water sports on the road

Some years ago, when Ryan Davis wakeboarded for a living, the crowds had to come to him.

Now, he helps run Step Up Productions, a company that takes the sport on the road to the public around the country. At the Baltimore Boat Show, which starts Saturday, Step Up Productions will organize a wakeboarding event inside the Baltimore Convention Center.


Called Rail Jam, the event features professional wakeboarder Alex Brown and professional wakeskater Clint Tompkins doing tricks while riding down one of two rails into a large landing pool. The boat show also has more than 500 boats on display, interactive video games and boating and fishing seminars.

"In a wakeboard contest, [spectators] have to travel all the way to the lake or wherever it's being held," Davis said. "In this situation, we can do it in places like the boat show where there's already a crowd."


To create the course, Step Up Productions will set up a roughly 40-foot box trailer (similar to what semis pull) with a one-foot- deep trough in the roof. They will install two rails at the end of the trailer, which lead down into a landing pool filled with water.

One of the rails has several humps, which the wakeboarders prefer, because they can get air and do tricks on it. Wakeboarding is a cross between snowboarding and water skiing. Wakeboarders strap both feet into boots attached to a board that resembles a snowboard. Then they're pulled behind a boat.

Wakeskaters prefer the second rail, which is more straightforward and lets them do 360s and kick flips. Wakeskaters don't strap into boots -- they just stand atop the board, like skateboarders.

"Wakeskating is way more technical," Davis said. "You really have to watch what they're doing to appreciate it. A wakeboarder can go big, jump up in the air and everybody goes, 'Wow.'"

For the Rail Jam show, the performers will be pulled along with a rope, much like water skiers. A powered winch will tug them across the trailer top and down the rail.

Though wakeboarding has gained popularity in recent years, Rail Jam is a big boost for the sport, Davis said. It puts the spectators right there in front of the action.

"It is the direction that wakeboarding is going right now -- not to take away from the experience you get out on the lake," Davis said. "That's more you and the boys going out and hanging out and wakeboarding for the day. We've never been able to really have it in your face like the Rail Jams offer."

Davis hopes traveling Rail Jams will help drum up more attention for the sport.


"If this is a way that we can gather interest in what we're doing and get people out there, that's what our job is, that's what we're doing," Davis said.

The Baltimore Boat Show is 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, noon-8 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, noon-9 p.m. Jan. 25-26, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Jan. 27 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Baltimore Convention Center, Pratt and Howard streets. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for those 13-15 and free for those 12 and younger. There is free parking in Camden Yards Lot C with a free shuttle bus. For more information, go to