Most little girls don’t grow up dreaming of becoming the wakeboarding champion of the world. But then, most little girls don’t grow up with a professional barefoot-skiing father.
“I really enjoyed barefooting as a kid, but my father wanted me to try wakeboarding because it was an up-and-coming sport,” says Raimi Merritt, 20, who grew up on Lantana’s Lake Osborne, where a variety of water sports served as “recess” for her and three home-schooled siblings. “My father showed me a magazine featuring a girl who had won a national championship in wakeboarding. He wanted me to go to that same tournament.”
Merritt entered the contest the following year and won the title. She was 10 years old. “Ever since winning that tournament I had a vision that wakeboarding was what I really wanted to do.”
What a vision it turned out to be.
Since turning pro when she was 14, Merritt has won eight International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation world cup events and two world championships (the contests are held every other year), in 2011 and 2013, the latter of which she claimed in September in South Korea – on a broken ankle. She had surgery in October to remove bone fragments and hopes to be fully recovered to return to the IWWF circuit in Australia in March.
Merritt lives in Orlando – a mecca of American wakeboarding – with her older sister Mia. On lakes there she perfects flips and spins and dipsy-doodles behind a $150,000 wakeboarding boat powered by a 450-hp engine, courtesy of Nautique, one of her sponsors.
Along with being a professional wakeboarder – a first-place finish in an IWWF event can earn her as much as $8,000 – Merritt is a sophomore at Valencia Community College in Orlando. She plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida and major in business.
“Mia is a fashion designer, and we’ve always talked about doing something together,” Merritt says, “but I still want to remain part of wakeboarding.”
How long can she continue to compete at a world-champion level in the physically punishing sport?
“It depends on how long your body holds up,” she says. “But I see myself competing for a really long time.”
Broken ankle or not.