This spring, Chandler Powell graduated from Strawberry Crest’s IB program and wrapped up a high school career marked by hard work. He’s now getting ready for business school at the University of Central Florida.
But Chandler Powell’s road to graduation wasn’t as simple as that of his classmates, nor is he likely to be defined by what showed up on his report cards. He managed to juggle all the responsibilities of an IB student with all the responsibilities of a professional wakeboarder, and he’s managed to excel at both.
Not bad, for a teenager.
ROOTS IN THE WATER
Chandler Powell’s father, Chris Powell, was a professional kneeboarder in the 1980s. When Chris Powell was still active, Liquid Force co-founder Jimmy Redmond was putting sandal straps onto small surfboards in his garage and calling them “ski boards.” They were the precursors to today’s wakeboards.
Chris Powell was one of the first to ride, as well as one of the first to enter a ski board competition.
After Chandler Powell had a brief amateur career in skateboarding from age 4 to 7, sponsored by the Cove Skate and Surf in Brandon, he gave it up to play soccer and focus on other things.
“When I was 7, I just started getting into 7-year-old things,” he says.
But at age 12, Chandler Powell was introduced to wakeboarding. He and his family live next to McCormick’s Cable Park, in Seffner, and it wasn’t long before he grew to love the sport.
“I started right before my 13th birthday and got sponsored at the end of 2010, so I was 14 at the time,” Chandler Powell says. “It’s pretty quick, but since McCormick’s is right next to my house I was going every day. I pretty much had no excuse not to.”
In the summer, Chandler Powell’s parents would drop him off at the park in the morning and pick him up in the evening. Once he got the hang of riding, the McCormick’s staff would give him a list of tricks to work on every day. It wasn’t long before simple grabs and 180s turned into flips and other advanced tricks, and Chandler Powell caught the competition bug.
He calls it a “funny coincidence,” but Chandler Powell’s father’s kneeboarding ties then came back into play. Like his father, Chandler Powell became sponsored by Redmond and Liquid Force, with which Redmond is still affiliated.
At age 15, Chandler Powell started entering professional competitions. He didn’t do so well that year, never finishing higher than fifth place, but he started making podiums at 16. By 17, he became a full-fledged professional — adding sponsors in Loosekid Industries and Fuse Lenses, and picking up some first-place wins. That was also when he began to travel outside the United States to compete and where things got tricky with school.
Chandler Powell had competed around Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and California before. He managed those trips without much difficulty.
But leaving the country made things difficult, especially being in the IB program.
“I would work with my teachers every year, say ‘Hey, this is my schedule. This is what I’ll be doing,’ in advance, so I don’t miss school,” Chandler Powell says. “I’d meet with them, get my assignments, take any tests, complete my work before. I’d work on airplanes and take tests after (events), when teachers could be with me.”
Chandler Powell, who favored history and enjoyed math and science, graduated with a 6.2 GPA while traveling the world. His competitions have taken him to places like Abu Dhabi, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, Brazil, London and China.
“It’s let me see the world, which is really cool,” he says.
Chandler Powell will attend UCF in the fall and has some idea of what he wants to do with his life after wakeboarding. There’s nothing concrete yet, but perhaps that makes him more like the average 18-year-old college freshman.
For now, he knows that he wants to take his professional wakeboarding career as far as he can. The money, fame and sponsorship goodies are great. Still, there’s nothing that drives Chandler Powell more than the feeling he gets while out on the water.
“I really like the freedom with it,” he says. “I love how you can be creative. You can make tricks your own with different grabs, and rails you can do whatever you want with. You can have your own style and separate yourself from everyone else.”
He will compete in events throughout the rest of the year. After American competitions come to a close next month, Chandler Powell will start looking into international events for the rest of the year. He wants to improve on a pair of podium finishes at last year’s World Championships in Abu Dhabi, and to release a season-edit compilation video at the end of the year for his fans and sponsors to enjoy.
At the core of everything is the desire to grow.
“I just want to keep improving,” he says.