlooking the cable lake.

The only residents of the island in the middle of the cable lake are the goats. They are responsible for keeping the grass out there maintained by depositing any excess in their bellies. They can seek shelter and bed down in a dwelling recently donated by the sunglasses company Spy Optic, complete with a Spy Optic-branded roof. Sitting nearby is a fifteen-foot-tall inflated Monster Energy can, erected for the May 9-11 Cablestock festivities.

Reef sponsors Tom Fooshee. Spy sponsors Tom Fooshee. Monster sponsors Tom Fooshee. There is a huge Liquid Force wakeboard brand poster of Tom Fooshee adorning the exterior wall to the right of TSR’s front entrance. Liquid Force and TSR both sponsor Tom Fooshee.
It’s good to be the King of Cable.
 

Cable and its King

Not tall, with a compact frame that he concedes is much better suited to aerial wakeboard exploits than it is to his other love, football, Fooshee is at first a little reserved about his royal moniker. But he quickly dons the mantle and provides some background. “That’s the nickname that everybody in the wakeboard industry calls me. I was kind of the rider that pioneered the style of riding that we have right now on the cable–very obstacle-oriented.” Fooshee continued, “It’s like a skate park for water now. I was one of the first riders who was very heavy into the obstacles that were in the water.”

In professional wakeboarding, there are two main fields–boat and cable. The boat aspect of wakeboarding is almost constantly on display both on Lake Austin and Lake Travis. But cable wakeboarding (boat’s increasingly popular younger brother) is confined to cable parks in the United States and throughout the world. Cable derives its name from the overhead cable suspended from a series of towers surrounding, in the case of TSR, a man-made lake. Elongated towropes latch onto the rotating cable, facilitating up to six riders at one time in a counter-clockwise loop around the lake-turned-watercourse complete with ramps, rails, and other obstacles.

Fooshee elaborated on the cable phenomenon, “It’s the big, growing part of our sport right now. And luckily Texas is the state with the most cables out of all the U. S.” Fooshee said. “The cable is a very cost-effective way to ride. Every time out on the boat, you’re having to pay for gas. Wakeboard boats are absolutely amazing, well-built boats, but they’re not the cheapest to buy. So, with the cable, you come out and you buy a year-long pass for a very small percentage of what a boat would cost. Then you can ride all you want. You don’t have to have a friend with you. You just show up and ride.”
Tom Fooshee and wakeboarding’s cable aspect have been very good for each other. “I was one of the first to bring out the cable aspect of our sport and legitimize it,” he said. “And now, I have a long list of accomplishments in this sport. Especially in the cable aspect of it.”

But the King is not resting on his laurels. Even now, both continue to grow. “One of the personal goals of mine is every year doing at least one ‘never-been-done-before’ trick,” Fooshee confided. “And I’ve had five years in a row of being recognized for a first-time-ever-done trick.”

Fooshee continued, “I’ve got a good six or seven things that I originated. A bunch of them still haven’t been done by anyone else.”
 

Growing up with the Sport 

Born and raised in Austin in a family that he claims may be the “only ‘Fooshees’ in the world,” the twenty-seven-year-old Fooshee was riding from a very early age, growing up alongside the sport on Lake Austin. “I water-skied pretty much until wakeboarding started to really come about,” Fooshee recalled. “I learned to water ski when I was four years old. I did knee-boarding and all that stuff when I was younger. Probably rode my first wakeboard when I was about ten or eleven.”

From then on, it was all wakeboard when Fooshee was on the water. “My parents had a dock on Lake Austin, and we used to rent out a boat slip there,” Fooshee said. “Some friends of ours had a boat, and they’d let us use it in exchange for keeping it there. So I got out on the lake a ton.”

When asked if he came into contact with wakeboard creator Jimmy Redmon in those early days, Fooshee answered, “My dad did. Obviously, we had a rich water sports background, but wakeboarding was pretty non-existent then. Jimmy was out on Lake Austin riding a surfboard behind the boat. I did not personally know him at the time, but now we are obviously very good friends and colleagues.”

