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The Other Side: Raimi Merritt

To say the future of wakeboarding
is in the hands of Raimi
Merritt is perhaps a bit of an
overstatement. But not by much.

The home-schooled sophomore
out of Orlando, Fla., is an up-and-coming
phenom in an up-and-coming
sport. At age 16, she is a world
champion who's redefining women's
professional wakeboarding as the
youngest and most daring rider
on the International Water Ski
Federation tour.

Merritt turned pro in 2007. In
2008, she won a pair of IWSF World
Cup events -- one in Egypt and the
other in Qatar -- and finished fifth in
the Queen of Wake standings.
Not simply satisfied with taking
the sport by storm as a rookie,
she spent the time between the
2008 and 2009 seasons working on
her moves.

"I want to be as good as the
guys,"Merritt says. "I know everyone
will say, 'She can't be as good as
them.' But I try and think positive
and know that I can."

Merritt took a step toward her
goal by spending much of the offseason
perfecting a dangerous trick
most female competitors won't even
try. On her first attempt, she paid the
price for her boldness. The second
time she made history.

In March, Merritt became the
first woman to complete a behind-the-
boat S-Bend -- a twirling move
in which her body flies parallel to
the water in a Superman pose and
her torso spins around 360
degrees. At first, Merritt overshot
her landing and slammed into the
water, ricocheting like a crash-test
dummy. On her second try, she
nailed the S-Bend.

"She is in full stride to take the
top spot, and the other girls know it,"
says Merritt's coach, Mike Ferraro.

"She's coming up with these tricks
that no other girl has ever tried."

According to Ferraro, wakeboarding
is gigantic in Europe largely
because of its presence on cable TV. It
trails action sports like snowboarding
and skateboarding in terms of
popularity here in the United States,
but it's quickly catching up. If Merritt
continues pulling off tricks like the
S-Bend, she could help give wakeboarding
the kind of exposure it
needs to grow even more.

"The future is bright," Ferraro
says. "There's so much room for the
girls to improve because there are so
many tricks that haven't been done."
Thanks to Merritt, that list keeps
getting smaller.

360: Around the Other Side
Hawaii native Coco Ho, who will graduate from Elite Element Academy (Honolulu) in June,
is the youngest surfer on the 2009 ASP Women's World Tour. She finished third at the season's first
event, March's Roxy Pro Gold Coast.

Brian A. Giuffra covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.