Only a handful of shops have the legacy and knowledge that are as deep as the sport of wakeboarding itself. Tommy’s Slalom Shop in Denver, CO has been at the cusp of all things watersport related for over 30 years. With the legendary Tommy Phillips at the helm, it is no wonder why this shop has become such an influential part of wakeboarding. Tommy has been credited for piecing together, Tony Finn and Jimmy Redmond. This landmark introduction led to the creation of what we now know as Liquid Force Wakeboards. To this day Tommy’s Slalom Shop Inc., with their vastly knowledgeable staff, continues to be the crucial bond that connects core manufactures to loyal customers. Through a little Q&A we were able to see how much we are indebted to Tommy Phillips for what wakeboarding is today.
Alliance: How long has Tommy’s been in existence?
Tommy Phillips (President Tommy’s Slalom Shop): Herb O’Brien sent me my first HO ski in spring of 1981 and I went to Sloan’s lake with my wife and went up and down the shore trying to sell it. Everyone there wanted to demo it so I just let them try it and I was lucky that a guy named Tim Zeeman bought it a few days later. Everyone I met that day was so special and most of them that are alive still shop with me.
A: When did the Florida shop first open and when did the store close?
TP: I opened the Florida store in 1995 since I had been there for years in the wintertime working for HO and Hyperlite in their dealer development program for Herb. I learned so much there and met so many people and was in love with Lantana and the beach. It was a miracle I found the surf shop that was closing as I drove up to it. It took me a week to get the landlord to rent to me since he had been burned so badly by the last people that were there. I fixed everything the previous shop tore up and then some and paid up several months in advance to earn his trust. We became pretty close friends and he was stoked when I was awarded the Bell South commercial that was shot on site as well as all over the area like an Endless Summer movie! When Mr. Lee passed away, his children and I had a major disagreement and I was forced to move out in short notice. Some things are meant to be so Nora and I came back to Colorado after 10 great years and shortly after we arrived here adopted our little girl from a friend who passed away.
A: Why did the Florida store close?
TP: Just too complicated to say in writing but it was a falling out with the new landlord that could not be solved. I had less than 25 days to sell the shop and move out! Whew.
A: You claim to have sold the very first wakeboard. When was that and what brand/model was it?
TP: The first wakeboard is in my possession at the shop now thanks to Dave Roberts the guy that bought it from me back in 1982. It is an Australian board that the inventors took to IMTEC in Chicago to sell that they made for an American distributor called Wellington Puritan that sold a few to Ski Master and it is called a Surf Ski! I will attach a photo of it. I posted it a while back on Facebook and Tony Klarich and I spoke on the phone for quite some time about the history of our sport.
A: What is your favorite wakeboard/ski of all time?
TP: Well my favorite wakeboard of all time is hard to say. I have two I currently ride. I have an old Vero from Hyperlite that has continuous rocker and at Watson Liquid Force hybrid that Jimmy and Tony gave me for sticking with them for a billion years. The Vero is stupid good and so soft off the wake. Don’t be surprised to see Herb bring this back. All of Liquids boards are sick and Jimmy is a life-long friend and teaches me so much about boards and life. I ride Ronix One bindings and they are sick.
A: You also held the first ski-board/wakeboard contest. When was that and who was there?
TP: It was in 1985 or 1986 at Soda Lake in Denver. We had a total of 9 guys in the contest and it was just an expression session. Tony Finn was there as well as Tony Klarich. A guy named Ed Arenas won. He was one of my skateboard customers and was way ahead of the other guys. Ed landed a big back scratcher and a couple of grabs. We were having a kneeboard and slalom tournament as well just to make it all work money wise. I was on the mic.
“Tommy is a super forward thinking individual. When he sees something cool, like the first Skurfer, the Flight 69, or the Shane Hybrid, he recognizes it right away and supports the heck out of it.
