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Jon Shields - The President of the Competitive Wake Surf Association

Jon, where did you start wakesurfing? Tell us about your first steps in wakesurfing?

For me, the start of wakesurfing began with a lifetime on the water.

I’ve owned boats pretty much continuously since I was a teenager. I also have 5 children, and as you might imagine that can be stressful for my wife, who cared for them while I worked long hours during the week. So, to preserve the lives of the kids and to give my wife a break, it became my habit to run off with the children and the boat to the river or a lake almost every weekend from spring through fall for swimming, scuba, fishing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing, and camping out.

In the summer of 2012, I decided that we needed a larger boat, and one that was better for wakeboarding as that was a favorite activity at that time for my kids and their friends. That summer I bought a used 2002 Centurion Avalanche.

After I got the boat, I used this thing called the internet to research various basic details (parts, known issues, etc.) and I discovered that this boat, the Centurion Avalanche, was especially well suited for --- wakesurfing!
I instantly realized that wakesurfing looked much more fun for my 50+ year old body than wakeboarding. And so it began. Soon the boat was full of fat sacks, lead and boards.
By the end of that first summer all of us were off the rope and having a great time. But of all my kids, the youngest and only girl, Zoey, progressed extremely fast, and expressed an interest in competition the following summer.

Over the winter I decided that I’d find a coach for Zoey, and ended up having one of the best, Caro Villeneuve, join us for a week on the Potomac in the Spring of 2013.

Zoey progressed fast, picking up a pretty good trick bag for her competition debut, later that year.

I progressed. And had a lot of fun.

Do you remember your first competitions? What was it like?

I do remember the first competitions. The first year or so of competitions I was a primarily a spectator for my daughter Zoey. The first was Lake Anna, Virginia in June 2013. For 2013 Zoey competed in Amateur Skim at Lake Anna, in Washington State at Lake Tye, at Koocanusa Lake in British Columbia, Canada, at Callaway Gardens for USA Nationals, and at Worlds at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, NV.

My first competitive event was at Lake Koocanusa in August 2013. I did not make podium.

In 2014, I partnered with Matthew Smith, and the two of us organized the Lake Anna event from 2014 to 2018 as a Gold Level World Series of Wake Surfing event.

One of the things that I noticed, and that attracted me to the competitive side of the sport, was the congenial atmosphere at wakesurfing events.

As a parent and lifetime sports competitor, at the early event I attended, I saw good sportsmanship, comradery among the competing athletes, and a family centered focus of the sport. These aspects were key positive points.

Do members of your family share your passion for wakesurfing?

All of my kids enjoy wakesurfing, some more passionately than others. All continue to enjoy days on the boat.

My second son, Christopher and his wife, Jessi, now have a child who is three. Next summer she will join the family on the water.
Some of you may have met my son, Anthony, either at Worlds in Ft. Lauderdale, or at an Arizona or Lake Anna event. While he does not compete, he has been very involved with the CWSA since 2015.

My oldest boy Landon and youngest son William are avid snowboarders. Neither competes in wakesurfing but each enjoys wakesurfing when we are out for the day.

My daughter has competed in Skim as an Amateur, an Outlaw and as a Pro. She competed at Worlds in each of those levels before entering the Navy in August 2016. She’s been stationed in Spain for the last three and ½ years and will be discharged in the coming months to attend the University of Oklahoma.

I suspect that she may resume competing as a Pro either later this year, or in 2021.

How did you join the CWSA? How did you become president of the association?

In the fall of 2014, I was approached by Caro Villeneuve, who was on the Board, who asked if I might be interested in being a director, and if so, to submit my resume to the Board.

I was asked to apply as I had experience in wakesurfing as a competitor, parent of a competitor, and as an event organizer. In addition, I had experience as a former competitor in other sports (swimming, wrestling, baseball, football) and as the parent of kids who competed in a variety of sports — baseball, football, wrestling, track & field, cross country, cheer, swimming and triathlon. My wife and I had been very involved in competitive swimming at the local and state level in Virginia, and with the Virginia affiliate of USA Swimming. My three youngest kids had been nationally ranked age group swimmers. I also have a legal education and familiarity in corporate and contractual matters.

In 2014 I was elected by the Board that year to serve as a director, together with Alena Pishchulina and Danny Biebritcher.

During the first year I worked very closely with Caro Villeneuve to develop the World Ranking System, which was launched in March 2015.

During the spring and early summer of 2015, Trevor Miller and I built a crude version of what would become the CWSA scoring workbook. That project began in May during a Pro Wake Tour event at Lake Lewisville, Texas. I further refined and tested the workbook at my event, Lake Anna, in 2015, and in August of that year it was used at the Konakovo event. I have continued to refine and update the workbook each year since, adding a variety of event format scoring and reporting capabilities.

The workbook has been integrated into our system, and is key to uniform reporting of results, accurate WRS rankings, and being able to timely post results at events.

Also during the summer of 2015, I enlisted my son, Anthony to develop more automated means to track the athlete results, points and ranking for the WRS. In the first few years, this was managed using excel and macros for calculations and ranking. Anthony has continued to work with the CWSA and the WRS project has continued to evolve. The WRS has been integrated into our athlete registration system, event application system, and the event registration system.

In the fall of 2015, I was elected Secretary, and served in that position until I was elected President in August 2017.

Based on developments during the 2015 season, I developed, and the board approved, the current pre-event and protest procedure for results, and implemented the by division event results posting requirements.

In the spring of 2017, with the help of Anastasia Nisenbaum, I oversaw the consolidation of various Rules and practices into a unified set of Rules. In 2018, the WRS rules were also integrated in the CWSA Wake Surfing Competition Guildlines.

