RED BULL WAKEBOARDERS UNFAZED BY TROPICAL STORM IN THE FLORIDA KEYS

As Tropical Storm Alex churned in the Gulf of Mexico, five athletes from the elite Red Bull wakeboarding team ironed out final details for their Keys waterways adventure. Unfazed by the first storm of the 2022 hurricane season, the group arrived in Key Largo for what was sure to be an epic adventure.

“We brought a lot of equipment down, we had two boats, two skis,” said Brian Grubb. Grubb is a two-time world wakeboarding champion and, at 41, the oldest member of the team.

“It’s kind of a lifestyle. We’ve been doing this since we were 10 years old,” said Grubb of competing and touring with friend Parks Bonifay. Bonifay is recognized as one of the sport’s premier trick innovators. He’s also a bit of a jokester. “I probably did too many belly flops this trip. My belly’s a little red today,” said Bonifay.

The two, along with teammates Massi Piffaretti, Guenther Oka and Meagan Ethell, spent five days catching big air on their wakeboards from Key Largo to Key West.

Tropical Storm Alex forced the crew to pull their boats out of the water in Marathon for a day and a half, but that did not put a damper on the trip; the group just headed to the Keys Cable Park in Marathon and Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club.

“It actually worked good because they have a wakeboard cable there. So when the weather was too bad and we couldn’t get out on the water, we actually rode a protected wind spot which is a cable,” said Bonifay. The cable park uses overhead cables set on a track to pull wakeboarders by rope around a body of water. No boat required.

This was the fifth annual trip across Florida’s waterways for the group of close friends from Orlando, who also happen to be some of the best wakeboarders in the world.

The five started their Keys adventure at the Anchorage Resort and Yacht Club off Jewfish Creek in Key Largo, and headed south.

Once the storm passed, conditions were glass calm. “After a day and a half of waiting out Tropical Storm Alex, it was crazy to see the sun popping out, the water getting blue again and no wind at all,” said Bonifay. He took advantage of the conditions to do a little barefoot skiing behind a Sea-Doo through gaps in the old Seven Mile Bridge.

Grubb found his own obstacle course by way of a sunken boat in the waters off Key West. A “perfect” handrail was sticking out of the water, ideal for sliding.

“That was a pretty unique spot that was kind of sticking up in the middle of the ocean. For us it was a perfect little feature to hit,” said Grubb.

As the professional wakeboarders headed back to Orlando on the afternoon of June 6, they left with fond memories of the Keys and a desire to return.

“The Keys is one of our favorite spots to ride and this is the first time we got to do all of them in one trip,” said Grubb. 

“The scenic view is a hell of a lot nicer than it is in Orlando,” added Bonifay.

Next year the group will hit the Panhandle for their yearly Red Bull-sponsored voyage. 

But it won’t be the same, at least not for Parks Bonifay, who fancies himself a bit of a parrothead. “My boat’s usually playing Jimmy Buffet a lot louder down here,” he joked.

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Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.