Since it first opened ten years ago as a System 2.0 park, West Rock Wake Park has grown quickly and not-so-quietly into one of the sport’s leading destinations. Not just in terms of wake park culture, designs or business practices, but in the idea that a wake park can be about so much more than just wakeboarding. One visit to West Rock, and you feel like family. The vibes are great, keeping things fun, inclusive and carefree, regardless of age, skill level or anything else. That is all by design, and we love it, so we caught up with owner (and passionate wakeboarder) Daniel Jarrett to find out more.
Give us a quick history of West Rock… where you are located, when you opened, and how you got involved in cable wakeboarding.
I grew up in the Rockford, Illinois area – I have been a lifelong water skier, and I started wakeboarding as soon as it became something we could do… learned my first back roll at Thomas Horrell’s family’s ski school in Florida, and always kept my eye on the growth of cable. Fast forward a bunch, my wife, Amy, and I were living in NYC, but knew we were near the end of our time there – my dad’s health was declining, and we had maxed out our apartment (2 kids & a dog). I’d always kept my eye on the growth of cable, so in the Summer of 2013 I called Sesitec US, asking what it looked like for a family to start a park without super deep pockets. Jordan McCormick and I spent countless hours on the phone and decided it was something I could pull off. After our initial location fell through, we called the city of Rockford’s park district, asking if they had any lakes available. Incredibly, West Rock became a reality in July of 2014 at Levings Lake Park on Rockford’s southwest side. We had two 2.0’s with minimal features, and major dreams of expansion. In 2017, we expanded to a full-sized cable, added more features, and continue to dream about the next phase.
What makes West Rock different, and how do you set yourself apart?
Three things: First, when we expanded in 2017, our goal was to create the park we had always wanted to see: an endlessly jibbable park, with lines to be found on each straight, minimal open water, and a feature set up that could be moved around and combined for many years to come. I would not say we were the first park to make “hacking” the thing to do, but we certainly played a role in park development moving away from big iceberg style features that stay in one place for the whole season. Matty Mulholland, David Vervenne, John Dreiling, and others have been so instrumental in helping us bring this vision to life. We wanted to have every style of feature: rainbows, boxes, rails, transition, etc. Our custom feature (inspired by Danny Davis’ “Peace Park” – designed by David Vervenne), the West Rock Custom, as well as Raph’s second feature pack, are the “anchors” to the layout.
Second, we always had a nagging suspicion before Covid that reservations based on skill level is the way to operate– Covid pushed our hand, and we will never look back. The original cable park ideas drew inspiration from snow ski environments (thank you Bruno Rixen!) There is a major difference, though… unlike mountains we obviously cannot have unlimited traffic of all different skill levels. If I go skiing at Mammoth with the LF crew, they are going to rip runs down the famous “Chair 23”. I can work my way down but am not going to keep up with everybody else. With cable, you can either ride or you cannot – you cannot scruff down a black diamond on your heel edge or butt, like you can on a mountain. Our mission is to grow lifelong riders rather than let people get frustrated after a couple attempts at the main lake to give up and never come back. We also love having our members and advanced guests knowing the speed will NEVER slow down while they are approaching a feature. Lastly, with weather or cable issues, we can call you and get you rebooked rather than have you show up only to find the cable closed without any notice.
And third: Culture is huge for us here – A loving/welcoming one. Even though I am a wakeboard nerd, care about style, riding proper, having pros feel welcome here, etc., our motto is “love people, then the sport.” We do not have any “easy” money here, so our focus must be on retaining customers. There are plenty of reasons for people to not even want to try wakeboarding for the first time – “I’m not in good enough shape”, “I don’t want to wear a bathing suit”, “I don’t want anyone laugh at me”, “I don’t want to be bad since I’m so good at snowboarding or boat wakeboarding”, “I’m not Michael Phelps at swimming”, “It’s too expensive”, andon and on – so our goal is to make it as easy and welcoming as possible. We do everything we can to dismantle those concerns and be as welcoming as possible to all.