Tommy has done a tremendous amount for the sport of wakeboarding. From holding some of the first Skurfer contests, to teaching lots of people to ride every summer. We can use more Tommy’s in the sport!” Tony Finn – Founder: Liquid Force Wakeboards
A: What year did you host the WWA World Championships in Denver?
TP: In 1989 we had our first biggie at Cottonwood Lake in Brighton. It was pretty crude but Shapiro came and so did a little guy named Brannon Johnson that went on to be a sensation. We had several unsanctioned events at Cottonwood there and eventually a guy named Howard Bass that I recently hooked up with again called me to start the World Skiboard Association. This was in the early 1990’s and we had the first Worlds in Colorado Springs in 1992 and used one of the red and white Pro Tour boats with the net on it for all the events. Darin took the title away and held it for years. We were also running slalom wakeboard since Ken Bernard was pushing it so hard. It died on the vine pretty quick however. In Colorado Springs we had people from Thruster Wakeboards as Jimmy Redmond was there as well as another Hawaiian named Lance Bruge who built glass boards. We also met Scott Harwood who came from Florida with a few others including Cory Pickos and Russell Gay who where trick skiers. Harwood could do the biggest bat wings in history back then and probably can still outride anyone over 40 with one set of practice.
A: You were integral in the snowboard/wakeboard crossover events in the 90’s, what happened to those events?
TP: Those were some killer events and they just need to be brought back. A-basin has snow usually all the way up to mid June so we just have to make the time and do it again. Shaun Murray was incredible at these things and there are some guys around that would really kick ass now.
A: Apart from the name of your store, how has your commitment to slalom changed since the explosion of wakeboarding?
TP: Well first the focus now is on our web name, which is www.gettommys.com. We have stand up paddle, wakesurfing and skate as well so lots of things under one roof and website.
I started with Slalom since there was no wakeboarding back then. I had surfed in Texas and skated as a kid so the idea of taking our surfboard out on the boat was not new. Larry Glover and Greg Jarboe and I took my 9 ft longboard out but had little success behind his Glasstron. When I saw the first Surf Ski and saw them holding onto the rope instead of free surfing like we had imagined, I was so happy that our dreams were about to materialize. Wake is my personal favorite thing and will always be. That is why I invested in a cable system for my lake. It is why I hold so many events and teach so much. I have great respect for slalom however and my youngest daughter loves it along with wakeboarding. Now we have most of the slalom skiers riding cable since they can easily do Raleys on the corners. They take their slalom sets and then everyone is at the cable most of the day watching everyone fly on the corners and hit the kicker. I never understood why both disciplines have so much disrespect for each other. Same way on the mountain. I love lots of sports and was taught by my folks to respect others whether I think it is cool or not.
A: How did you come to know Herb and Paul O’Brien?
TP: My brother in law is Ed O’Brien and as a kid he got Herb to send me my first ski when I was about 12. I had double skied but was blown away by the Slalom he gave me.
When Herb Started HO, I was one of the first people to sell a few skis out of my garage. He gave me credit and then he vouched for a rope on credit from Tom Casad. Tom laughed when I told him one instead of a box full but I sold it and bought two the next week and it kept growing.
A: Tell us a good story about Herb O’Brien.
TP: Herb is the most creative person on earth and was so kind to teach me the creative process when I was first starting out. He told me he started with the end in mind instead of the beginning and we fed off each other’s creativity. The funniest thing I ever remember was one night in a hotel in Chicago with Herb and Brian Gardner. Herb was snoring so loud that he rolled over and fell between the bed and the end table and hit his elbow real hard on the wood and sounded like a bull snorting when he woke up. He was all rolled up in the sheet and did not know where he was. Brain and I laughed so hard I almost choked. Herb is the fastest thinker I have ever seen and can solve almost any problem in seconds where it takes others years to do it. I owe him everything.
Paul was just a little dude when I first met him at family events. He was one badass snow skier and could leave almost anyone in the dust with his cousin Jason. Paul was very shy however and it took a few years for him to warm up to me. He is also a genius and has unique talents that amaze me.
