A 2003 Sumiton Christian graduate and recent recipient of a Bachelor’s of Science degree from UAB, pro wakeboarder Matt Sims has basically lived on the waters of Smith Lake since he was 12 years old. Now, almost 14 years later, he’s in the best shape of his life and he’s poised to continue polishing his lustrous record for years to come.
Sims is currently training for a Rail Jam competition that will take place next weekend at Guntersville Lake.
Sims and his twin brother, Stephen, always had a knack for watersports, whether it be slalom skiing, inner tubing or the countless sandlot games that siblings always seem to conjure up.
The brothers took an interest in wakeboarding when they were about 12 years old, a time in which wakeboarding held very little water in Alabama. Little did Sims know, however, that “the little sport that could” would soon make him a household name among the national wakeboarding community.
“When we started riding there simply wasn’t anywhere around here that you could purchase a board,” Sims said. “My brother and I had a rented board that we shared when we started. At first, it was just a hobby, because we had to teach ourselves for a while.”
Sims’ mother, Janie, vividly remembers the days when her boys first took up the sport.
“It seems like I was on the lake with them everyday for years after they first learned about wakeboarding,” she said. She then laughed and added, “We shared a lifetime of peanut butter sandwiches in the sloughs of Smith Lake.”
However, Janie did not just limit herself to supervising and packing lunches.
She went on to say, “When they went out to practice, one would drive the boat while the other rode and I would video tape their rides. When they finished riding we would go home and they would watch their runs on video and critique themselves.”
Settling for nothing less than perfection is one thing that would subsequently reveal that Sims was not just another rider; he was a prodigy.
“In 1998, we hired a coach from Nashville to come down and stay with us for a week, because we entered a tournament in Tennessee,” Sims said. “His name is Craig Archer and after he toured on the pro circuit years ago, he was ranked sixth in the world. Needless to say, I advanced greatly in that one week.”
The coaching proved beneficial, to say the least, as Sims would go on to win the Dixon, Tennessee INT Tournament at a mere 14 years of age. The next youngest competitor was 22.
“I guess, after that, I just knew this was something I could do well in,” Sims said.
Since making a splash in the wakeboarding world at 14 years old, Sims says that he has lost count of the number of tournaments he has competed in, estimating the total to be in the 50-60 range. And even though he cannot readily recall his accumulation of victories, he knows precisely how many times he’s come up short.
“I really can’t remember how many times I have won,” Sims said. Then a grimace crossed his face, “but I do know I have lost six times. I hate to lose so bad that I remember exactly how and when I lost. I use it for motivation to get better so that it doesn’t happen again.”
As Sims progressed in skill and age, he began traveling to tournaments all across eastern America, visiting such places as Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Texas and Missouri, to name a few.
Not only was Sims competing, he was winning and winning big.
At 16 years of age, he would put pen to paper and start being paid to do what he loved. His dreams were realized.
“When I was 16, I went to a surfing expo and showed each sponsor there some video footage of my rides,” Sims said. “A representative of the new brand, Ten-80, chose to sponsor me. They gave me free clothing and equipment to wear to tournaments.”
Over the years, Sims has been featured in “Smith Lake Living Magazine,” the national publication, “Wakeboarding Magazine” and he is featured on the wakeboarding DVD, “Refraction.”
Tyler Woods, a student at Bevill State Community College and Sims’ photographer/videographer, explained Sims’ national recognition by saying, “At the tournaments we go to, people know exactly who Matt is. I would say he’s probably top 20 in the world.”
For a man of Sims’ stripe, “Hollywood moments” just seem to come with the territory.
“Last month, Matt and some other people were riding out on the lake when a family saw them and asked them to ride for their son, who was having a party to celebrate his 14th birthday. Matt pulled some impressive tricks and the kids just went crazy. When he got close enough, one boy reached out and brushed Matt and screamed, ‘I touched him! I touched him!’ It was a great moment for Matt,” she said.
Many athletes gain success by mastering certain specific parts of their trade. The greatest athletes, however, seek the boundary between that which has been previously done and that which does not yet exist.
Sims found that boundary and when he did, he pushed. Following days of intense practice with his coach, Sims acquired quite a bountiful repertoire of tricks. Not one to ever become satisfied with mediocrity, however, Sims began to conceptualize his own personal trick, which, at full maturation, would come to be known as the 009.
“The 009, which stands for Osmosis Old Lady 900, is a trick I made up myself a while back,” Sims said. “It took me a while to stick it, but when I did I became known for that trick.”
Woods said that Sims has not pulled the trick out of the bag in competition, but “if he did and he stuck it, the judges would have no other choice but to give him the win.”
Sims’ fiancee Amber Eudi said, “It is amazing that Matt has invented his own trick. There’s only so much you can do on a wakeboard and for him to come up with such a complex, challenging trick is a testament to the level he is at right now.”
Sims is well aware of the hard work he has put in to become a professional and he greatly appreciates the dedication of the people who helped him attain his success. That is why he provides wakeboarding lessons on Smith Lake in the summer.
“The coaching I have received over the years has been so much help to me,” Sims said, adding, “I was so willing to learn when I was younger and now I am willing to teach. I provide either private or group lessons starting at $45 an hour. I welcome all ages and all skill levels.”
Jonathan Brown, a local wakeboarding enthusiast, has been taking lessons from Sims and says that Sims’ ability to coach in a “show and tell” format is something that separates him from other coaches.
Brown said, “He’s awesome. Lots of guys just sit in the boat and tell you how to do it. It’s a lot better when you have a coach like Matt who will show you how to do it.”
To schedule a lesson with Sims, call 522-7774 or email Boardr0215@gmail.com.