Ready, Set, Wakeboard
The Richards family embraces new ways to enjoy time on Austin's Lake Travis.
Dylan Richards grips the towrope handle and brings his knees toward his chest, positioning the wakeboard as he was taught just moments earlier. This brief waiting period, the minute or two spent bobbling in the water before the pivotal forward thrust of the throttle—it’s intense for even an experienced athlete. But for a six-year-old making his first attempt at the sport, it’s a total white-knuckler.
Dylan’s 11-year-old brother, Gavin, watches intently from the aft bench of the family’s 21 SPX. The boys’ mother, Nancy, turns to dad Mark and gives a thumbs-up. Mark swivels to face forward and then punches the throttle, bringing the Sea Ray onto plane. Behind them, Dylan emerges from the water in one smooth motion and pops up to his feet, a wide-eyed mix of elation and disbelief spreading across his face. A new wakeboarder is born.
A few weeks later, Mark and Nancy are still beaming with pride. “I was blown away when he volunteered to go first. He’s usually really cautious,” Mark explains. “We said, you do realize there’s 100 feet of water down there… ‘Yup! I’m fine,’ he says. So when I floored it, Nancy and Gavin started screaming—he was up! I’m still smiling about it.”
The Richards are not only new to wakeboarding, but also to boating itself, having purchased the SPX this spring from Austin’s Sail & Ski Center, along with a pair of shiny new Hyperlite State 2.0 wakeboards. A series of rainy weekends conspired to limit their boating initially, yet somehow Dylan’s big moment seemed fated to happen. The water has long played an important role in the family’s story; in fact, it’s responsible for bringing Nancy and Mark together….
Mark, originally from Wales, had scuba dived all over the world by the time he arrived in Austin. He’d traveled to the U.S. for a three-month work project and had packed his diving gear. With some hours to kill and some warm Texas weather to take advantage of, he called around to various dive shops until he found one with a group outing planned. “They had a class scheduled for certification training but were short on experienced divers, so they offered to comp my dive if I helped out,” Mark says. “So I’m here, and they introduce me to this really cute girl…”
A native Texan and A&M alum, Nancy had signed up for scuba diving lessons at a friend’s suggestion. Her side of the story rings familiar: “A few weeks into the classes, it comes time to do our certification dive. And we get to the site and there’s this cute guy…”
The pair got hopelessly lost diving in less-than-ideal conditions (“you could only see as far as your hand,” Mark describes), but that led to chatting, and more chatting, and soon it became clear they were mutually enthralled. “Long story short, we got engaged three weeks later,” Mark says, “and married four months after that. I’m not impulsive, I’m really not, but I just knew. There was something different about this girl.”
The newlyweds lived for 18 months in Manchester, England, before admitting they missed Austin deeply. They returned and eventually started a family, welcoming Gavin and Dylan into the world. Last year, they purchased a vacation condo in Lago Vista on Lake Travis, an area that had suffered the impacts of major drought. “There wasn’t much of a lake—it was basically an empty field,” Mark says. “But shortly after buying our condo, the area got hit with rain that Noah would’ve been proud of.” The lake swelled more than 25 feet and suddenly owning a boat seemed like the natural order of business.
Nancy hadn’t boated since she was a teenager, and since Mark hadn’t at all, he set about educating himself. “Mark loves doing his research,” Nancy says, laughing. “And I’m okay with that! When he said he really liked the Sea Ray brand and wanted to try it out, I was all for it.”
They headed to nearby Sail & Ski and were soon brought into the Sea Ray fold. “Our salesman, James Johnson, is such a great guy,” Mark says. “He spent a whole bunch of time with us doing demos, but man, when it came to delivery of our boat—he spent hours. We were such newbies, the instruction was so valuable.”
“James and the Sail & Ski guys went way above and beyond,” Nancy concurs.
As for choosing a model, the layout of the 21 SPX was a key selling point for the Richards. “The flexibility of the seating area was a big thing,” Mark says. “With the wraparound bench and different options on the passenger side, you can have a group and it’s really social. For what we wanted to do—friends coming over, wakeboarding, spending a day at the lake—the Sea Ray just seemed to match everything that we wanted.”
As they continue to learn the ropes, Lake Travis promises plenty of adventure. No need to trailer anywhere in search of variety, either; 270 miles of shoreline mean plenty of quiet branches and hidden coves to discover. Mark and Nancy describe anchoring up with the boys as being like a conveyor belt: jump off, swim around the boat, climb back up, repeat. “Getting into this has been amazing for boosting the boys’ confidence,” Mark says. “A year ago, Dylan couldn’t swim. Now he’s leading the charge!”
Mark and Nancy are excited to pass along their love of water to the next generation, and are delighted at how naturally they’ve bonded over it. “Like any boys, Gavin and Dylan like their electronics, but we can go out on the boat for four hours and there’s no mention of the electronics, no mention of TV, no mention of video games,” Mark says. “We bring up the boat, like, ‘Wanna go out?’ and they’re at the door, ready to go. It’s something they can grow up doing with us, so maybe they’ll put up with their geeky parents a while.”
“It’s the best family time,” Nancy agrees. “That’s something our friends at the lake all told us too; they said you’ll keep your kids with you a lot longer, they’ll want to bring their friends along, they’ll come home for spring break in college…”
“The deal will be, the boys can take the boat out, but mom and dad come with it!” Mark adds with a laugh.
The family plans to use this summer to work on their wakeboarding skills, taking turns on the Hyperlite boards and searching for the best spots on Lake Travis to sneak in some practice. As long as it involves the Sea Ray and each other, they’re open to all the possibilities.
“The lake, the water—it threads its way all through our story,” Mark says. “It’s interesting now to explore it from this different perspective. We have known the water from land, we knew it from under the surface; now we get to experience it right there on the surface.”