Propping Up Participation

The Pass the Handle movement aims to get people interested in behind-the-boat activities.

Pass the handle is a movement. Yes, there’s a day associated with it — July 22 this year — but thanks to this era of social media and hashtags, Pass the Handle is a year-round event, or at least it’s growing into one. The brainchild of wake pros Zane Schwenk and Shaun Murray, PTH has gone from idea to event to the largest participation movement in the towed watersports industry, in just five years, according to the Water Sports Industry Association.

The key to PTH’s growth has been its adoption by the WSIA, which has given it an established platform, but beyond that it has grown because there’s no structure limiting it to a day, region or motif. Anyone who teaches another person to ski, board or surf for the first time can claim to have passed the handle. In fact, Schwenk, Murray and WSIA executive director Kevin Michael encourage anyone who gets someone else started to share it on social media using #PassTheHandle.

“It’s a social media movement, and really a movement to get more people to take friends and others who may not have the chance to stand up on the water and get that feeling we all know and love,” Schwenk said. “So #PassTheHandle is our hashtag, and we’ve had posts from 25 different countries and through social media channels millions of exposures. Engagement has been really high.”

Michael manages and promotes the movement from WSIA’s Orlando offices, but that’s a bit like saying George R.R. Martin manages “Game of Thrones” watch parties. He created the books that created the series that took on a life of its own and spawned events, and Michael hopes PTH is headed in that direction. While he (and others) work tirelessly to get the word out, it’s up to individuals and clubs and ski schools and others around the world — the Southern Hemisphere has its PTH Day in December — to host events and lure people to the water, and it’s working.

“Everyone who has a stake in the industry is participating, from pro athletes to schools to wake parks to manufacturers,” Michael said. “Now in its fifth year, it’s gotten to the point where Pass The Handle has grown its own legs and it’s now the cool thing to do.”

That was always the goal, to have the event grow into its own self-propelling and self-sustaining happening, with Schwenk, Murray, WSIA and interested stakeholders — essentially the watersports industry at large — as cheerleaders and boosters. Waketivists, if you’ll pardon the inelegant hybridization.

So what can the average boat owner do? Simple. Take someone skiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing or kneeboarding, even if it’s not July 22.

“Anybody can do it,” Schwenk said. “We have enthusiasts who have a boat taking friends and people who haven’t been on the water in years. We have cable parks and boat dealers and manufacturers getting behind it. Even schools and top athletes in the world. It’s become a worldwide movement to share that experience and to get that smile. Teach someone new.”

Boys and Girls Clubs have gotten involved. Wake schools, of course, do this sort of thing all year, but they use Pass the Handle to create some buzz. If your children have friends who have never tried a tow sport, have your kids invite them along.

We asked Michael about anyone who’s done anything unique or memorable. He told us that Schwenk once taught 56 first-timers in three and a half hours. The number would’ve been higher if a storm hadn’t materialized.

“Robby Maschhaupt is definitely known as a torch carrier these days,” Michael said. “He has plans to host 75 Pass The Handle events this year alone through Southtown Watersports in North Carolina.”

So what’s next for #PassTheHandle? According to Michael, “In the future, we are going to see more of a year-round effort, more merchandising and more ways for first-timers to get on the water for free!”


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