WHATEVER I expected from my toe-dipping exercise into the world of extreme watersports, it wasn’t a lesson from a European champion and a chance to shoot the breeze with them over an apres ski lunch.
But that’s exactly the kind of A-list experience you can expect at Xtreme Gene in Cordoba.
The wakeboard, waterski and wakesurf centre has been a mecca for watersports fiends since its inception in 2002.
It is no surprise that the globe’s top pros flock to the area every year, especially when you first set eyes on the stunning Embalse de la Breña, on the fringes of Almodovar del Rio.
The lake is a natural paradise far from the hustle and bustle of the Costa del Sol.
As you enter the town you are greeted by the imposing sight of Castillo de Almodovar, a hilltop castle which doubled as Highgarden in the HBO hit series Game of Thrones.
Upping sticks from Britain to this charming outpost of rural Andalucia was a no-brainer for Xtreme Gene’s husband and wife team, Matt and Debbie, whose extended family includes eight dogs, two cats and a horse.
“We didn’t come here to be millionaires,” Debbie explains as we drive up a winding dirt track to the lakeside office, “We came here for a nice life.”
The 54-year-old from Egham left behind a marketing job at Bacardi to set up Spain’s top ski and wake centre with Matt, 48, a former world number five water skier.
The ex-champ from Macclesfield is at the helm as Xtreme Gene’s wakeski head coach, his world-beating expertise played down by a laid-back attitude and hillbilly straw hat.
His professional but easy-going manner filters down through the entire Xtreme Gene family, including the wakeboard and wakesurf head coach Jordan Elizondo.
The 24-year-old is another champion, who first came to Xtreme Gene on his 12th birthday and basically never left.
He trains with the Spanish team, having won the nationals several times and even the European Wakesurf Championship in 2019.
The patient young coach has watersports in his blood, which is good news as this is my first attempt at ‘walking on water’, either in skis or on a board.
Although to be honest, I was perfectly happy soaking up the Cordoba heat on the Xtreme Gene terrace overlooking the lake, where a plunge pool and well-stocked bar create a compelling holiday atmosphere.
But it’s my ‘wake up’ call … time to hit the lake.
“It’s really glassing up,” Jordan grins as we amble down to the jetty at the water’s edge.
This is ‘waterski speak’ for the glass-like surface on the lake when there’s practically no wind.
Perfect conditions for beginners, I can’t wimp out now.
We head out in one of the boats, I strap on my skis and take the plunge, so to speak.
And hey, it’s not so bad as you might imagine, especially if you’re used to the salty sting and sometimes near-freezing temperatures of the sea.
The freshwater lake, which has over 30km of runs, is also a popular fishing spot, teeming with black bass, pike, barbel and carp.
“Keep your arms straight, shoulders back and knees bent,” Jordan shouts from the boat as I dangle in the water from the training boom.
After a few attempts under his expert tutelage I make it up onto the skis and start using the rope.
Soon I’m whizzing across the water like a stunt double in a James Bond film and it’s easy to see why this addictive sport sees so many people flocking to Xtreme Gene every year.
It turns out that I am far from the only beginner here this week, with Xtreme Gene regularly hosting families, holidaymakers, stag do dudes and college students as well as the creme de la creme from the watersports world.
And when your time’s up, it’s not over. Like snow skiing, the ‘apres ski’ is all part of the fun.
“Other water ski schools have 15-minute slots where you turn up and then you leave,” says Debbie, “We are not like that.”
While sipping a beer in the bar you’ll be rubbing shoulders with aces like Joel Poland, the British under-21 world champion water skier.
The young Brit is one of several world class athletes trained and sponsored by Xtreme Gene, and he has even helped out as a guest coach.
Amid the pandemic, business slowed to a trickle but since Spain opened back up, there has been a new surge of interest from those gagging for a better adrenalin rush than supermarket shopping.
“We have several guests in July, and August is already getting fully booked,” Debbie says, “Word of mouth is really important for us.
“We are flexible and people can stay in one of our air conditioned cabins for a day or a week, we can accommodate all group sizes.”
The site is sparkling clean, with coronavirus information posters and hand sanitiser in abundance.
Debbie prepares us some tasty sandwiches and I am once again raring to hit the lake – this time in wakesurfing mode.
If you don’t know what it is, a quick surf round YouTube will leave you amazed.
Surfers are propelled along by the huge wake generated by a boat.
Once you’re up on the board – which you aren’t strapped onto as with wakeboarding – and hit the ‘sweet spot’, you can let go of the rope and let the wake do the rest.
With Jordan blasting tunes from the boat’s soundsystem, it feels like we’re in some super-cool music video.
I eventually make it up onto the board and am riding the wake like a pro, before I eventually toss the rope back and dramatically ‘wipe out’, head over heels, in a matter of seconds.
However it is clear that I have earned the respect of one of Europe’s top water skiers and even topped up my tan a little – not bad for an afternoon’s work.
“The weather is always great here,” Jordan tells me, “And there’s just this holiday vibe, but it’s also one of the best schools in Europe.”
With my pride still largely intact I sadly depart but vow to return sometime soon to hone my new-found skills.
For more information ring the lakeside office on +34 957057010 or email Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org