"Mom, I can't believe it. I seriously can't believe it." Those were the words a frenetic Cory Teunissen spoke via video chat as he stood in disbelief inside the rider's tent at Warsaw, Indiana, following his last run at the final stop of the Pro Wakeboard Tour. Despite the 11-hour time difference, most of the Teunissen family had been watching the PWT livestream from home in Melbourne, Australia, as Teunissen constructed an incredible comeback to win not only the event but also the overall title.
"We're so proud of you, Cory!" his mom managed to say as Teunissen tried to sort the thoughts in his head while changing clothes for the podium ceremony.
The 2018 Supra Boats PWT season started like many others have over the past five years. At the first stop, in the unique lake inside Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona, Harley Clifford came away with the win. The Aussie phenom was the defending champ from 2017, not to mention his back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015. If it weren't for an untimely injury in 2016, he could very well have been the four-time PWT champ. Several other riders were considered contenders heading into the first stop, including Teunissen, 2017 runner-up Nic Rapa, and 2016 champ Mike Dowdy, but truth be told, the title was Clifford's to lose. His victory in Arizona only confirmed that fact.
Further dampening Teunissen's chances was a shoulder injury suffered just weeks before the season began. Riding competitively would require him to wear a brace throughout the season to prevent further damage. While most pros would take an injury like that and see the possibility of winning slip away, Teunissen managed to use the circumstance as an opportunity to go into the year with more optimism than in years past.
"I went into the year trying to be more relaxed and not take things as seriously," Teunissen said a couple of weeks after the season wrapped up. "Mental games had messed me up in years past, so I just tried to enjoy it more, control what I can control, and do what I know how to do on the water. With my shoulder, I was bummed, but I knew I could still ride and deal with it. I just hoped it wouldn't get worse as the season went on. Getting fourth place at the first stop showed me that I could still ride with the top guys and that I didn't have to worry as much."
The second stop, in famed Acworth, Georgia, which has played host to some huge PWT stops in the past, is where the fireworks of the season really began. In the finals, Clifford went off the dock sitting in fourth place. An untimely and uncharacteristic fall left the door open for the others to pounce on the podium and the points total. Teunissen was second to last to ride, and put down one of the best runs of his career, with two double-flip variations and the cleanest of clean 1080s. The judges awarded Teunissen an unbelievable 99.0 score, and he, along with most everybody at Lake Allatoona that day, thought he had it in the bag. There was a tiny crack, though, however small, and the last rider of the day, Nic Rapa, did everything he could to exploit it. By going huge and throwing some moves that were a bit more technical than Teunissen's, Rapa's run was nearly flawless, and the judges rightly rewarded him with a 99.5. The victory, along with Clifford's stumble, put Rapa in the lead for the overall PWT title.
"Nic deserved that one, for sure," Teunissen said after the results were announced. "I'm still pumped on how I rode, but credit to Nic for going out there and riding flawlessly."
At the third stop in Mooresville, North Carolina, the points battle got even tighter as Clifford, Rapa and Teunissen all made their way onto the podium. With some adjustments from his run in Acworth, Teunissen linked everything together and put down another super-clean 1080 spin to seal the deal and take the win. With Rapa earning second place this time around, the two were neck and neck heading into the fourth and final stop for the overall title, but Rapa's finish back in Chandler provided him with a comfortable lead. In order to not win, he would need to miss the podium entirely while having Teunissen finish at least two spots ahead of him. The potential for drama was there, but most figured Rapa had his first title on lock.
As fate would have it, though, the drama would come in droves as the riders took to the water for that final stop in Warsaw, Indiana. A few weeks prior to the event, Rapa injured his leg while riding in another competition. Nobody but Rapa and his closest friends and family knew just how bad it was, and the young Aussie kept it under wraps as he rehabbed as best as he could in preparation for the PWT's season finale. He had the lead, and he wasn't going down without a fight.
Throughout the day, Rapa battled his way through pain and made it to the finals. He had a chance to take the overall title, but it was going to be hard. His injury prevented him from doing what he did best: going huge. After his two valiant runs in the finals, Rapa found himself in fifth place. Teunissen had qualified out of the semis in first place, which meant he was last off the dock, but his first run didn't go as planned, and he was sitting in third for the day. That was just two spots ahead of Rapa. Teunissen needed to improve his finish, or he wouldn't have a shot at the overall title. Rather than play it safe and just try to improve on the run he already landed by just a bit, the Supra and O'Brien team rider went for broke and put it all on the line. As he'd done all year, Teunissen put down another impressive 1080 along with multiple double flips, not only vaulting himself into first place for the day but also snagging his first overall PWT title.
Over at the podium, after Teunissen's quick call with his family back in Australia, PWT MC Mark Heger filled everybody in on what an unbelievable finale we'd all been witness to. Not only was the outcome of the whole season determined by the last ride of the day, but Rapa had also managed to make the finals and nearly win while riding with a broken leg. The crowd, and many of the other athletes, was stunned. Everybody could tell Rapa wasn't himself because his riding level hadn't been near what it normally is, but a broken fibula was a shock. Unfortunately for Rapa, who has risen the ranks of the PWT as fast as any other in its history, this was the second year in a row he'd missed out on the overall title during the last run of the season. In 2017, he had the lead while Clifford was last off the dock, and the guy known as "the Phenom" snatched it away. This year, it was an injury combined with Teunissen's near perfection that dealt the blow. Despite the frustration and seemingly irrepressible what ifs, Rapa took it in stride, and everybody there gave him the credit he deserved. He didn't have to ride that day. He could have hung it up and tried to heal up rather than push through it, but that's not who he is. He wanted his shot at the title, and he wanted the fans to have a show.
"When I saw the X-ray and got the news, I was shattered," Rapa said afterward as he explained his injury. "But I felt like I owed it to myself and the sport to try to keep riding. I didn't want it to slow me down, and after talking to doctors, I knew I wasn't going to make things much worse. Ultimately, I'm glad I rode and proud of how I finished. Huge props to Cory too. He killed it all year long!"
Of course, credit has to be given to Teunissen as well. With everything on the line, he had to put together a ride to take the victory, and he more than did just that. Despite injuring his shoulder before the season even began, Teunissen stayed consistent all year long and pushed himself and his fellow pros to new levels of competitive riding. While he might not have been able to believe his win as he tried to FaceTime with his family halfway around the world, the rest of us very well could.
"Even a few weeks out, I still find myself thinking about it and smiling," said the newest PWT champ. "It's pure stoke; it's pretty damn cool. To be part of the list of overall champs like Darin Shapiro, Parks Bonifay, Phil Soven, Harley, and all the others is insane. The cherry on the top of it all for me was that the overall podium was all Aussie, which hasn't happened since Josh, Ike and Daniel did it back in 2005."
It’s safe to say the 2018 season will easily go down as one of the most dramatic finishes in PWT history. Combined with the Aussie sweep of the overall podium, it will also go down as one of the most historic. While it’s hard to imagine 2019 living up to the drama of this past season, we have a feeling it will. Either way, we can’t wait.