"I used to have a job promoting water sports for a company, and in my spare time I'd organise music events. This was really a way for me to combine my daytime and my evening jobs," says Mark. He's extremely excited (albeit a bit wistful) about the festival line up. "The bands we book are all the people we'd love to see ourselves! But of course we have to slog it out here on the lakes all day." With Supergrass, The Streets, Groove Armada and The Young Knives heading the line-up, it really should be something to hear.
It's also going to be something to see. Wakeboarding is, essentially, what you get if you waterski on a snowboard. You can do it equipped merely with a winch or speedboat and a lake, or if you're going to be pro about it you can install a system of rails and ramps on which you can do tricks (setting this up on the Blenheim lakes is one of the biggest jobs for Mark and his team "The rails get hit quite hard, so they've got to be stable. And because they're floating on water, that's a massive engineering job"). When you get really good you can not only stay upright, but also leap, twist crazily in the air, grab the board upside down, let go of the rope etc. Because it's such a young sport, everything is fairly freestyle, and new moves are being developed all the time, with a new language to describe them just about keeping pace. For a list of some of these terms, including The Tootsie, the Tantrum, the Shuvit and the Blind Judge, have a look here.
Mark's original festival at Abersoch in Wales, inaugurated 8 years ago, is now so popular that the 20,000 tickets all sold out 2 weeks in advance. So that's why they decided to try out the concept (with 5000 tickets to start off) at a new venue. Mark was blown away by the possibilities of Blenheim Palace. "When we were looking for places, this one stood out a mile. It's just fantastic for what we want to do. The house, the grounds, the monument - it's like a perfect festival backdrop. And everything's within close walking distance - you can park your car and just leave it for the weekend". And indeed, with its two lush lakes, cunning perspective-skewing landscaped lawns, ancient fairy tale trees, and of course the famous Palace majestically overlooking the lot, Blenheim really is a bit irresistible.
At the festival, the wakeboarding has to be kept as a spectator-only sport. There'll be a lot to watch though. High-level amateur qualifier on the Friday, and pros on the Saturday and Sunday. It's apparently the biggest title in Europe for wakeboarding, so the standard will be high: people come from as far away as New Zealand and Australia to show off their skills. A particularly unusual spectacle will be a 25m long PoolGap pool in the middle of the festival fields. It's really two pools, one raised 6 feet and one at ground level, with a ramp in between. Very, very skilled and foolhardy wakeboarders, pulled by a swift winch, shoot up a ramp and ollie (jump) from one to the other. You have to hit the rails on landing very precisely, so it's definitely a pro activity. Mark's very proud of this feature. "We brought it over from the states - it's unique in Europe. It's great because it brings water" - 200 gallons of it - "to the middle of the field, so people can see things up close."
The judging (one of the three judges will Graham Creedy of Wakeboard UK), is broadly based on things like how high the competitors jump (how "big they go") and where they grab the board in a move (it makes a difference, apparently). Bu it's a very young sport and people are developing their own moves all the time, so there's no rigorous system. "It's not a point-scoring exercise," says Mark, "It's more about style."
He's just this side of fanatic in his devotion to the sport. "Wakeboarding is a real buzz. I think partly because it's so new. Everyone loves learning new stuff, and each time you do it you get a little bit further - now a jump, now perhaps do a grab. I reckon more people at the moment are planning to come because of the music, but we're hoping that they'll see the wakeboarding and realise how amazing it is."
Tickets are from £40 - £110, and they and a full line up list are available at www.wakestock.co.uk