Still shredding at 49, Matt Vermillion inspires wakeboarders half his age
Watch Matt Vermillion compete during WWA nationals in West Chester at the end of July.
Tessa Berg Photo
If a sport’s dangerous or exciting, Matt Vermillion has probably tried it. He grew up skateboarding and waterskiing, raced superbikes on street courses and trained as a pole-vaulter for the 1988 Olympics. In the mid ’90s, as wakeboarding gained popularity, the Dublin athlete found his calling, winning seven World Wakeboarding Association national championships, including last year’s 40-and-over crown. The elder statesman, who works days at Columbia Gas of Ohio, talks about suiting up for another summer on the Scioto River.
I’m an extreme sports junkie. As goofy as it is, it’s my life. That’s what makes my heart beat. When wakeboarding came around, I was like, “This sport was made for me.” This is my skiing background, my water background. It was weird.
In spring of ’96, I take this lesson. This is like my third time ever on a wakeboard, and this dude teaches me three inverts in my first lesson. Ninety percent of the people who wakeboard never go upside down. He’s like, “You’re the closest thing to a natural I’ve ever seen, let alone for being 34 years old.”
My recent trip to Orlando was the first time I’ve felt my age. There are very few top-level pros who are even in their 20s. It is gymnastics on water. Look at all your Olympic gymnasts—they’re 14 to 18 years old. If you’re 22 and still doing gymnastics, you are a freak.
Our ski zone is between the bridges—Fishinger and Hayden Run. On the Scioto, it’s like a big party and family. I’ve seen it grow from two to 35 boats over the past 10 or 12 years at the boat club. It’s a sandbox, but everyone plays well together. It is a good vibe, being on the river.
The kids, they look at me as someone who has been there, done that. They’re trying to soak up as much knowledge as they can. I tell them: Have fun. As long as you’re having fun, you’ll get whatever you want out of the sport.