Geo – Tags are write-ups on important Istudiomo filming locations. They are written and put together by significant people personally connected to these locations who are best at conveying the significance and importance of these places. Geo -Tags serve as a platform to give readers an in-depth perspective into these unique locations. These places are not just a cool spot or a random place that is filmed for this project, they are places that are important to the riders, but more importantly they are places important to wakeskating.
Words by T.J. Giesey
Every wakeskater has their dream spot. That place we go to in our head when we’re day dreaming about where we’d rather be. Chances are you’ve probably already done the first step of building your own dream spot, which is to pick up a pencil and draw your idea of the perfect set-up. Most of these drawings never see the light of day, but every now and then a couple of these artists get together and the conversation that ensues is one with no limitations, only the goal of painting the picture of the ideal atmosphere for doing what we love, with people we love, progressing ourselves, and our sport. It usually ends in a debate over whether a mellow hubba or a flat ledge out of the top pond would be better, to which the correct answer is “both.” It was only a matter of time, after enough of these conversations and sketches about what could never be, that someone would make the first move..
I think it was late 2009, after countless post session conversations about building “the dream” set-up, that Nick hit me up and asked me if I was down to move out to Suwannee Florida with him and start digging ponds to wakeskate in. At the time I was living in Orlando and had a big time job at the old jet ski rental service. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice everything I had worked so hard for just yet, so I told him that I’d have to think about it. Looking back on it now, I would say that moving out there was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. So in a way, I owe a “thank you” to the rude old couple who flipped the last jet ski I’d ever end up renting out (hopefully), because if it wasn’t for that annoying day of work, I may not have said “fuck it!”, dropping everything and moving into a shipping container in the woods.
The first day we got there Nick and I plowed a path through the thick chunk of woods he’d just purchased in my 1996 Ford F-150. We found a game trail that split the property in half and we proceeded to use it as our driveway. All of our plans changed once we got the chance to explore our woods. We realized that we had some of the most incredible oak trees in Florida hidden amongst the lush vegetation of vines and ivy’s and other “small trees”. We decided not to remove any of the oaks, but rather work around them. The first couple of months were spent running through Home Depot chainsaws and machetes like plastic cutlery. After we set our perimeter for the ponds, we began clearing the best we knew how. The “small trees” within our perimeter ranged from 10 to 40 feet tall and after dropping hundreds of them in every way imaginable, axe, chainsaw, truck, etc; we realized that we were going to need some help cleaning up the mess we’d made. In Suwannee, one of the most trusted names in site-prep, pond, and road construction is none other than Mr. Reggie Bieling, so we gave him a call. After our first meeting with Reggie, he was skeptical of us to say the least, which is understandable considering we were a bunch of kids from out of town, living in the woods in shipping containers with no power or running water, asking about digging ponds on our newly purchased property, before building a house.
Container life was one of the most rewarding and trying experiences of my life. It taught me to appreciate many of life’s everyday conveniences and become better aware of my own resource consumption. Those nights spent around the oil lamp playing games of rummy into the thousands, writing at least an entire album worth of songs about Diamond, and philosophical conversations in the dark before bed, made the long hot days in the stagnant forest a little more tolerable. Before we had any water on the property, the only way for us to catch a shower was to go to the local Motel 6 and use the outdoor pool shower or even better, take a trip out to one of the many near by springs and go for a dip. During the hottest months of that first summer, we explored tons of springs along the Suwanacoochee Spring Cave System and even a couple sink holes, searching for the coolest possible spot at the bottom of a pumping spring!
It took us two tries and a little over two years to get it ready for the first Suwannee Pro. Our first attempt ended right at about the point where all that was left to do was lay the pond liners and sod over them and fill them up. We knew that our property was located in a wetland, but had no idea that a tropical storm would cause the creek that ran along the east bank of our ponds to become a raging river that would eventually engulf almost the entire property and level nearly all progress made on the drops thus far. All the local papers and media outlets were calling it the end of the 100 year drought. In the month’s leading up to the storms, many of the nearby springs were drying up due to record low aquifer levels. We’d been manipulating nature for months and she was constantly reminding us of that. Thanks to a little help from our friends Reed Hansen and Nick Dauzat, we were able to come up with a contingency plan for the final stop of the 2012 Wakeskate Tour at the Projects that turned out to be one of the most progressive events in wakeskate history.
Fast forward to 2013, we moved back to the woods in the spring and recruited Trav Belsito to our little team, and with the help of Reggie and his crew we got back to work on our wakeskate paradise. We weren’t exactly back at square one though, our landing pond was still intact and our living conditions were upgraded from shipping container bunks, to the Rockstar RV which we were extremely grateful for and utilized to the fullest extent. We were in well over our heads once again, but with our new additions to the team and a little help from Rockstar, we were ready to pick up the shovels and get back to it . Coming Back to the property after all of our progress was wiped out by the storm, the vibe was heavy and having the groms around really lightened the mood. There were definitely days that they has us pulling our hair out but they never failed to keep us laughing and they weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and sweat it out for a 10hr day. We would not have been able to do it without the help and all around stoke of Travis, Garrison, Henry and Jake. I’m not exactly sure how their parents allowed us to put them to work all summer, but those guys all put in extended stays out there during some of the most crucial stages of the project. All the hard times we had out there have been long over shadowed by some of the best times of our lives thus far on a little piece of paradise that we will all be able to share with each other for many years to come. <3
Those last few days leading up to the first Suwannee Pro were some of the most hectic days we had throughout the whole project. In five days, we went from one mud hole with water in it next to two over grown sand castles, to having the liners laid and buried, and sod being laid while the ponds were filled at the absolute last possible second. Finally, the first ever Suwannee Pro was on! Having everyone out at the property for the first time was unreal. I’d spent countless hours in that forest staring up at the trees trying to imagine the sounds of a tour stop or get together. Hearing the smack of a board hitting the water solid echo through the trees followed by the sound of the crew on shore showing their stoke. If we could have only had Suwannee for that weekend, all of the work up to that point would be totally worth it.
When we started the project, we wanted to build a place where wakeskating could thrive in every aspect. Our community is small but tight knit and over the past few years, any sort of wakeskate event became a rowdy family reunion. Suwannee is not only a place to push the progression of wakeskating, it’s our place to cultivate those friendships, and surround ourselves with everything and everyone we love. Wakeskating has given us all so much, it was truly a labor of love to have the opportunity to work with some of my best friends on something we can be proud of, enjoy, and hopefully get to share with you one day. I’d really like to thank everyone who played a part in making Suwannee a reality. There were so many people who came out and slung dirt in the woods with us for a project that, on any given day, seemed impossible and never ending. We could not have done it without the support of Reggie and his crew, as well as the wakeskating community as a whole. Thank you Nick for involving me in this rad endeavor. Sprawling Oak 4 Eva!
Cinematography by Andrew Roehm and Mitchell Cobb
Photography by Nick Taylor and Andrew Roehm