Editor’s Note: This Matters column comes from the heart, mind, and soul of none other than Randall Harris. As talented and unique as Randall is on the water, he is just as talented and unique with a pen or keyboard. In case you missed this column from the July issue of Alliance, here it is again to go over and think about. Feel free to write a response in the comments section below.
By Randall Harris
It’s 1994. Pops gets off the phone and tells my brother and me that our first sponsor wants us to go to Texas for the Wakeboard Nationals.
I didn’t know what to think. “They want us to do what!? What’s a Nationals? A contest? I don’t want to go to a contest! I want to make video sections!”
“I know, son, but you gotta play the game,” my dad tells me. So off to play the game I went. A skater kid from the suburbs of Huntington Beach, CA, a.k.a. Surf City. Where every square inch of Earth is covered by skateable concrete and pavement right up to the glimmering edge of the Pacific Ocean. It’s the epicenter of action sports, except wakeboarding. Where nobody, and I mean no-damn-body rode a wakeboard. Off to play the game in swampy green lands with never-ending piles of cow shit. Off to “compete” in glorified mud puddles swarming with relentless bugs that don’t stop biting. Sometimes you can’t even see these damn bugs. The clever locals call them “no see ‘ems,” imagine that. I was hoping to see riders like Erich Schmaltz, Scott Byerly, Greg Nelson, Josh Smith, Bill McCaffray and Gator slide docks and grind rocks. But at the event I ran into gapers with weird names who rode like the trick skiers (‘cause they used to be them). I know about skating. About Powell Peralta’s Bones Brigade and Tony Hawk. Sk8 and destroy. Thrasher. The people with funny accents are talking about things like “three event skiing” and “ski shows.” Having barely been on the board myself for a year I hear rumors of a kid my age who has been skiing since he was six months old and he’s “fittin’ to” win the boys division. My division. This kid was of course Parks, also a weird name. I got 2nd to Parks at both Nationals in Texas and Worlds in Florida that year. So began my not so illustrious career as a struggling artist. An outcast. A misfit. The dark knight… that never rises, haha.
Over the years I’ve realized that some wack boarders are doing a sport and some of us riders are painting a picture. Some are driven by a desire to win. Some are driven by a desire to create beauty. Some of us are athletes and some of us are artists. There are however a very select few that can be both an athlete excelling in our sport competitively and a skillful passionate artist creating their own unique painting that pays homage to the ones that came before them. Parks is one of those people. Danny Harf is one of those people. Maybe Bob Soven is one of them. Maybe Josh Twelker is one of them. We’ll see. Scott Byerly is definitely one of those people, but since the attention span of the typical wakeboard “fan” is, in my estimation, two or three years, y’all probably already forgot about him or he doesn’t matter to you anymore. I’m obviously not one of them. No, I’m comfortable in my position as the Vincent Van Vandall of this wake shit, mental disorders and all. I never, ever, ever, ever wanted to do contests. Not on a skateboard. Not on a wakeboard. That’s the truth. It’s no excuse. It’s no “after the fact justification.” It’s not a mindset adopted after failure to achieve competitive success. I didn’t start wakeboarding to get rich. I didn’t start wakeboarding to become famous. I was driven to wakeboard by the same thing, I assume, that drove Vincent Van Gogh to paint. I’ll never a be Parks, a Danny, or a Scott. Does that even matter?
Speaking of “matters”, I don’t really know what to write about. I’m having one of those “not one f$%@ given” type of moments. Actually I’m having one of those years. I make it a point however, to never pass up the opportunity to be a part of something Alliance. Corey Marotta told me, “My man, I know you have subjects related to the activity you’re passionate about. I believe in you, dig deep.” So I’m thinking to myself, “Do I have subjects related to the activity I’m passionate about? Am I even passionate about it anymore?” At the moment I’m feeling more like this activity has sucked the passion out of me, leaving me broke and broke off… repeatedly. It ain’t easy being an introverted entertainer. Sometimes it feels like sponsors give a damn, but they want an awful lot. How do I sell their dreams when at times I’m living a nightmare? Do I matter to wakeboarding? Is wakeboarding passionate about me anymore? Does it matter to me if it is or isn’t? Am I really this self-centered that the only thing that matters to me in relation to wakeboarding is me? The answer is yes. Yes, because I don’t look to wakeboarding for inspiration to wakeboard and I haven’t for the last 90% of my career. I haven’t looked to wakeboarding for inspiration since my idols were forced to get real jobs because this sport isn’t big enough to sustain its art-minded athletes. I believe that should I never watch another single wakeboarder wakeboard, my path of progression will play out exactly the same from this point forward – as well as a good ten years back. This is my article and I’ll write about whatever the hell pleases me. If you have a problem with that it’s probably because nobody asked you what matters to you.
