For Kirby Liesmann, experience has been his toughest but most important teacher.
Although a professional wakeboarder, Liesmann has taken his fair share of spills in the 21 years since he first got on the water at age seven.
“Start when you’re young,” Liesmann, 28, says with a laugh. “That’s the time to learn that stuff, when you’re not afraid to fall.”
In 2010, Liesmann took the school of hard knocks and turned it into an institution. Kirby’s School of Wake, based in the Lake of the Ozarks with another location in Fort Myers, Florida, teaches a strong foundation in the basics and builds adaptive programs to accommodate riders of all levels.
“Since I was 10 years old, I’ve spent a lot of time with professionals on figuring out what stuff worked, what didn’t,” Liesmann says. “I’m really able to customize the program based on my own experience as a wakeboarder.”
While Liesmann’s teaching methods draw from his years of training and practice, much of his business methods were found in an entrepreneurship class taken at State Fair Community College’s Lake of the Ozarks campus. As a part of the course, students collaboratively took their business ideas from sketch to reality.
The practical and personalized workshop not only got Kirby’s School of Wake off the ground, but it redefined Liesmann’s educational experience.
“Actually, in high school I was labeled as the type of person who wouldn’t go to college because I had a learning disability,” Liesmann explains. “My teachers [at State Fair] knew that; they were attentive to it, and they helped me in my classes.”
While a four-year college was not the right fit for Liesmann immediately after high school, he says State Fair prepared him to continue on to Central Methodist University and pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
“That was something that was never really on my radar until I had the right people around me encouraging me,” he says.
Knowing how a supportive environment can open up new possibilities, Liesmann takes an involved approach with his students, often accompanying competitive riders to their events, whether Liesmann himself is competing or not. With private lessons, his main goal is to give students an opportunity to make memories and learn about the sport safely.
“The youngest we’ve worked with has been three, and the oldest is 73,” he says. “We always say that if anyone is comfortable being in the water, then they’ll be comfortable wakeboarding.”
With his year-round school and partnership with Eternal Riders, a Christian summer camp, Liesmann pursues his mission to make wakeboarding fun and accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy it.
Story by Jackson Ingram
Summer 2017 Communications Intern
Marketing and Communications