A: What about Jimmy Redmond and Tony Finn? Is there a story there behind those two and you?
TP: Well back in the day I was selling Tony’s Skurfers and was very high on his list of biggest dealers if not the largest. One of my early mentors was Buzz Watkins from Sail and Ski in Austin, Texas. I called Buzz often for advice and he told me about Jimmy Redmond and Redline design boards. He said they were more high performance and had real fins and be a great addition to my Skurfer line. I called Jimmy and we became fast friends. We got two boards in right away and tested them and everyone was pumped that they were so much better than Skurfers. I asked Jimmy to come to the boat show and sell in my booth. I put him on one end and Tony on the other expecting trouble but the guys shook hands after the first night and became best friends. Tony could outsell Jimmy 15 to one and kept sneaking up behind Jimmy saying “close him dude”. We all got a laugh out of Jimmy’s molecular approach to the world and Tony’s “just close him dude” response. Together those two are untouchable!!!!
“Tommy is a visionary with a giant heart. He knows how to get people moving in the right direction for the right reasons even if they do not know it themselves yet. He got Tony and I to “sell against each other” at his boat show before we figured out we should be partners. He got a group of snowboarders and trick skiers to come together and learn from each other and become wakeboarders. He got kids that weren’t allowed into the wakeboard contests to come skateboard and learn to wakeboard for free. He’s also an amazing guitar player. Wakeboarding is very lucky to have Tommy.” – Jimmy Redmond – Founder: Liquid Force Wakeboards
A: How has Malibu supported the shop?
TP: Well I must give credit to the past first. I had 18 great years with MasterCraft and they made me what I am today and deserve a lot of credit first. Malibu decided to make a change in the area and I decided to go drive their new 23 foot boat at Lake Tahoe to see if they were telling me a fib or not about how well it drove. My cheeks about fell off when I turned the boat and fell in love with the line and the people around it. They have supported me from day one and now we are in our 9th year with Malibu and it is an incredible partnership. They are so progressive and build the best wakes and handling you can imagine. Stoked to be part of their team!!!
A: What are your thoughts on the rise of cable wakeboarding?
TP: I am so excited about cable and especially the two tower rigs that are springing up. Cable lets people with much less income participate in wakeboarding. We put an ERC two tower system up at my lake and it rocks. Not one problem with the cable but that says a lot about my team of helpers especially Scott Palmer who is a red neck genius when it comes to doing anything that requires brains and a strong back. I have seen so many skiers come over to the cable that would only look away when the lake was used for wakeboarding. The cable can be run all day for $1.00 a day and people that are 5 years old and people that are 65 years old can do Raley’s on the corners. The two tower systems changes the whole game and now we will see a lot of skaters coming into the sport. We need new faces and new ideas in wakeboarding and cable has us all dreaming up new ideas that can and will be put to the test in 2012. I love our system and it is the gathering place every day before the sun sets and many times after dark.
A: What is your favorite way to tap the Rockies?
TP: My favorite day in the Rockies would be to get up early at my lake and pull out the fly rod before first light. Land a few bass just as the light peaks over the hill, drink my last cup of coffee and get on the stand up paddleboard. Cruise around until someone else gets up and then catch a few boat sets either as driver, observer or boarder. Then hang with my family till about 2pm. Catch a few z’s in the cold air and get up and go get another set in. After the boat is put up, have dinner with the family and get out the fly rod just as dark settles in. Fish a while and then build the campfire. Sit around with my wife and daughter and dream of the next day. After they hit the hay, I pull out one of my guitars and play to midnight or slightly later. Then it is time to thank God before I hit the hay and dream of doing it all over again the next day. I have been so lucky and so blessed to be part of wakeboarding and hope I can continue to contribute to the future with contest and pushing the sport to the next level! Thanks for the chance to speak! Much respect and love to you guys at Alliance!!!!
Tommy’s Slalom Shop Inc.
3740 North Sheridan Blvd.
Denver, Co 80212