Photography by Reed Burr
Five years ago, as a freshman in high school, Hunter Sims tried out wakesurfing for the first time on Lake Arietta. Since then, Sims has set two Guinness World Records, placed in national wakesurfing championships, and earned his spot as a professional wakesurfer.
It’s hard to forget the first wave you surf. As you push into the wave, you can feel the rush of water on the board. You feel the struggle of finding your balance on the board and strength to stand up and ride the wave. It’s exhilarating when you start to feel the board floating on water. For Hunter Sims, a professional wakesurfer and Guinness World Record holder, it’s hard to forget the first wave he caught when he first learned to wakesurf.
A sport that has continued to gain popularity across the United States, wakesurfing is a water sport where an individual surfs a wave created behind a boat traveling no more than 14 miles per hour. Using either a skim style board or a surf style board with fins, you ride the wave similar to how a surfer would in the ocean.
“You put lots of weight in the boat to make a wave. You start with a rope, then as you feel the pull, you stand up and can throw the rope. You surf the wave as you would in the ocean. It’s an endless wave,” Sims says.
Born in Winter Haven and raised in Auburndale, Sims grew up living in a house on Lake Arietta. At a young age, he picked up skateboarding and surfing. With his parents owning a watersports supply store, he tried out different water sports, including wakeboarding. Then, he discovered wakesurfing.
“I was never into traditional team sports. I always picked my own route. That’s why water sports were really fun for me. I get to go on my own route. Wakesurfing is an individual sport; it’s not like a team sport,” Sims says.
It didn’t take long for Sims to make his mark as a professional wakesurfer. In March of 2014 as a freshman in high school, he tried out the water sport for the first time. “It was kind of a new thing I had heard about. Living on a lake, it made sense to try it out. It just kind of clicked with me. I was always doing board sports, and it was pretty natural for me.”
Within two months of trying the sport, his mother submitted a video of Sims wakesurfing, and he earned a wild-card invitation to compete at the USA National Wakesurf Championship in the outlaw division. He placed third in the division.
Three weeks later, Sims competed at the World Wake Surf Competition and came in second. “It kind of grew from there,” he says.
In the midst of his success, Sims picked up O’Brien, a nationally recognized water sports company, as a sponsor. A year after he first tried the sport, Sims was invited to compete on the professional level. He made his professional debut at only 16 years old.
“I see myself teaching people for fun and just enjoying wakesurfing… I’m always willing to teach people who want to learn.”
As Sims continued to ride the wave of success, he made sure to use his new talents to help others. His close family friends started an organization known as Small Steps for Compassion to help orphans in Tanzania. Sims wanted to do something to contribute. “I started a fundraiser for my buddy’s orphanage in Tanzania. I had friends and family members pledge money toward how many shove-its I could do without falling.”
What started as an initiative to help others ended up landing Sims a Guinness World Record. His goal was to do 80 shove-its — spinning the board at 180 degrees on a wave — continuously without falling. Several of Sims’ sponsors and friends jumped on board to support the fundraiser. When it came down to the wire, Sims surpassed his goal, performing 106 shove-its without falling, and setting a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive shove-its. More importantly, he raised several thousand dollars for the orphanage in Tanzania. “I raised money for a good cause,” says Sims.
He didn’t stop with one world record. He went for another one, setting the world record for 360-degree shove-its. He did 65 consecutive 360-degree shove-its in a row. In order to achieve his second world record, Sims’ shove-its were live streamed.
“It definitely felt insane to set a world record. I think that everyone at some point wants to set a world record. The coolest part is saying that you have a Guinness World Record and to do it for a good cause,” Sims says.
Another highlight of Sims’ professional career has been through his sponsorship with O’Brien. In the upcoming year, O’Brien will release a 2020 Pro Model board in collaboration with Sims. His current signature model, the 2019 O’Brien Censor Wakesurf Board, is a green and black pintail shape. His personal favorite style of board is a skimboard. “O’Brien makes some really great surfer and skim-style boards. The Censor board is a skim style. I like it better because you can spin the board and do more skateboard style tricks.”
In his last competition this past summer, Sims placed fifth at the World Surf Competition in Utah. He’s now preparing for a new season of competitions. The wakesurf season runs throughout the summer. During that time, Sims will travel to compete in more than five competitions across the United States. His daily routine preparing for nationals includes consistently working out at a gym in the morning to train and getting out on Lake Arietta in Auburndale to wakesurf. All his hard work is for the two minutes or less that he competes in the water.
“I was never into traditional team sports. I always picked my own route. That’s why water sports were really fun for me.”
“It’s a challenging sport because of the subjective judging and wave consistency,” Sims says. While he competes, three to five judges sit on the back of the boat and judge him based off of two different runs. Each run is no more than a minute long. In that time frame he can do as many tricks as the length of the course allows.
Despite the challenge, Sims appreciates the wakesurfing community. “The wakesurfing industry is honestly one of the most inviting industries, and it is very family oriented. It’s rewarding to get to see my friends excel in the industry and to be around a like-minded community of wakesurf enthusiasts. You can bring family members and young ones,” says Sims.
In the meantime, before his competitions begin, Sims recently started working full time as a real estate agent for Keller Williams on Team JLP in Winter Haven. “It’s more of a newfound passion, more recently within the past year. I am definitely excited to start helping people in the real estate industry. Central Florida people are pretty nice in general. We live in a good community filled with friendly people,” he says.
Sims also has a knack for growing rare tropical fruits. “I have been growing them for about a year and a half. The climate here is really good for that.”
When Sims looks at all that he has accomplished in the wakesurfing industry, he mentions that he couldn’t have done it without the help of others, including his coaches Cobe and Tarah Mikacich and friend Lee Strawbridge. “They have all been really great supporters and push me toward better success.”
As several individuals invested in him as an athlete, Sims hopes to do the same with future wakesurfers. Six months ago, he started the Central Florida Wakesurfing School. The school is located around Lake Arietta, the same lake on which Sims learned to wakesurf. At the school, he provides wakesurfing lessons, something that he is passionate about and hopes to continue to do in the future. “I see myself teaching people for fun and just enjoying wakesurfing. I have fun with it. I’m always willing to teach people who want to learn.”
For more information about the Central Florida Wake Surfing School, contact Hunter Sims at 863.307.9997.