Turner Gebers, 13, was disappointed with his first run in the World Wake Surfing Championships at Lake Pleasant, Arizona, in mid-September.
The wind was howling and the water choppy during the morning heat and Gebers felt he didn’t showcase the flare he normally exudes out on the water. He wasn’t satisfied, and worse, once back in the boat he had to sit and reflect for three hours until the final heat.
“It’s really tough when you have a bad run; it gets in your head,” Gebers said over the phone in early October. “I had to get into that mindset that I was going into the finals. I wasn’t expecting that I would make it, but you never know.”
There were three other riders in the heat and Gebers, the youngest and highest-ranked surfer in the amateur division, needed to finish in the top two to advance. Though his chances might have looked bleak, his dad Wade encouraged him while they ate lunch on the shore and watched the other competitors. He reminded Turner of his talent and all the hours spent in the water training throughout the chilly spring months and into summer.
“Turner has been in two world championships before in the junior division; it’s a pressure cooker,” Wade said. “Eight of the best in the world are going at it. But what Turner learned was sometimes his worst run is better than most people's best.”
The second heat, Wade said, was flawless. He soared above the wake on jumps and his maneuvers were smooth. Everything he struggled with during the morning he excelled at in the afternoon.
But because COVID-19 forced the event to go virtual, each run was filmed and archived for three independent judges to evaluate remotely around the globe. It would take a couple of weeks for them to piece through every run in the competition and reveal the champions, which occurred during a livestream on Oct. 3.
Too nervous with how his first run would be judged, Turner couldn’t bring himself to watch the live stream when it started, choosing instead to barricade himself downstairs at his mom's house. Wade didn’t watch the first heat either, thinking it would be difficult for Turner to secure a spot in the finals.
But a few minutes after the live stream started, Turners’ stepmom, who was watching, came running into Wade’s office with tears in her eyes. Turner had finished second in his heat by half a point. He was moving on.
Wade quickly grabbed his phone and video-called his son so they could then watch the last heat as a family. Wade knew that Turner had a good chance to win given how superb his second run was.
“He might have limped into the final round but I knew his second run was solid and he went out with a bang,” Wade said.
After showing all four runs in the final heat, the judges announced Turner as world champ.
“It was just an unreal feeling,” Turner said. “I just put my head in my hands and couldn’t believe that I had won. It was totally unexpected … "
“ ... It wasn’t for me,” Wade interjected. “I’m obviously a little biased though. I’m just so proud of him because what a lot of people don’t see are the thousands of hours he has put in the water. And he’s never complained; he just has a passion for the sport.”
Despite being the youngest world champion in wake surfing, Turner said he hasn’t let that distinction go to his head. He didn’t boast about winning the title with any of his classmates and mostly kept it to himself.
“I think my teachers talked about it more than I did,” Turner said.
Gebers will now move up to the semi-pro level, where again, he’ll be the youngest competitor in the Outlaw Division. If Turner can finish within the top three next year, he’ll get a chance to surf with the big kahunas at the professional level.
“I don’t really expect to win worlds the first year I go into Outlaws, but I’m still super excited and becoming a professional wake surfer was a goal I set for myself three years ago," he said. "I just have to stay in shape and keep my chin up.”