Every once in a while, I’m reminded about great projects from the past. One of my favorites is a unique story of right time-right place, as well as wrong time-wrong place.
When I traveled with MasterCraft Boat Company to the GITMO military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, our mission –which we chose to accept– was a troop moral-building wakeboard demo. The “holy-s#it, this is awesome” factor was all-time. We were off to the Pearl of the Antilles.
You can imagine, prepping for a week at GITMO isn’t your average assignment. Adding to the controversy, or conspiracy, depending upon your take on the scenario, we departed just days after a feature story broke on the cover of the NY Times detailing unruly torture. We all knew, almost instantly, that this would make an already edgy trip feel just a bit more interesting.
In the end, even the story behind the story could make an entertaining dark comedy –which happened to involve military clearance, all-night partying, government red tape, stranding blizzards, plague-like illnesses, re-births and a sudden death. In no particular order, and all before we even reached Communist soil.
Flying out of Jacksonville Naval Air Base, our military-chartered 737 wasn’t allowed to fly into Cuban airspace. So, at about 300 feet and 300 mph, the pilot dipped a wing to what seemed like 90-degrees, tipped back upright, and then dropped us down on the tight landing strip. Until then, I wasn’t aware that airliners could maneuver like that, or maybe he was just one hell of a pilot. [Probably a little bit of both.]
From there, we were shuffled past armed MP guards and patrol dogs to the customs counter. One unique passport stamp later, our group was getting the mission download in white vans en route to our first stop –lunch and stories with a few good men and women.
This particular trip, especially under its unique newsworthy timing, was seemingly once-in-a-lifetime for everyone on board. Even the pro athletes, who are hired to chase their passion around the globe, were soaking it in. Adding to the recent media hype about the torture, most of us were also in the thick of LOST conspiracy theories. And the base, with its winding roads and mysterious half-hidden bunkers, felt like Dharma.
We toured the base and fleet, met great people, crashed an Officer’s going-away party, didn’t shot big guns, partied at the Tiki Bar, looted the store for booty and souvenirs, learned some history (and some current), surfed a rocky break at Windmill Beach and witnessed a Top Gun-style volleyball match between soldiers. And, I should mention, we got to wakeboard Guantanamo Bay’s warm Caribbean wake –on April Fools Day.
The story begins with two brothers separated dramatically by their career paths, but their passion for sport is the core connection. One with ambitions to be a professional wakeboarder, and the other a committed Port Security Specialist with the Coast Guard. We lined-up MasterCraft’s first production CSX center-console boat and an all-star roster of riders, as well as a few media outlets including ESPN the Magazine and Alliance.
Here are two segments from MasterCraft’s 2008 “Rewind” video, as well as the ESPN feature story.
ESPN the Magazine, May 7, 2007
For laughs and perspectives, here are a few videos I shot and lent to Zane Schwenk for his YouTube’ing –which includes one of his all-time classic stunts: rubbing elbows with a military MP dog named “Son of Sam.”