3X Wakeboard World Champion

The Road to Redemption: WWA Wakeboard World Championships – Portugal

The 2023 WWA Wakeboard World Championships took place in Ferreira do Zezere, Portugal from August 30-September 3.  For many, it was the first chance to make their place in history, but for Kirby Liesmann, it was his opportunity to redeem himself. 

In 2015, Kirby competed in the Men’s Pro division at the Wakeboard World Championships in Portugal. Kirby stated that he trained hard – probably the hardest he has ever trained. He put in countless hours and effort, went over there, and had a subpar performance.  “I really lacked consistency in my riding, back then.  I had really hard tricks, but I couldn’t seem to keep it together in contest.  It was a really tough time for me.”  Kirby says he remembers being there and not feeling good about himself or confident in his riding. It was one of the toughest times for Kirby, in his competitive career.  His run did not go anywhere near planned. Feeling frustrated with the entire situation, he thought, “Forget it.  I’m just going to go on a hike.” 

In an effort to escape the situation and clear his mind, Kirby set out on an adventure up a huge mountain that was located behind the contest venue.  He said, “I just started hiking up this massive mountain.  I had this total release of emotion.” Kirby joked, saying he watered the path with his tears, but he was truly devastated to travel half way around the world, only to end up feeling completely defeated.  Once Kirby got to the top of the mountain, he completely poured his heart out to God.  He journaled and journaled, and talked with God.  It was in that moment that Kirby felt God reveal to him that he needed him to go back to the United States and completely revamp his riding, getting back to the fundamentals.  He needed to strip things down and get the consistency back in his riding, fine tune his skills, and build upon his strengths.  Kirby needed to focus on what he was good at, then he would be able to see the progress he was striving to achieve.

Kirby returned to the United States and went back to the drawing board.  He started to revamp his competition run. Since that point, Kirby has had more consistent contest runs and practice rides, allowing his confidence to continue to build.  He says he is now able to ride with a more level head, allowing him to be better prepared to face all degrees of pressure.  

When Kirby heard the 2023 Wakeboard World Championships were going to be held in Portugal, he knew it was his road to redemption.  He had his sights set on not just performing well, but defending the Masters Men World title for the third year in a row.  Kirby knew he needed consistency in his riding. He says he went there with one major goal in mind:  to redeem himself by winning the 2023 World title.  Kirby trained hard and went there with the mindset that he was not going to fall.  He also knew he needed to take risks if he wanted to stay competitive. 

Kirby had one last practice, the evening before he left the United States, without any falls.  He was able to have a 20-30 minute practice run on Wednesday, once he arrived in Portugal, without any falls.  

“My goal was to really maximize the opportunity of the course by fitting in 6 tricks down and 6 tricks back.  I knew as long as I landed my first trick inside the buoy and started my last trick before the final buoy, then they would count.  Course management was huge. I had to ride smooth, without any bobbles or hitches in between tricks, if I wanted to pull off a 12 trick run.” It was extremely windy.  “I just remember thinking to myself that it is never good to travel as far as we did, and not have good riding conditions. I was questioning if I needed to scale back my run and not throw my best skills.”  Semifinals came and went, and Kirby completed all 12 tricks without any falls, pulling off what he needed to in order to qualify for finals. “They were pretty much taking everybody from semifinals to finals, so I treated it like a practice run.  I got to the end and it was so windy; it was howling.  I threw a mint toe side, front side seven.  I felt like I gained a lot of respect from the other riders and judges. They kept saying they didn’t know how I threw that in the wind.  It was pure determination.  That really set my confidence up, going into the finals.”

Since Kirby won his heat in semifinals, he was able to watch all of the other riders go before him in the finals.  Everyone did a great job, especially John Crawford who finished fourth.  He got back to the dock, ecstatic, because he had just learned how to do a crow mobe.  Everyone was so excited for him that he landed it in the contest. “It was really cool to get behind him and rally him,” says Kirby.  Robert Linavskis placed third.  He runs a popular wake school in Portugal, called Side Wake.  Rob had a great run. “It was pretty cool to see him ride really good in his home town and on his home lake.”  Marcelo Giardi, from Brazil, placed second.  Kirby competed against Marcelo, frequently, when they rode pro.  Marcelo used to go to competitions in the United States, and was known for being a great shredder. He has been able to maintain many of his tricks through the years. 