Colleagues indeed. Now one of Fooshee’s major sponsors is wakeboard-maker Liquid Force (according to Fooshee, the “best wakeboard brand on the planet”), co-founded by Redmon. Fooshee has his own signature line of wakeboards with Liquid Force called the “Tex.” Fooshee acknowledged, “it’s really cool to have the founder and creator and to work with him now–the legend–and him be from my hometown and actually my home lake, Lake Austin. It just kind of ties our roots together.”
 

Hard Work Disguised as Luck 

Twenty-seven is not young in wakeboard years, but Fooshee still glides around the course, pulling off one huge aerial trick after another. He makes it look almost effortless, and not just to the wakeboard novice.

“Tom doesn’t fall,” offered TSR’s Carrie Woodard, matter-of-factly. “One day somebody came inside and said, ‘Tom fell,’ and I said, ‘You’re kidding me, right?’”

Fooshee claims he’s lucky to still be at the top of his game at his age. “Everybody else is younger. We got a guy who’s on his way to becoming the next best thing. He’s fourteen. My next closest competitor is like twenty-one, twenty-two years old. There’s no one in the second half of their twenties. So, there’s a big gap between me and the other guys.”

But there’s definitely a lot more than luck involved in Fooshee’s continued reign. For one, he has been dedicated to his sport since the beginning–both on and off the water–revolving his life around the sport and committing himself to constant improvement.

He developed and perfected some of his earliest wakeboard maneuvers not behind the boat, but on the backyard trampoline. “I was always jumping around on that, and I made things, like stapling some shoes to a skateboard,” Fooshee recalled. “And I’d have a handle with a rope tied to a tree. Now I really see that that stuff kicked in. It obviously helped me progress at a faster rate than I probably would have without.”

Even when he was doing the “typical high school thing” and playing football and running track at Round Rock’s McNeil High School, Fooshee was still logging consistent time on the water. “I’d go out and pull my high school buddies on a tube. I’d wear them out for about five minutes, and then I’d get two or three sets of them pulling me wakeboarding,” Fooshee recalled, grinning at the advantageous arrangement.

When Fooshee made the wakeboard team at TSR, all that time behind the boat and on the trampoline turned into even more time on the cable. “Being a part of the team, I got to ride in the park for free,” he said. “I was just driving down here all the time to ride this cable.” Those regular commutes to ride the cable continued through Fooshee’s first and only year at Austin Community College (ACC). But he quickly altered even his college venue so that it better fit his wakeboard regimen and kept him closer to TSR.

Fooshee recalled his epiphany, asking himself, “‘What am I doing going to ACC, driving all this distance? I could be going to Texas State and live right here and do this even more.’” So the decision was made, with wakeboarding considerations trumping even long-held allegiances. “I chose my university–because I’m a Longhorn at heart, still am–but I chose to be a Bobcat specifically because [TSR] was here. I always wanted to go to UT. My mom’s a UT alum. Both of my grandfathers worked at UT; one was a professor with tenure there. That’s always what I wanted to do.”

But that no longer fit his wakeboard-centric life. Fooshee reiterated, “I moved to go to school at Texas State because of this place (TSR), because Texas State’s only ten-fifteen minutes up the road.”

As Fooshee had hoped, the transition to Texas State allowed him to commit even more time to being on the water, and he was able to take his wakeboarding up another notch. “Once I moved and got accepted into Texas State, I was just riding so much that going from amateur to pro happened like that,” Fooshee explained, snapping his fingers. “I kept getting better out here on the cable and on the boat out here and would just come ride before and after work.”

