While other preschoolers were drawing and cutting dolls or swords on paper, J.J. Ragsdale had a different idea. At age 4, he cut a piece of cardboard into the shape of a surfboard and then for hours pretended he riding it on the carpet in his home.
Fifteen years later, his creativity is paying off.
The 19-year-old Tempe man is the only Arizonan to qualify for a national sporting event that many aren’t familiar with: the FLOW (Flowboarding League of the World) Tour 2021, an international competition among the world’s best riders.
Flowboarding, or flowriding, is a hybrid board sport that’s been around since the 1980s. It incorporates elements of surfing, bodyboarding, skateboarding, skimboarding, snowboarding and wakeboarding, and is performed on an artificial wave called the FlowRider or the FlowBarrel.
Last year’s FLOW Tour was cancelled due to COVID-19, but this summer it’s back on track. In his first competition, on June 5 in Idaho, Ragsdale took second place in the men’s open division. He competes in Florida, Utah and North Carolina through July.
“I’m very happy every single day I go,” Ragsdale said. “People ask me if I’m getting burned out on it, but no. Never. There’s always a new possibility. Even after landing a new trick there’s always a new trick to land.”
Ragsdale’s first fell for flowriding at age 11, at Rhodes Aquatic Complex in Mesa. He’s since been honing his balance and water skills, wavesurfing with no hands on Saguaro Lake, snowboarding in the Arizona mountains and excelling on the swim team at Corona del Sol High.
He graduated from Corona in May 2020 after a disappointing year marred by COVID-19. Seniors missed out on so much — prom, saying goodbye to friends and crossing a stage on the football field to collect their diplomas.
But Ragsdale’s spirits were buoyed by his love of flowboarding, even if he had to conduct makeshift practices on a trampoline in his backyard while venues were shuttered.
He has taught himself more than 20 tricks — from the basic ollie, the 360 and something called, “shove it,” to the 560-degree big flip. And he invented the Upside-down Caspar Stall, in which one foot, hidden under the board, flips it 180 degrees.
Ragsdale hasn’t had a broken bone or concussion from flowboarding, but he does admit to getting a bruise a day and lots of pulled muscles. As a semi-pro, he practices 16 hours a week, and enjoys meeting and gathering tips from pros in his sport.
“My heart pumps out of my chest to see him fly through the air,” said his mom, Carrie. “The smile on his face is crazy amazing.”
When not soaring through the air, Ragsdale enjoys music, especially Bob Marley, and photography. He is an incoming sophomore at Mesa Community College, studying business. He is writing a plan to one day own a FlowRider venue to teach future riders and stage events.
He’s into designing boards and T-shirts, and has received sponsorships from local businesses, such as Drink Me! Tea Room, South Tempe Style, Anita Sykes of Joyful Yoga and O.C.D AZ.
Ragsdale hopes to qualify for the national championships, Aug. 13-14, in Texas. Those interested in sponsoring him may text 602-717-7525, or follow him on Instagram at jjragsdale33 or on TikTok at jsteezy.az
Ragsdale’s family will be traveling with him, forgoing a trip to Hawaii for the second year in a row.
“We’re riding this wave,” mom Carrie said.