After watching his competition in finals, Kirby said, “Here I was, again, on the dock…knowing my skill set should be enough to win.  I was kind of the pick to win, which is a good feeling. But, sometimes when you are expected to win, there is more pressure not to fail. I tried to keep my head screwed on tight and maintain my focus.”  Kirby says he stuck to his plan. He went out there and had a really good first pass.  Kirby states that he remembers feeling really happy with how he rode on his first pass.  On the way back, however, the wind was howling and the water was rolling.  “I was going to do a seven, but did a 540. Where I was going to do a crow mobe, I ended up just doing a scarecrow.  And where I was going to do a whirly five, I ended up just doing a whirly bird.  But I still got through the run without any falls.”  

After finals, Kirby notes being extremely winded.  He remembers doing the same tricks all day long at home.  But, for some reason, in a contest, there is extra strain on the body. Kirby knows he needs to work on cardio, as part of his daily routine, to build endurance for future competitions.  In addition, he remembers feeling short of breath before riding. His hands were clammy and his feet were sweaty. He could feel his heart rate rising.  Kirby knows it is lingering competition anxiety, and knows he needs to continue to work on overcoming if he wants to continue to improve.  He is aware it will take time and that he will need to put in work if he wants to overcome that autonomic response.

One of Kirby’s training goals for next year is to prepare his body and mind for the stress of competitions.  One of the biggest things he unlocked during this contest was a new level of renewed focus on the day of the contest.  Kirby remembers popping in his AirPods, putting on his iRide playlist (all of the music he likes to listen to when he rides), and just relaxing.  He says he did not tune people out, but he allowed himself to be in his own zone.  “In that moment, I realized that as a wakeboard coach, I am constantly talking and interacting with people. I am always planning, always moving stuff.  It was so refreshing to be surrounded by this beautiful scenery, listening to my music, sitting there watching other wakeboarders…totally vibing out.  If someone needed my attention, I would pop my AirPod out, respond to them, then go back to my music.  It was so relaxing not to have to exert any energy on conversations and interactions, and it was okay!  I didn’t want to feel any pressure and those around me understood I was in a zone.  I could not believe how refreshed and excited I was, and how that relaxing allowed me to be in my zone and find my flow.”  

Prior to leaving for the 2023 World Championships, Kirby began reading a book called Flow in Sports.  It talks a lot about establishing a routine before you train, and maintaining that routine before you compete.  Kirby mentions he now realizes that the more individuals can unlock that routine, the better they will be able to perform.  What works for one person might now work for someone else, but finding your flow is vital to being in the right headspace before you go out there and compete.  

All of Kirby’s training and focus helped him to achieve his goal and to redeem himself at Portugal.  He earned first place, defending the Masters World title for the third year in a row! 

Another big story, within Kirby’s road to redemption was being able to travel and compete alongside his own student, Brody Spriggs.  Brody, along with Brody’s parents, sister, and three sets of aunts and uncles were able to travel to Portugal with Kirby.  “How incredible is that support? And so far away!  It was incredible!” Kirby recounts.  “They were fully behind me and Brody and we had this entire community feel.”  Kirby describes going to dinner with a group of 12 people, something that is not common when traveling that far away from home.  He recalls feeling like they took over part of the town, with such a large group. 

When discussing Brody’s competition experience, Kirby says, “I was so proud of Brody.  He went into this contest, positioned as the underdog.  He was on Instagram, studying all of the riders, whom we had never heard of.  They were all foreign, with the exception of maybe two riders.”  There were 16 riders in Brody’s division.  “Brody really worked himself up and backed himself into a corner.  He didn’t feel like he had the skills to be competitive.  He has the big tricks.  But, sometimes when you are in the process of mastering big tricks, they come and go.  They just happened to go out right before this contest.”  Kirby reassures that the tricks are not gone forever; Brody will get the tricks back.  Brody went into the competition with less ammunition, but he was able to achieve more, with less, “which is a cool story in and of itself!”  Brody was able to beat kids who had bigger tricks, but because he rode smooth, had high amplitude, and held his grabs long, he was able to rack up the points.  Brody also sent a huge raley, which was really cool to see.

