Wake the World Gets Kids on the Water

February 16th, 2010

by Joyce Deaton

The young girl had mustered all her courage to tiptoe across the dock and climb gingerly into the boat, where she sat – for more than an hour – in her life jacket. An hour later, she was holding on to the boat’s swim platform for dear life, dangling her legs in the water. Greg Hodgin, the 40-something father of a 13-year-old daughter, took her hands and held them out over her, lowering her into the water. “Can I hold onto the boat now?” she asked.

“Sure,” said Hodgin, “but I want you to notice that I’m holding your hands, but I’m not holding you up.”  He eased into the water to help, and a short while later Brittini was floating. By day’s end she was no longer afraid of the water. Out on High Rock Lake, dozens of other youngsters who had started with fewer fears had spent the day skiing, tubing, knee boarding and wakeboarding from a flotilla of specialty boats driven by volunteers.

It was exactly the kind of day Hodgin had hoped for when he envisioned Wake the World, a two-day event providing fun on the water for more than 100 kids from The Baptist Children’s Home in Thomasville, The American Children’s Home in Lexington and The Children’s Home in Winston-Salem. Hodgin, of Asheboro, a four-time state wakeboarding champion and national champion in the masters division of the INT League (International Amateur Waterski, Wakeboard and Kneeboard Tour), came up with the idea gradually.

“One day my wife and I were at church, and some of our friends had brought a few children from the local children’s home,” he recalled. “The kids were about the same age as my daughter, and I got to thinking. There were many things our kids took for granted that these kids never got to do.

“On the way home, I said to my wife, ‘We should go by and take a few of those kids to the lake one day.’ She said, ‘That wouldn’t be fair. You’d need to take them all.’  I couldn’t think of any way I could do that, so I just shrugged it off.”

A few months later, Hodgin emerged from a nasty auto accident unscathed. “That got me thinking about the purpose of my life – what I was doing that might make a difference – and I started thinking of this idea again,” he said. Driving home from competing in the INT League U.S. Championship wakeboarding event in New Orleans, he decided to try it. He talked to the children’s homes in Lexington and Thomasville and found both receptive. Across the wide array of friends he’d made through competitive water sports events, he found about a dozen who enthusiastically agreed to bring their boats and drive. The first Wake the World event took place at High Rock in 2008.

On June 22 and 23, a larger Wake the World event brought more than 100 kids to High Rock Boat Dock Marina. As they arrived, they were assigned a boat and driver and became a team. To kick things off, the teams played the first stage of a volleyball tournament before taking to the water. The tournament’s second round came at the lunch break, when sandwiches provided by volunteers fueled the kids for their afternoon adventures. The final round came just before a cookout supper of 10-ounce rib-eye steaks and trimmings provided by America’s Roadhouse in Asheboro. The team that captured the volleyball trophy also won a second day at the lake, and winners of a Hula Hoop  contest won a pizza party for their cottage back home.

With insurance, T-shirts and goodie bags and logistical support, the first year’s event cost about $1,500, which Hodgin paid from his own pocket. With this year’s recession, though, he feared he might not be able to afford it. Again, a great idea surfaced. One of his favorite things to do is to go wakeboarding and snowboarding on the same day – a treat he’d introduced to a few friends who would usually join him. Why not make that a fundraiser?

“I’ve been doing the wakeboarding and snowboarding thing for a few years, going wakeboarding in Belew’s Lake, then going up to Appalachian Ski Mountain to snowboard,” he explained. “I called all my friends and asked if they’d like to go, and the response was great.” Thus was born Wake N’ Flake, which has become an annual event. “We charge $65 and furnish the tickets, transportation and a hoodie,” he said. “We invite all the kids in the children’s homes who are 18 and up to go with us, and last year five of them joined us. We raised $1,200 toward the cost of Wake the World. We’re also attempting to get ourselves in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most people to go wakeboarding and snowboarding on the same day.” Next year’s Wake N’ Flake, open to anyone who’s interested, will take place on March 7 in preparation for next year’s Wake the World, set for June 21-22.

Hodgin, who teaches wakeboarding, hopes Wake the World will expand to include more kids. Already, through the organization’s web site, www.waketheworldnc.com, and Facebook pages for Wake the World and Wake N’ Flake, he’s received calls from people interested in starting similar events in three other states.

“I have this recurring dream,” he confessed. “I don’t know how I’d be able to do it, but I keep thinking it would be great to have a camp on the water, where the kids would come to us and spend a few days. There are so many other things these kids could use help with – life skills, decision making – besides the water sports. Right now, there are several homes we’d love to have participate, but the distance makes it too complicated. They’d have to spend the night, and it would be too costly. If we had a place for them to stay, we could have kids there all summer.”

Though about 90 percent of the kids who attend Wake the World try wakeboarding and skiing, the event may mean the most to those whose early experience or shaky confidence has kept them from enjoying the water at all. Like Brittini, Jacob arrived at the lake proclaiming loudly, “I’m not getting in that water. I’m not getting on a boat.”  With a little coaxing from interested adults, he soon was swimming. By day’s end, when it was time to board the van for the trip home, he was complaining, “But I’m not done yet!”