Mesmerizing fog hovers over the early morning hours at Henry Hagg Lake as trailered boats and big rigs start launching and stage themselves close to the dock, ready for their crews to arrive. Each “crew” is made up of experienced wakeboard boaters with a passion for watersports and a desire to give of themselves, so local foster kids can experience an opportunity of a lifetime –a day on the water. There’s also a flotilla of caring volunteers who are the thread in the needle that weaves all of the on-water and shore-side activities together.
“Wake the World” all started in 2008, when a near-death car accident led founder Greg Hodgin to a calling to serve a higher purpose. He created “Wake the World,” a non-for-profit 401 (3)(c) organization as a means of giving back; to use his skills as a U.S. Masters Wakeboard Champion in a special way to offer foster kids a day to “just be a kid” and pass along his passion for watersports.
How Wake the World Works
There are many event organizers in several states who share a similar passion and follow in the wake created by Hodgin. Hodgin says, “Each foster family is assigned to their own boat with a boat driver for the entire day. When the kids find out how the event works, a typical reaction is, “This is our boat -all day?!” Serious joy comes to their faces. Hodgin adds, “We give the kids an opportunity to learn how to wakeboard, wake surf, tube, and use zup boards…the list goes on. We provide a day of fun doing whatever the kids want. We strive to give them a day that brings joy, tons of smiles and to let them know they are loved by so many,” Hodgin says with a smile.
Going Hog Wild on Hagg Lake
By the time the fog burned off, families started to arrive at Hagg Lake. The Hagg Lake “Wake the World” event, organized by Mark Crowell, marks the first out of seven Wake the World events planned in Oregon for the summer of 2017. Families were given a quick orientation and overview of the day, and then they are paired up with their boat. Each boat heads out to get everyone acclimated to the water and learning the proverbial, “ropes.” Around noon, the boats start to come in. Everyone is served lunch, and after a short rest, they get to go out again until they’re tired and hungry for dinner. Meals and other goodies are provided by generous sponsors.
Vince Castronovo, a new member to the Marine Board’s Watersports Boat Oregon Advisory Team, helped kick-start Wake the World Oregon in 2011. “It started with just a few boats and a few families and as more people got involved as drivers or shore volunteers, the momentum picked up. It’s so exciting to see each event grow year to year,” says Castronovo. The events are held during the weekday to not impact plans of other boaters. As boats arrive, they stage themselves and take turns quickly launching, then waiting on the water nearby until it’s time to pick up their families. Volunteers on shore greet each family with a placard with their name on it, and then take them to their boat. It’s there when each boat operator does general introductions, explains boating safety rules, and waits for the kids to tell them what they want to do.
When asked about why he wanted to bring “Wake the World” to Oregon, Castronovo said, “I’m right there with Greg. So many kids are let down by adults. I thought, if there’s a way I can help shift how a kid looks at life, then I’m giving back in the best way possible. What better way to shift a life perspective than to connect kids to the water?” Castronovo adds, “Many kids don’t know how to swim and have never been exposed to boating and I can show them! I can offer up my boat and my time and possibly make a positive impact on a kid’s life.” What an impact, too. The energy, the smiles, the laughter; it’s contagious. One of the two events organized by Castronovo on Foster Lake enrolled 42 wakeboard boats, 170 kids, and 50 other shore volunteers. Castronovo also served as a boat driver for the Hagg Lake event and tries to participate in as many Oregon “Wake the World” events that he can, along with his supportive, energizing family members.
Back on Hagg Lake, after pairing up with his assigned family, Castronovo began with a quick safety talk on wearing life jackets, about what to do when the boarder is down, the important job of being a spotter, and that everyone in the boat needs to be his “extra eyes and ears” while he focuses on driving. It was quite a thing to witness, being on a boat with a family who had never been on the water before. Two of the kids assigned to Castronovo’s boat, Michael and Nicholas, were excited to try the zup board, which is wider than a typical wake board, but equipped with side handles and a front harness for the tow rope. The rider can either lie down on the board or stand up holding on to the tow rope. One of the kids, Nicholas, said he wanted to get on a board and “fly.” It was also during the first excursion Castronovo carefully explained what he was going to do as the driver and what the boarder needed to do to communicate –with hand signals. It only took a few falls and a few passes for everyone to figure things out. At one point, Castronovo said, “See that boat coming up on us to the starboard, right side? He’s overtaking us, so that means I need to keep the same speed and direction so he can safely pass us. That’s one of the boating rules-of-the-road.”
Michael started things off by hopping onto the board and within minutes, was trying to figure out how to maneuver the board over the wake for the most air time. After a few trips around the lake, it was Nicholas’ turn. From the moment Nicholas got on the board, to the minute he stopped, he was grinning from ear to ear. At one point, Nicholas did fly, letting go of the hand holds and flapping his arms like a swan. Everyone’s heart cracked wide open in that moment with collective “awe’s,” and claps from everyone in the boat.
For the next go around, Michael was ready to stand on the zup board, so Greg carefully demonstrated what Michael needed to do and how to begin standing while he was being towed. It didn’t take long before Michael was up and leaning back like a pro, riding the wake to and fro with effortless ease. Both of these boys were clearly water-babies and were naturals at watersports, eager to learn and soaking up all of the tips they could from Hodgin and Castronovo.
By the early afternoon, young Michael seemed particularly interested in the boat operation and Castronovo let him take the helm to get a sense of how the boat maneuvered. Michael played it cool, and appeared to be in deep concentration as he carefully listened to Castronovo’s commands. “Future boat captain right here!” exclaimed Castronovo.
Wake the World was a Wake-Up Call
What wasn’t lost in this “Wake the World” experience was the collective knowledge, skill and planning that took place, with seamless ease. Boats launched and retrieved quickly. Operators communicated amongst each other well, and the worst injury of the Camp Agape (Foster Lake) event was a small cut on the knee. The planning and detail of each event was meticulous, and everyone was able to “go with the flow,” when something didn’t go according to plan. Operators displayed courtesy, were careful not to wake other boats, and kept their distance from other water recreationists. Unlike so many of the negative stories the Marine Board hears about wake boat operation, this event brought out the very best in everyone and they set a standard for being ambassadors for watersports. There were extra boats in case one broke down, extra drivers, ample volunteers, plenty of life jackets, first responders, lots of different towing devices, and most of all…generous watersport enthusiasts being tremendous role models with skills to share and big hearts to make it all happen –so the kids could be kids.
“The thing about giving back is it all comes back to you,” Hodgin and Castronovo both echo.
The Marine Board sees great advocates for wakeboarding and other watersports in this incredible organization. What they’re doing begs for more.
If you’d like to awaken your own spirit of giving, check out Wake the World Oregon to take part in this tremendous organization.