Guenther Oka, from landlocked Monfort Heights, is now one of the best wakeboarders in the world

Last year's Pro World Junior champion
Guenther Oka, from landlocked Monfort Heights, is now one of the best wakeboarders in the world
Posted at 12:00 PM, Mar 26, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Guenther Oka started wakeboarding when he was 3 years old. His family has a place on Williamstown Lake in Grant County, Kentucky. His mom, Janie, and dad, Thomas, were water-skiers.

"We'd go to the lake house every weekend," Oka said. "When I came around, it was kind of a no-brainer to plop me on a wakeboard and see what happened with it."

Williamstown Lake is full of other water-skiers and wakeboarders every weekend. Pretty much none of them turn it into a living.

But Oka, 18, has.

In fact, he was the overall Pro Junior World champion last year.

So how did a kid from landlocked, lake-less Monfort Heights end up among the best wakeboarders in the world?

Guenther Oka (Photo provided by Rodrigo Donoso)

It started on a whim of sorts. Oka's father was more than your average water-skier. He spent time skiing in shows at Sea World in Orlando, and he saw Guenther's talent.

"In 2013, the wakeboard nationals came to Cincinnati," Guenther said. "My dad was, like, 'Hey, do you want to compete? It's in West Chester. It's like in the backyard.' I had learned quite a few tricks. So I got ready for this contest and to compete with all the other kids.

"I didn't do that great."

Actually, not great for Oka was 10th. And he was hooked.

"I was kind of inspired to learn more tricks and excel my skills on a wakeboard," he said. "That kind of set it off. It was enough to get me motivated.

"I liked the whole competitive edge of individual sport, always pushing yourself."

Check out these videos of Oka's skills!

By the summer of 2014, Oka was the junior world champion. He was a junior at Walnut Hills at the time. But Orlando is the competitive wakeboard Mecca of the U.S. To get the next level, Oka had to train year-round.

Of course, he had to get the blessing of his parents.

"It was a really hard decision," Janie said. "Since we had been in the wakeboard industry, going to contests, we had been to Orlando. We saw a lot of parents let their children go to Orlando without them at a very young age -- 11, 12, 13 -- because there's this carrot out there. They're going to do this, they're going to do that. They have the ability."

Guenther had shown that ability from the time of that first competition, but his parents wanted to wait before allowing him to make the big move.

Two things cinched the decision: Guenther won that world junior title, and the Okas ran into the mother of Mike Dowdy, a pro rider from Louisville, at a meet in Dayton.

"She told us her story on how she let her son go and do it," Janie said. "He was mature enough. He went to online school. After we spoke to her, we had a conversation with Guenther."

Guenther was also moving up to the next level, Junior Pro. For him to compete on the tour, which begins in March, he would need to be on the water in winter.

"It wouldn't have been fair for him to come out and only have had a couple of sets," Janie said. "We set guidelines and criteria: If you're going to do this you're going to have the grades, you've got to be on the game … "

It helped that Thomas knew a lot of people in Orlando from his time there and that Guenther would be living with Dowdy.

Guenther followed the guidelines, graduated from the online school (he's taking online college courses now) and flourished on the wakeboard.

Wakeboarding is to water skiing what snowboarding is to snow skiing. There are two types of competition -- cable and boat. Oka competes in both.

In cable, you're pulled around the lake by a cable. In a boat, obviously, you board behind the boat.

Oka honed his craft at Wake Nation in Fairfield, a cable park.  

"That's where I grew up riding cable," Oka said. "That's 30 minutes from my house. That's what I like to call my home park."

The cable park allows you to have six or seven people spaced out on the cable. Cable parks have rails and jumps, as a snowboard park would. Oka also snowboards. Before he began spending winters in Orlando, he was a regular at Perfect North Slopes.

"I do the rails and jumps," he said. "I think it helped me. The sports correlate."

Last season was a breakout year for Oka. He won six of his 10 events. He also finished second, third, fourth and ninth in the others. He won $24,250 in prize money. Sponsorships from Liquid Force, O'Neill surf wear, Heshbacks headware and Konex allow him to pursue the sport full time.

"The past couple years I've gotten support from multiple companies," he said. "There's the opportunity to make a career out of this and embed yourself in the wakeboard community."

Oka's season is just starting. He competed in Australia March 4 and 5, taking a fourth and a fifth. He'll compete in 17 to 20 events in all, including meets in France and England. The tour stops in West Chester at Voice of America Park on Aug. 12.

"It's one of the best events," he said. "I'm definitely going to try to make it up there."

After all, that's where it all really started.