“The moment I will always tell about – the most proud I have ever been of a student at a competition – was when Brody came out and fell on his first trick, in his first pass.  It is the most horrible time to fall, with the most pressure trying to make it into finals.  Brody put himself back together, said a little prayer, gave the judges a little wink, and said to himself ‘let’s do this.’”  Brody finished his first pass and came back and finished 4th in finals!  For Brody to get 4th place against 16 of the best kids in his age bracket, from all of the world, was such an encouraging and inspiring thing to overcome. “There is so much more to come for Brody. He isn’t even close to his potential and I believe next year he is going to be so much on another level that he will be dominating. I am really proud of him for doing what it took to get him to the next level and I’m excited to see what his future holds.”

Another aspect of the trip that was so great was that they were in Portugal!  Kirby and the Spriggs family were able to sight see and be tourists.  Kirby remembers his first time in Portugal, being so focused on riding that he did not take in the beauty of the country.  Portugal is an incredibly beautiful country, with an incredible culture.  The group was able to take in the entire experience.  The competition was held in a small town, where the entire community rallies behind the event.  They put up amazing grandstands and deck out the entire town.  They display their cultural traditions and make everyone feel welcome.  

One day, Kirby and Brody explored a town called Tomar, where one of the oldest castles in the country is located.  The locals explained that much of the original architecture still exists because the area has not been devastated by war, as opposed to the surrounding countries. 

On the final day, they explored a town called Nazare.  Nazare is known for having the world’s largest wave, thanks to the Nazare Canyon.  The town is formed around a beach, with an entire surf culture.  The best surfers in the world go to Nazare during the winter, camp out, and wait for the massive waves to go off.  In the winter, the waves are an average of 50 feet high, with some of the waves measuring up to 100 feet in height.  There is a huge cliff that overhangs where the waves break. Visitors are able to look out of a light tower on the cliff, allowing them to envision how large a 100 foot wave truly is.  There is also a surf museum, where numerous surf boards from famous surfers are displayed.  Visiting Nazare was a great way to cap off the trip, getting to see the most iconic board spot in the world.  

Typically, when traveling with such a large group, hiccups will occur.  However, the travel was great!  No hiccups occurred, besides nearly missing a connecting flight.  The group ended up making it to the connecting flight within seconds of departure.  Overall, things worked out and the trip was smooth.  

Kirby recaps the trip, saying, “I couldn’t be more excited to say that I was able to three-peat, getting my third World title.  I am excited to get back to the United States and start training for more!  I would definitely love to go back to Portugal with my family some day.  I am so grateful for my beautiful wife. She supports me and lets me ride in the evenings to prepare, when I could be home, helping get my daughter ready for the night.  She puts up with my crazy work and training schedule.  I could not be more thankful for her.  I am also thankful for my parents, who continually support my goals and dreams.  I see Brody’s family doing the same thing for him that my family always did for me, from traveling all over for competitions, to my dad pulling me in the evenings so I could get one last ride.”  

Kirby also wants to give a shout out to his sponsors:

Stateamind Watersports and Iguana Marine Group – They provide Kirby and his students with the best boats to ride on – Malibu and Axis.  

Ronix – They provide state of the art boards, ensuring a comfortable ride and reliable equipment, allowing Kirby to focus more on the competition.

Anetik – On the day of the contest, it was chilly.  Anetik prepares Kirby, by providing warm gear, along with UV protection on cool or hot days.  

Zinka Sunscreen – Kirby was able to keep everyone’s skin safe from the UV rays by sharing Zinka.  

Excel Wetsuits – They provide Kirby with wetsuits; he was able to wear a wetsuit top when he rode at a cable park in Portugal.  

Sentact and the Pisani Family – Kirby got to meet up with them this summer, and is thankful for their continued support and sponsorship through the years. 

Woods Supermarket and the Woods Family – They provided snacks and nutritious foods during training and on the trip. “I had more snacks in my bag than I have ever had on a trip!”

Kirby is thankful for the generosity of all of his sponsors.  They give him the opportunity to build relationships and promote companies he believes in, who share the same vision of promoting family, health, and overall wellness in life, the Lake area, and beyond.

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