Photo credit: Kevin Ianders
Our Monday Motivation series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com profiles the inspiring stories of commitment, courage and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a talented teen wakesurfer who used his rising fame in the athletic world to aid Tanzanian orphans.
An ordinary day for Hunter Sims involves taking flight on the water.
In the early morning on Lake Arietta, Florida you can find the teen’s silhouette trailing a motorboat, waiting for the ideal moment when wave meets fin to spin into his latest air trick.
Riding the board might feel routine to Hunter, but the pastime is a fresh addition to the surfer’s lifestyle.
Three years ago, after playing around with a wakeboard and a slow moving jet ski, the 14-year-old discovered that the sport of wakesurfing was as instinctive as it was effortless for him.
Before that moment, the freshman in high school had no idea what next semester’s schedule would be, let alone what wakesurfing entailed.
Seeing his interest in the sport, Hunter's parents traded their off-shore fishing boat for a specially-designed wakeboarding boat that would help to make the appropriate waves for Hunter to surf on.
Flash forward four years and the now taller, fitter, and more experienced Hunter Sims is not only a professional wake surfer with an upgraded board and motorboat, but also an established Guinness World Records title holder.
"I’ve spent most of my life growing up on a beautiful lake in Auburndale, Florida, and would run to the ocean whenever there was a chance to surf since I can remember. Having a board under my feet, whether that is skate, surf, even snow, just feels natural."
Both of Hunter’s parents owned an a watersports supply store so his seaside upbringing, coupled with his strong interest in skateboarding since the age of five, helped to formulate a teen who was capable of advanced performance on the water.
"I figured out that wake surfing was a sport just in May 2014 – I never competed in anything else before in my life, but for me this was fun, and I said to myself ‘I want do something with this’."
Given that practice was the equivalent to having fun for Hunter, the teen’s long-term focus was improving his execution so that he would be able to compete in the sport.
"We didn’t even know there were competitions!" said Hunter’s mother, Angel Sims “We met with respected wakesurfing coach Cobe Mikachic in Orlando at his surf school, Freedom Wakepark. Cobe was instantly excited by what he saw – he took Hunter under his wing and recruited him as the anchor surfer for O’Brien Watersports."
Cobe would ultimately become Hunter’s guide in transitioning into the world of competitions.
Hunter had the raw talent, but he needed to learn structure to succeed.
The pair set off to follow a disciplined practice schedule; working out once a day, training up to two times a day on a lake, and aiming to learn any moves Hunter had not mastered yet.
Less than a two months later, Hunter was invited to attend the August 2014 USA National Wakesurf Championship.
“I sent a video to the head guy of nationals, Scott Culp, and he watched it and said ‘absolutely I need to be in this’. He gave me the ‘wild card’ into Outlaw, otherwise known as national competition, which is kind of crazy because I skipped the amateur division and went straight to the semi-pro competition, with a bunch of big guys who had been doing this for at least five years.”
During his time at nationals, Hunter was unsure of what to expect of his performance and his competitors.
This was the first time the teen had competed, and though he felt he had given his best efforts in the water, he couldn’t be sure of how he would be received by a table of highly qualified judges.
The predicament rang through his mind each time he finished a run on the water. He knew he was skilled enough to be exempt from the amateur league, but was he capable of placing in such a talent-centered competition?
Despite the wavering odds that seemed to be against him, Hunter Sims made his name known to the wakesurfing world after podiuming in third place for the overall competition.
“I want to say it’s like a party on the water but it’s not, because you have to mentally prepare yourself. You’ve been training for this. You go out, you do all your runs, you do the best that you can, and you remember to have fun.”
Sponsors, judges, coaches and the other competitors were blown away by the 15-year-old who had taken the competition by storm.
Although the sport of wakesurfing was fairly new and on the rise in the athletic realm, national contenders still needed a significant level of skill in order to place.
Thanks to his performance in the national league, a few weeks later, Hunter was asked to attend the Wakesurf World Championship in Las Vegas.
Now that he knew more about what to expect, he hoped that the new experience would be enough for him to keep up with world class competitors.
