September 26, 2017
By Mac Christie
Flamborough’s Jeremy Kovak will be inducted into the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame next month.
A wakeboarding pioneer and two-time World Champion, Kovak will be inducted as part of the Class of 2017 on Oct. 17. The class also includes Charles Juravinski, equestrian Cindy Neale-Ishoy, figure skater Don Knight and former NHLer Ric Nattress.
While he’s been inducted into Canadian Wakeboard Hall of Fame and other Halls of Fame, Kovak said the Hamilton induction is special.
“When I was wakeboarding, not too many people in Canada knew wakeboarding,” he said. “It was one of the last countries to get into it.”
The fact that now my hometown acknowledges the sport and recognizes what I did, means a ton.
Kovak noted when he was on top of the wakeboard world, he had fans and would be recognized for his accomplishments internationally. But when he came home to Canada and the Hamilton area, he didn’t receive any acknowledgement.
“The fact that now my hometown acknowledges the sport and recognizes what I did, means a ton,” he said. “It means more to me, believe it or not, than the other (inductions).
“It definitely means a ton.”
Kovak, now 43, grew up in the Dunnville area until the age of 14, when the family moved to Safari Lake near Millgrove.
“I trained in the summertime out in the backyard,” he said.
Kovak started in waterskiing, starring for the Canadian junior water ski team from 1988-91. He won the world junior crown in 1990.
“Then wakeboarding came out and my sponsors wanted me to do that as well,” he said. “I loved gymnastics, I loved being upside down, I loved doing tricks, so I started doing it.”
Kovak was the first Canadian to win a World Wakeboard title in 1993. He won another World title in 1997.
From 1993 to 1999 Kovak racked up more than 20 Wakeboard Pro Tour victories — including the 1995 Canadian Masters title, as well as the 1996 Wakeboard Masters title.
In 1997, Kovak was on top of the world. He won the X-Games, World Extreme Cup, and World Cup, in addition to the World Championship.
Then disaster struck in 1998, as he blew out his ACL.
But after rehabbing for just over a year, Kovak came back and captured a pro tour title in 1999 in Abbotsford, B.C.
“That was the biggest and most important victory I ever had in my life,” he said. “I spent a year in sweats having nightmares — ‘Am I going to come back?’”
Kovak said everyone else had the same question — if he returned, would he be the same guy?
“It was a little over a year later, by the time I could go out and get it back to 100 per cent.”
The first tour stop Kovak returned to was in Sacramento, and because he had been out of competition for so long he had to take part in qualifying.
Due to his dominance in the sport, Kovak was used to receiving a bye to the semifinal.
Generally at the qualifying, there are few spectators, Kovak said, but when he went out for the qualifier, the shoreline was packed.
Kovak fell on one of his easiest tricks. The following weekend, in Portland, Oregon, the same thing happened.
“Everybody thought, ‘Well, he’s washed up,’” Kovak said.
But the next weekend, in Abbotsford, water ski pioneer Herb O’Brien came up to him and told him he had it in him — and he had a case of beer riding on his success.
Kovak went out and qualified, then qualified for the final — which he won.
“That tournament was major for me — that was a huge, huge comeback for me.”
But despite his success, Kovak was often a target — and the subject of controversy in the wakeboarding world.
He explained that in the mid 1990s, there was a so-called ‘new crew’ of wakeboarders, while Kovak was part of the ‘old crew.’
Due to his water ski background, Kovak was the subject of ire from those riders.
“It got pretty bad,” he said.
Kovak noted he also faced pressure from the wakeboard tour to convert to the X-Games look — getting tattoos and piercings — and he refused.
“There was some tension for sure,” he admitted.
Although he still lives on Safari Road, Kovak said he no longer wakeboards.
“I started skiing when I was four and by the time I retired, it was a job for me,” he said. “I lived in Florida for 13-14 years and it wasn’t five days a week — it was seven — every single day on the water for eight hours.
“When I decided to hang it up I was burnt out.”
Kovak noted every two or three years someone will talk him into going for a ride on the board.
“I’d go — but then I pay for it for days,” he laughed. “I’ll go waterskiing once in a while — I’ll go out for a slalom set and try to keep in shape.”
While he wrote an instructional wakeboarding book following his retirement in 2000, Kovak — who now works as a contractor — said he doesn’t really follow the sport.
“I kind of went into a new chapter of my life,” he said. “I got married and have kids.”
Kovak and his wife Britt Larsen — herself a member of the International Water Ski Hall of Fame — have two girls, Sailor and Remy.
He added he’s excited for the Hall of Fame induction
“This means a bunch to me — it’s very cool.”
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place a 12 p.m. luncheon Tuesday, Oct. 17 at the Best Western Premier C Hotel by Carmen’s. A limited number of tickets, at $30 each, must be ordered in advance from Hutch’s On The Beach, United Trophy, R&R Trophies & Awards or the Canadian Motorcycle Association.