Since 2016, I’ve been the chairman of the WRS Committee, which is primarily responsible for maintaining that system. Our work includes an annual audit of its performance, including modeling proposed modifications. We rotate our board members on that committee to educate the Board on the details of this system, and the breadth of data available for decision making. We also rely on non-director volunteers, such as Jeff Walker.

One of my primary focuses as president, and before that that as a director and secretary, is positioning the resources of the CWSA to be able to better understand the growth of the sport based on the data which is collected to perform the various functions of the CWSA, including accurately managing the WRS. This allows us to make informed decisions based on actual data about skill levels, growth in various regions and countries, and how to fairly select athletes to compete in event such as the World Wake Surfing Championship.

It’s known that working for the CWSA is not paid, it’s a volunteer job. And you put a lot of time and effort into it. How do you manage to combine that with your main job?

This has not been easy. This is not my problem alone, no director is paid for their work, and all directors put in a considerable amount of time and effort.

The CWSA board meets at least monthly, and typically those meetings last from 2 to 3 ½ hours each.

Between the Board meetings, directors and other volunteers engage in committee assignments, examining various issues that have come up during the past season, and addressing other issues that may be coming in the future.

And during the course of each month, I am in regular and frequent communication with all directors, by text, email and telephone, including the Russian directors, Svetlana Belova and Ekaterina Kuznetsova.

For the Executive committee members, the Vice President Samar Suleiman, Treasurer Mike Viland, and Secretary Eric Grindland, we are in daily communication.

I am thankful to have very passionate and engaged Directors and Officers.

What is the future of the CWSA? How will you be developing wakesurfing?

This question will require a War and Peace length response.

The short version is that I will continue to guide the CWSA to provide a fair and level playing field for all wakesurf athletes to play on, at every competitive level.

The CWSA will continue its efforts to expand competitive opportunities into more countries and regions and will advocate the use of its experience developed Rules and formats to minimize athlete confusion as the sport develops.

Stay tuned, there are many developments which will be rolled out in the coming months.

What is your attitude to Russian wakesurfing?

Positive. Behind the USA, Russia is the country with largest number of CWSA athletes, currently at 155. Russia’s cousin Ukraine has another 55 athletes, and the other Eastern European countries account for another 15 or so athletes.

This is by no means a new phenomena. Wakesurfing has been popular in Russia and Ukraine for at least a decade, and Russian athletes have consistently traveled for wakesurfing event all over the world.

For many years I have enjoyed friendships, discussions and productive relationships with many Russian and Eastern European athletes, event organizers and sport officials, such as Alena Pishchulina, Maria Yuzhalkina, Nadia Kosheleva, Alexander Kozyritsky (both father and son), Anastasia Dyankova, Alexandra Tunenko, Vitali Ivanov, Natalia Dmitrieva, Anna Romanova, Nadezna Ilinich, Svetlana Mishanova, Felix Shpilman, Valeriya Goldova, Andrei Knaus, Tatiana Dudova, Stepan Korotkiy, Alexander Vainshtein, Nick Gorbunov and Vladimir Osadchiy, to name only a few.

I also had the pleasure of having a Russian right hand for two years, Anastasia Nisenbaum. Anastasia was extremely helpful with many improvements the CWSA has seen since 2017.

She, and Svetlana Belova have also been critical in the expansion of competition events in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Many of you may have noticed that one of the two co-head judges at the last World Wake Surfing Championship was Svetlana Belova. That decision was made for a reason: to prepare her for such large event responsibilities in the future.

This season, both Ekaterina Kuznetsova and Svetlana Belova are working on key matters in several committees, and with event organizers for the sport. Ekaterina is very much involved in the Awards committee, and the new Safe Sport program. Svetlana is working with me on the new Adaptive committee and is key for working with event organizers in Russia and Moldova.

I only see the sport growing in Russia.

Historically, Russian wake surfers have greatly enriched the development of the sport. Russian athletes have pushed the development of the sport individually, many voluntarily moving up skill levels. And many traveling extensively.

Russian Event Organizers have set high standards for event production. Twice in the past several years a Russian event has earned the CWSA award of Event of the Year, the Russian Open Wake Surfing Championship in 2015, and the INGRAD Moscow Wakesurf Cup '19 event just last season.

We have also seen new events in Russia and Eastern Europe, in more locations, such as the event in the St. Petersburg, Saratov, and Moldova. On our calendar we have a ‘European Championship' scheduled in Kiev for this year.

It is my view that the sport and the CWSA will only benefit by continuing to work closely with Russians athletes, event organizers and Board members.

In connection with the current situation in the world, how does Coronavirus affect the 2020 season and what measures do you take?

This global pandemic is a horrible human tragedy.

For our sport, and the 2020 season, the CWSA faces many challenges.

Every major sport has cancelled or postponed most events.

Recently we saw the unprecedented postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games.

The CWSA remains committed to the health and safety of all CWSA members, family members, event organizers, volunteers, staff and spectators.

In the short term the CWSA will monitor local conditions and if possible, events will go forward.

However, decisions of national, regional and local health authorities require close attention.

The CWSA has been very proactive in postponing events as soon as it became apparent that conditions required such action.

We continue to remain cautiously optimistic that this situation will resolve within a reasonable period of time, such that the remainder of this 2020 season can be completed. And we are actively looking at a number of contingency plans.

If I want to be a part of the CWSA and help. How can I make it happen?

Send an email to info@competitivewakesurfing.com. I’m sure we can find a place for you to help.

You can ask Jon questions in comments. We promise to publish each answer.

Thank you for being with us!
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