All that riding was made even more feasible since by this point Fooshee was not only one of TSR’s most skilled and avid riders, but also an employee. Fooshee described those days when TSR had indeed become his home-away-from-home, “I started running the cable out here. I worked downstairs in the board shop, sold rental passes. I’ve worked at this place forever throughout my college career. I took care of business with schoolwork and would come out here, and I just rode and advanced my abilities, coming out here just non-stop.” Fooshee reminisced, “When you’re eighteen years old, it’s a great way to use your energy. There’s no stopping. You don’t have to wait for someone else’s turn. You can be greedy out there.”
 

Ride, Ride, and Ride Some More

And now, all these years later, the professional Fooshee still rides almost non-stop. Fooshee boiled it down, “I just really try to stay motivated and ride as much as possible.” Riding as much as possible often includes at least three different wakeboard sessions on a given day. First thing in the morning is a winch session. Fooshee described winch as being “more like street skateboarding,” involving the wakeboarder being pulled up and towed by the stationary version of the motor and spool apparatus commonly found on the front of jeeps and ranch trucks. “Obviously you can’t take a boat to a narrow river or a creek. So you can show up with a winch to any body of water of make something out of it. It makes for great photos and great videos.”

The real downside to the winch is that it doesn’t provide Fooshee with enough time on the water. So, winch rides are, for him, reserved only for the great light of the early morning hours. Then it’s on to more quality time on the water. Almost every afternoon/evening entails a set on the cable. Fooshee surmised that a typical cable session is “a pretty consistent, solid two hours of riding. I’m out here for three hours and between the falls when working on new stuff and walking back, that will cut it down about an hour. But I would say it’s a solid two hours of actually being on the water.” Again, Fooshee hailed the glories of the cable, “as far as this stuff goes, it’s just gettin’ after it.”

In between the winch in the morning and the cable in the evening there’s often a thirty to forty-five minute session behind the boat as well. “I try to catch a boat set during the middle of the day, two to three times a week, but definitely cable in the evening and winch in the early morning.”

That would help explain the King of Cable’s overall proficiency in the sport, allowing him to be “professional in all categories.” Fooshee further explained, “I still ride a ton behind the boat, and my reputation in the wakeboarding industry is I’m one of the few guys who rides both. I like them both. They both have their advantages. I’m just happy I’m able to do both.”

Logging hour after hour on the wakeboard is obviously perfectly and naturally suited to Fooshee maintaining and improving his wakeboarding prowess and keeping him sharp for competitions. And with all that time spent on the water, wakeboarding is Fooshee’s one and only consistent workout. But why would he need anything else? “Wakeboarding in general is just an amazing workout for your entire body,” Fooshee emphasized. “You’re using your arms, your shoulders, your legs, every part of your body, your core, every part of it.”
 

Professional Degree and Better for it

But there are other factors to Fooshee’s longevity, ones that become perhaps increasingly significant as he continues to rack up wins alongside the years. In the midst of riding constantly, working at TSR, and attending Texas State, he refused to give up on the latter.

When riders turn pro, sponsor salaries, contest prize money, and product royalties quickly can tempt young, talented wakeboarders to abandon college or even high school studies. “There’s a handful of riders in all of professional wakeboarding that have graduated from college,” Fooshee acknowledged. “Less than one hand. And there’s absolutely not one that does the cable aspect.” School no longer looks like a necessary part of the equation when you’re getting paid to travel the world doing what you love.

But Fooshee wanted to stick with Texas State, and Texas State was willing to work with Tom Fooshee. “I got very lucky,” Fooshee confided. “I would go and submit my schedule of all the events I do to my Dean of Education. I told her what I did, the opportunity and all this stuff. And she was absolutely amazing. She excused me out of all my trips.” The agreement worked like a charm, and Fooshee acknowledged that his initiative was well worth it. “It took me a long time, but I’m very proud to have my bachelor’s degree,” he said. “To this day I am still very glad that I didn’t step out of school and do this completely. It taught me how to balance my life right.”

