19: THIS IS THE END – OR IS IT?
The golden days of kneeboarding ended when it got dropped from the Pro Tour. Gone was the industry backing with big cash tournaments, and the spotlight of TV and constant magazine coverage. Without those incentives , there was little reason for riders to advance the sport. After that it was just like an old soldier: it never died, it just slowly faded away.
Still, without much maintenance, kneeboarding has managed well on its own. Over 100,000 boards are still sold each year. The majority of sales are the foam filled boards. They make an inexpensive addition to the family boat. It’s not to hard for a kid to get up, cross the wakes, and do 360s in a short time. They’re fun!
The Internet has enabled the remaining group of hard-core riders to put their extreme riding in front of the world. It’s entertaining to watch the impossible air and gyrating variations, but I don’t even recognize half of the tricks. One enterprising rider, Frankie Panno, has been doing everything he can to restore some of the luster to kneeboarding’s faded image. Frankie was initially inspired by Mario Fossa’s “Get Dizzy” video, and felt an instant connection to kneeboarding. He rode almost exclusively with wakeboarders, and his kneeboarding style became a reflection of that style: long lines, big wakes, rails, gaps, and kickers. He roomed with none other than wakeboarding legend Scott Byerly for 3 years, and found acceptance and respect for his style of kneeboarding. Frankie took stunts to a new level by throwing a strapless flying dock start through a wall of flames, and in another session hucked big flips off ramps in the snow.
Frankie Panno Has Taken Kneeboarding to Extremes at the beginning of the New Century (Branklin: ice, Rodarte: fire)
Frankie’s fervor for kneeboarding led him to HO Sports, where he’s become the point man for the first new high end kneeboard design in years – The Agent. He’s used the new media to promote the board and himself, reaching tens of thousands of riders with a few mouse clicks. Panno continues to make inroads in 2011 as an exhibition rider at the Pro Wakeboard Tour. “I never knew that was possible on a kneeboard,” is a common refrain after he finishes a demonstration. His latest project is a self produced film “Full Circle,” featuring his unique style of riding and starring many top wakeboarders. While Frankie Panno is not the only guy riding at a high level, he is the one leading the charge to make kneeboarding relevant again.
Panno Has Infused His Riding with Wakeboarding Style, 2000s (Narans, Domek, Roller)
VIDEO LINK: Frankie Panno “Into the Flats”
VIDEO LINK: “The Shut Down” with Frankie Panno & Maxim Model Justine Davis
It’s hard to believe that more than 40 years have passed since I first tried uncle Mike’s original Knee Ski. It’s been a wild ride since then, with many highs and lows. In recent years I still brush the dust off my Joker kneeboard, and take it for a spin around the lake or ride in the occasional ski show. Most of the old tricks are still intact: a front flip, a few rolls, and a wake 540. It’s just enough to warm up the crowd for the bigger acts that seem to always follow…
Images (used with permission)
“Adventures in Water Skiing: Part 2, Kneeboarding,” photo Rick Doyle, 1994.
“Fire – Panno,” photo Alicia Rodarte, 2000s. “Ice – Panno,” photo John Brankin, 2000s.
“Frankie Panno Montage,” Panno Jumps Boat, photo Steve Narans, 2000s. Panno Off Slider, photo Joe Domek, 2000s, Panno Head Shot, Lisa Roller, 2000s
Additional information from interviews with: Mike Murphy, Danny Churchill, Herb O’Brien, Mario Fossa, Ted Bevelacqua, Mike Reinman, Lonny Marchand, Mary Manion, David Macdonald, Billy Rossini, Frankie Panno.
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