Throughout wakeboarding’s history whenever a marquee rider leaves a board brand for another it usually stirs up quite a bit of speculation, hype, and intrigue. Byerly signing with Hyperlite, Darin leaving Hyperlite for O’Brien, Parks leaving Connelly for FM and eventually Hyperlite, then Parks, Danny, and Chad starting Ronix. All of these decisions were very big news at the time, but none of those moves had the number of years behind them that Phil Soven’s recent situation did. For the past 17 years Phil could be seen riding one brand of board and one brand only. From a six-year-old freckle faced kid to a 23-year-old King of Wake and PWT champion, Phil had always been with Liquid Force. Over the New Year that all changed and Phil found himself in a situation he’s never been in as a professional wakeboarder: with the opportunity to ride for a new board company.
Known the world over as one of the most talented and successful riders in the history of the sport, Phil has made a career and a name for himself by winning anything and everything. Nobody wants to see Phil on the start dock in a finals round of a contest, and that’s just the way Phil likes it. He not only knows he’s going to win a contest when he’s standing there in the finals, but he knows that you know it, too, and therein lies the uber competitive makeup that is Phil Soven the professional wakeboarder. Boat type and wake size, water conditions, weather conditions… none of that matters, Phil can win anytime anywhere in nearly any fashion. He has been on more podiums than we could ever count and he has no plans of letting up anytime soon. The foot is still pressing heavily on the pedal, if you will. Because of that reputation he’s made for himself it only made his changing board sponsors that much bigger news. Oh yeah, and he was also the star of a reality TV show on MTV. Kind of a big deal. We spent a day at his house in Windermere to get the scoop on what he’s riding now, why he’s riding it, and what his plans are, both short term and long term in the world of wakeboarding.
Alliance: So what’s been going on the last couple months?
Phil Soven: Over the past couple months I’ve been searching out other opportunities within wakeboarding. I’d been riding for the same board company my entire career, since I was six years old, and I got to this point in my career where I figured it was time to make a change. I was approached by CTRL and at first it was just a “Hey, what’s up?” type deal. We talked about some basic ideas at first, like, “What do you think of this?” type stuff, and we just started getting deeper and deeper and I just figured that was the direction I needed to go because it was right for me. It was now or never, so I went for it.
A: What are your goals for this year now that you’ve made this change?
PS: For this year my goals haven’t changed much from past years. I want to ride the Tour and ride as best I can and hopefully get the King of Wake title and PWT Title back. But I’m also really focused on helping build the CTRL brand and bringing it to the masses. I’m excited to get going on this new venture. I’d also like to focus more on some video and photo projects. I’ve always kind of kept away from stuff (outside of contests), but I’m trying to start a new chapter and make a change.”
A: What appealed to you about CTRL?
PS: For one, the fact that it is a younger, smaller company. So rather than me jumping onto a big, major brand and trying to fit into their mold, I can go to CTRL and create a mold. We’ve got the opportunity to build something from the ground up. The technology they use for building boards is totally different than what I’m used to. There is so much feedback and the technology is really insane.
A: What was it like riding a new board for the first time? How much did the fact that CTRL has a much bigger cable presence than boat presence affect your decision?
PS: A lot of people equate CTRL to being a cable board company, but that’s not necessarily true. Just because a lot of their boards have been marketed towards cable more doesn’t mean that they can’t make a board for the boat. The first time I got on the Rx and rode it behind the boat I was actually pretty blown away. If anyone read the Alliance Gear Guide issue this month they saw that all the riders who tested it thought it was an awesome board, and that’s because it is. From the very first time I stood up on that board I felt immediately comfortable and it rides great. I’m also really excited to start working on a pro model in the near future.
A: What are your goals with CTRL as a brand?
PS: With CTRL being a younger company and having a chance to help build it from the ground up, I’m really going to be focused on being involved as much as I can on the water and off the water. They’re really good about keeping everybody in the loop, getting feedback from the riders and the team, making sure everybody is happy, taking ideas from every aspect… and I want to be involved in all those processes. I want to do everything I can to build the brand up to something big in the sport.
A: Do you get more satisfaction from winning than anything else in wakeboarding?
PS: Umm, I’m a very competitive person, it’s just in my nature, I guess. For me, second place doesn’t cut it. Not because I’m a bad loser but because I know that if I got second I didn’t do the best I can – I know I can do better.
A: What’s running through your head when you’re on the dock during finals of a contest?
PS: When I’m standing there I’m going through every option I can and figuring out exactly what I need to do out there to win. I’m trying to figure out what everybody else is going to do before they know what they’re going to do. I’m just trying to be ahead of the game. At the end of the day the main thing going through my head is ‘do everything you can to win.’
A: What’s been your favorite win out of all the contests you’ve won?
PS: It’s hard to pick just one win as the most memorable. Every win is memorable. Every time you win a contest it’s a great feeling – it’s a huge relief. Before you ride you’re just sitting on the dock and so many feelings are running through you and you’re just trying to suppress that and stay calm. When you pull it off at the end it’s a feeling that’s not matched by anything.
A: What were the positive and negative aspects of being on an MTV reality show?
PS: (laughs) Reality TV… Jesus… Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of upsides. We got lots of fans and got lots of people interested in wakeboarding, which is great. We got to showcase a little bit of what we do to the world that may have never seen it without the show, but obviously there are downsides to it, too. You can’t believe everything you see on TV. There were definitely a couple times over the season where they edited it up a little bit and juiced things around, and I wasn’t particularly stoked on everything that they did. But all-in-all we did the show for a reason and that was to grow the sport of wakeboarding, and that’s what we did, so I count it as a success.
A: What’s the craziest fan interaction you’ve had because of Wake Brothers?
PS: There has actually been some weird fan stuff lately. Sometimes I’ll be out to lunch and I’ll go on Twitter and see a picture of me, sitting there, eating my lunch and I look around trying to figure out where it was taken from and see some 16-year-old girl usually (laughs). There was another time when my doorbell rang at like 10:00 at night and I was thinking “Who the hell is at my house right now?” so I didn’t answer it. But they rang it again and rang it again, so I finally came and answered the door and as soon as I opened the door these two little 14-15 year-old girls started crying (laughs). They wanted to take a picture so I was like, “Yeah, no problem… how’d you find my house?!?” (laughs).
A: What’s a longer term goal for you beyond this year and doing well on Tour?
PS: Long term? I’d like to keep wakeboarding and competing as long as I can. I’m only 23 so I feel like I’ve got some good years ahead of me. I’m not in a rush to jump into too much other stuff, but I’m really interested in the business side of things, too. I’ve got some investments here and there and I’d like to continue looking into more of that.
A: Is CTRL a good business opportunity for you, too, or is it just riding?
PS: Well, CTRL is rider owned and operated, which is great. We’re not just trying to make a dollar. As far as we’re concerned the profits are going to go back into the company to help it grow and make the best boards, best bindings, and best wakeboard gear possible and make it available to the masses.
All photography: Garrett Cortese