But his time at Texas State taught him more than that. Fooshee’s hard-fought bachelor’s degree was in exercise sports science with an emphasis on education. “Basically, we’ll call it the kinesiology degree for coaching,” Fooshee explained. “I got my Texas teaching certificate and all that stuff through school.”

Fooshee is insistent that wakeboarding really didn’t factor into going that particular degree route. But that route has indeed been beneficial for what he’s dedicated himself to. “Getting an exercise sports science degree makes you learn a lot to live a healthy lifestyle. At home, my fiancée and I, we cook the right meals at night,” Fooshee said. “And between that and all the exercise I get here, it’s really made life enjoyable and good.”

“I feel amazing at twenty-seven years old, compared to all my seventeen-year-old competitors.” Especially those of the bunch that live off a steady diet of fast food and candy. Fooshee quipped, “it’s funny to ask those guys, ‘how do you think you’re gonna be at twenty-seven-years-old?’”
 

King of Cablestock

It is the Monday preceding Cablestock 2012, the tenth anniversary edition of TSR’s “original wake and music festival.” Tom Fooshee is getting some practice cable runs in, while already playing host to many of the world’s best cable wakeboarders at his home cable park. That club includes the fourteen-year-old phenomenon from Thailand, Daniel Grant.

During a walk back to the launch dock, wakeboard tucked under one arm, Fooshee stops over to hold court with the recently-arrived Grant and a couple of English riders who are all taking in the scene. They briefly chat, laughing and greeting each other in a way that only fellow wakeboarders can. Fooshee closes out the conversation: “Seriously, now, if you guys need anything, just let me know. I got you covered. You can just call me ‘Father Tom.’”

But Tom Fooshee is the father figure whose most lasting lessons are delivered when simply leading by example. When Friday’s competition comes around, he is singularly focused. Fooshee dominates heat number three of the Cable Pro Quarterfinals. So much so, in fact, that the public address (PA) announcer doesn’t even sugar-coat where things stand when Fooshee’s turn comes around again. “Here’s Tom ‘Tex’ Fooshee for his second run–in what basically amounts to a victory lap,” he declared, rolling out yet another Fooshee nickname.

But that doesn’t mean that a victory lap for this rider with the clear lead has to be boring. The PA voice knows this and acts accordingly, talking louder, selling the ride to pump up the crowd. “He’s from here, folks. His home is right here.” The decibels and intensity only increase as Fooshee makes his way around the course, taking full advantage of the no-pressure spotlight.

“And there’s a textbook ‘Pete Rose,’” the PA guy called out, as Fooshee landed what he says is his favorite trick with the “pretty rad” name.

Shortly thereafter the ever-laid-back Cablestock beach dwellers went nuts with a collective gasp/cheer combination outburst. Fooshee had gotten the attention of the crowd that had up until now become spoiled by and almost indifferent to the repeated onslaught of amazing aerials. It only took him pulling off something that most had never seen before.

“WHOA! There’s a… I don’t even know what you call that. You just call that ‘sick.’ Not many places that you’ll see that,” PA guy echoed the crowd’s enthusiasm for the novelty.

After the run was over, Fooshee was pressed for a name of the trick that even the announcer had failed to identify. So he asked a fellow rider, “What did I do there?”
“Heart attack indy,” the rider responded. Fooshee turned and translated for the uninitiated, “heart attack indy.”

The King was hailed, even though the competition wouldn’t be formally decided until the following day. When it was time, Father Tom strapped on his board again and took home another pro cable crown in a close final over Grant, the teenage heir apparent.

There will be time later to use that degree and experience, to use that teaching certificate. Fooshee envisions himself teaching or coaching or perhaps shepherding the young Tom Fooshees of the world as general manager of TSR.

And when exactly will that time come?

“When my body tells me no more of this. My body doesn’t feel that way yet.”

For now, Fooshee still reigns. The King summed up his great, long ride best: “just to be alive and steady, doing what I love to do–I’m very fortunate.”

 

 
 

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