So, what matters? I’ll tell you what still doesn’t matter to me and that is contests. It still isn’t lecherous ski companies that hung on to skiing like tics hang on to a dying branch until the opportunistic bastards dropped on to the life force of our activity and sucked the blood out of wakeboarding when it came along just in time to save their fat, bottom-feeding asses. That’s completely false and inaccurate, but it felt good to write, and that matters. It doesn’t matter to me that ironically most wakeboard companies make the majority of their money selling tubes, wake surfboards, kite boards, and all kinds of other bullshit that screws up the water when I’m trying to ride. Doesn’t matter that the vultures are circling to pick apart the work I put in. My age doesn’t matter. Age is mind over matter. It doesn’t matter if I don’t mind. It doesn’t matter to me that this article is mostly just me listing a bunch of random thoughts. I told you I don’t feel like writing. It doesn’t matter that an entirely unprovoked Axis dealer told me “You’ve made a name for yourself, but it’s not like you’re one of the best. I mean you’re not winning the Pro Tour or anything.” Doesn’t matter that even I was impressed with Bob’s riding at the Alliance Less Than 5 contest and like a lot of other people thought he shoulda/coulda maybe beat me and won. Doesn’t matter because the judges were Matt Staker, Danny HARF, and SCOTT CHRISTIAN BYERLY! Do you think you know wakeboarding better than them? I know I don’t. Why do the matters that bother me not matter? Because in the end I will still be me, doing it my way; reclusively painting things the way I envision them on a canvas all my own.
What matters a little bit? It matters a little that the majority of the coveted, financially successful athletes of our sport don’t even know which way to poke their board when they incorrectly grab a grab they incorrectly name. If you’re going to pretend that you haven’t been doing ice skating maneuvers for the past ten years and grab your board, at least have the decency to know where to grab and what to call it. Even if you grab it right it doesn’t automatically mean that you looked stylish doing so. It matters a little bit that competitive wakeboarding is still for the most part a gymnastics floor routine disguised as a boardsport – and that the riding in it hasn’t progressed for years. It matters a little bit if you do everything into the flats and your rope is low 80s or 70-anything. If your rope is that short you ain’t doing anything into the flats, so quit frontin’.
This is the part that matters a lot though. Although I have chosen a path that is rarely lit with rays of sweet glory or showered on by financial rewards, I have been rewarded with the best fans. My fans are not people that just showed up yesterday, saw a competition, and said, “I like that guy, he won, he’s my favorite.” My fans know their shit. They have an appreciation for the history of our sport and boardsports in general. They don’t care that I’m not on the podium. They don’t care that I’m always lurking in the sidelines like a slightly-less-pale-but-nonetheless-hideous-Gollum. They don’t care that I’m rollin with a group of savages that look like a Dia De Los Muertos parade. They don’t care that I don’t have a DVD showcasing my life of doing what I wasn’t born to do or an MTV show showcasing my lack of personality and reclusiveness. They understand that I try to walk with the Lord but sometimes slip and end up running with the devil. My fans are loyal. They recognize the sacrifices I’ve made to paint my picture and they appreciate me for it. I may not be successful by many people’s standards, but no one can say what my painting is supposed to look like. To me success is a matter of perception. I define success as acquired contentment and joy in life. I’m not entirely successful yet, but I’m getting there; one stroke of my twisted paint brush at a time. History may be written by the winners, but it’s painted by the losers.