“It really boiled down to getting past my nerves and learning to train smarter. My mom helped me with my ‘stage anxiety’ before events and helped calm all the nerves I had right before my run.”
After an intense championship, Hunter managed to place second overall.
From that achievement, the young wakesurfer earned fame in the field, as he received offers from sponsors to promote wakeboards on social media as well as the opportunity to compete in the upcoming 2015 professional leagues.
Despite the flood of prospects that seemed to present themselves to Hunter, he wanted to find a way to utilise his success by sharing it with those who really needed it.
He remembered his close family friends, the Pickles, who had a house on Lake Arietta where Hunter lived.
“I got to know the Pickle family when they moved on to our lake about ten years ago. Their oldest son Ashton, quickly became one of my best friends and introduced me to wake surfing.”
The Pickles also had a philanthropic project called ‘Small Steps for Compassion’ which they had recently started, aimed at benefiting orphans, neglected and abandoned children in Tanzania.
Learning about the charity’s mission and that his family friends had believed in such a benevolent cause was enough to motivate Hunter to push the boundaries of his wakesurfing capabilities.
He immediately thought of a helpful way to further prove himself in the sport while also raising money for a worthy group of kids: Record-breaking.
“When my board sponsor, O'Brien, offered social media money to promote myself I wanted to do something that would really make a difference. I was really blown away by the big picture vision of Small Steps. They are not just providing a place for kids, they are raising them to be self-sustaining by gardening, farming their own fish and stuff like that. I knew I could not realistically get to Tanzania, so this seemed like a great way to reach across the planet and make a tangible difference in the lives of such wonderful kids."
Hunter decided to go after the record Most consecutive wakesurfing shove-its, a move that requires substantial leg strength, and for the boarder to spin the wakeboard 180 degrees while speeding through rough waters.
“The orphanage was right in the middle of construction and I knew that any dollar I could raise would go really far. I figured my friends and family would donate and if a few more would join in with O'Brien's help, we could do something really cool."
"Before I knew it, all my sponsors jumped on board, local news stations got wind of what I was up to and in the end we raised just over $6000! I asked everyone to sponsor me ‘per shove’, hoping to land 80.”
Prior to the attempt, Hunter had only been able to do 54 shove-its sequentially, making his goal of 80 a high benchmark to hit.
So with practice and a lot of nerve, the teen boarder set out to break a record for charity.
Getting ready on the lake for his attempt, new organizations, coaches, family and friends joined to support him on the day, which added to Hunter’s nerves.
Knowing he would need to push himself to the limits in order to raise the money created a high pressure situation.
When the boat reached a steady 18 mph, it took him a few tries to get his repetitive footing in line, but then the number of shove-its slowly began to rise.
With fatigue setting in mid-way through, his knees began to shake at the 70th shove-it; a significant amount was at stake here, as one donor pledged $1,000 if Hunter made it to 80 shove-its, and $2,000 if he was able to surpass 100.
After arguably the longest nine minutes of his life, Hunter fell back and plunged full force into the water, completing 106 consecutive shove-its.
With relief and enthusiasm, supporters met with the accomplished athlete to congratulate him on his achievement – especially the members of Small Steps for Compassion.
"He has no idea what effect this support will have for future generations on the other side of the world," said board member Elisabeth Spinella. "Raising awareness, getting our name out there, just letting people know there’s this need is incredible."
With the money that Hunter raised, the orphanage was able to complete a new four-bedroom home which would allow them to foster more children.
“In addition to the money, it is always great to raise awareness for such a wonderful cause," said Hunter. "They got lots of news and social media awareness, plus the team at Small Steps and the children they look after know that total strangers across the planet care deeply about them!”
For Hunter Sims, life has been about mastering the art balance: whether that be offsetting his weight on a skim board, considering which competition he’ll enter next, or maintaining a healthy relationship between high school and charity work.
The now professional wakesurfer has his sights set on more record titles to attempt and hopes to discover more ways to use his newfound success and budding career to champion other causes.