(Editor’s Note: This was a really interesting discussion amongst some of today’s top pro riders concerning the state of freeriding within the sport. Grab the Sept. issue of Alliance to read the beginning… this is the conclusion)…
….. Continued from page 55 of the September issue of Alliance Wakeboard Magazine.
Alliance: Given the current economic factors is freeriding growing in popularity or is it shrinking? How is the economy impacting your interest and ability to go out and do contests or to go out and get photos/video?
Jimmy LaRiche: Why pay all that money to go compete in a contest only to watch the same five guys podium and take the cash, when you could be at home getting that photo or getting that shot for your video section? So it just has to be justifiable for you. If you feel like you’re better off at home freeriding, then do it.
Erik Ruck: Five years ago it mattered to me about making money on the Tour and stuff, but now, like Trevor said, if you go to all of them you spend more money than you make. I’ll still be going to some, but I definitely won’t be going to as many this year. But Danny is right, also, back in the day the Tour used to pay out to tenth place so it made it worth your weekend, but nowadays it’s not worth it at all if you’re not top five.
Parks Bonifay: I know when I was on the Tour every year we had a meeting and we definitely talked about how much we paid for first place and all the way down. I can’t imagine there being that much more money being put into the Tour these days, and that sucks for the guys like Trevor who can ride really well, get sixth or seventh place, and barely make scratch over the weekend.
Danny Harf: Yeah, you just won $600, but you paid $650 for your flight and hotel.
Parks Bonifay: Yeah, you guys all complain about the guys not getting paid further down, but all the guys getting paid on top know how it should be different; when I was on top I said that we should not weight the prize money heavy on the top, that we should pay down because it gives riders more motivation to go to the Tour stops, which in turn makes the Tour stops better. It’s a circle of life kind of thing. Could you imagine if this weekend first place made $5,000 instead of $10,000 and it paid further down? Yeah, it might suck a little for the guys on top, but it would be so much better for the sport overall ‘cause it would help so many other riders and bring so many more guys to contests.
Trevor Hansen: That’s why I think in the future there aren’t going to be as many kids who can do the Tour.
Parks Bonifay: Yeah, nowadays if you’re riding your ass off and you’re getting sixth place, which is killing it in terms of riding and who you’re riding against, but you’re getting next-to-nothing money. Unless we start paying further down those guys who aren’t always in the top five are going to give up and the whole system goes down.
Alliance: Okay, so if only the top five guys on Tour are making money, how does that impact your view of freeriding?
Phil Soven: For me it’s a little bit different than the other guys here. A lot of my income is from contest results. I don’t have a clothing sponsor, a shoe sponsor, that kind of stuff. I’ve got three sponsors right now, so I’m making a lot of my money off of contests, so I’m going to go every single weekend.
Dave Briscoe: If contests paid deeper (into the results), do you think you would have more competition?
Phil Soven: I don’t think it would matter ‘cause everyone (pro riders) is still coming (to the contests). It wouldn’t change who comes, it would just change who goes home a little bit happier.
Danny Harf: I personally disagree because honestly last year was one of the best years I’ve ever had and I only did one contest, and I didn’t even make it through the first round. I won best video section and I landed the coolest trick I’ve ever done in my career.
Ben Greenwood: If there was a $30,000 first place prize you know Danny would be on the plane going and that would make it harder for Phil to win.
Danny Harf: Right, I’m not going to pay $500 to go try to win $1,000 in Sacramento or whatever. If the prize money is 20-grand at BROstock, I’m probably going to go get a Cortizone shot and huck myself around a little. If it’s a few grand, I’m going to stay on the inversion table and go do that tube shoot in the morning.
Shane Bonifay: Honestly if there’s not enough money in it for less than fifth place, and you’re already making less money because of budget cuts and the economy, then there’s no way you can justify going to more contests.
Rusty Malinoski: But did you know Wake Games this year had more entries than it’s ever had? And that’s with a contest going on in Miami the same weekend that has a couple handfuls of pros there, as well.
Shane Bonifay: I’m saying WWA and the PWT have upped the fees, so contests cost more, and that makes a rider less inclined to enter a contest. And I think more guys are at Wake Games because it’s here in Orlando where most of us live. I think that if Wake Games was somewhere else Benny or Chris-O wouldn’t have paid for the ticket to be there. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have come to Wake Games if I had to buy a plane ticket. I’m surprised I’m competing this weekend because everything is costing so much (entry fees, etc). It’s getting crazy.
Parks Bonifay: The economy directly affects contests because 1) there is not more money being put into them and they aren’t paying further down and 2) riders have less of a chance of making decent money because the contests don’t pay out further into the results. Five years ago you could get $1,200 for sixth place, but now with expenses and less payout, guys are losing money even if they’re in the top ten.
Danny Harf: I honestly feel like there’s less money in contests now than there was four or five years ago.
Rusty: I’m just doing my same thing. I want to win just as bad this weekend as I did two years ago. I’ll be there at every event.
Parks Bonifay: And he (Rusty) knows he has a good chance of winning every weekend, so he has every right in the world to go, “F*#@ yeah I’m going, and I’m gonna f&*#%&@ win.”
Erik Ruck: Well I think in some ways the economy has changed the way I look at having fun on the water because normally this time of year I’d be focusing on things I kind of want to have prepared for contests, but this whole winter I’ve been lucky enough to be filming for three different movies. So I’ve constantly been doing different riding and filming in different places, hitting different rails and stuff like that, but it just kind of changed my attitude.
Ben Greenwood: It’s kinda like, “If I were to try to compete against Phil, what do I need?”
Parks Bonifay: You need luck, Benny… (everybody laughs)
Rusty Malinoski: You know what’s cool about that, Ben? If you take four or five kids who don’t know much about the sport, we don’t know them, they don’t know us. Maybe two kids would love watching Trevor ride, and maybe two or three would say, “I love watching Ben ride.” That’s the beauty of the sport. It’s not that Phil is better at some tricks than you and you’re better at some tricks than Phil, it’s at the end of the day the tricks that he’s better at make him more money in contests.
Danny Harf: I think it also has to do with the people who are marketing you. Like Ben has Liquid Force who has been huge in marketing him. Without Liquid Force he wouldn’t be the Ben Greenwood that he is. A great freerider is backed by a strong company.
Phil Soven: If you’re looking at wakeboarding and saying, “I could make a living doing that, I want to do that.” You shouldn’t be wakeboarding, it’s that simple. All of us here, we do it for a living, but that’s not why we do it.
Danny Harf: I can see where Phil’s coming from on that.
Alliance: How are the video releases of this spring/summer going to influence the value of freeriding?
Parks Bonifay: There’s gonna be a lot of 13-year-olds hitting icebergs, for sure. (everybody laughs)
Shane Bonifay: I’m gonna say that this year Ruck has more sections than anybody else who has ever worked on videos before in a year, and I just wanna clap it up for him… (Everybody claps). And people aren’t going to see the craziest technical sections from Ruck, but they are definitely going to see the passion for riding. I think that’s going to affect a lot of people who watch the videos, and I think that’s going to be seen in a lot of the videos that are coming out. I think that’s promoting freeriding.
Danny Harf: I have a good example. When I was growing up watching videos I had Mayday and I had the Masters recorded on VHS and I seriously watched Mayday every day of my life from like 10 years old to 13 years old. That was what influenced me, watching guys like Byerly, Thomas, Chase – don’t tell him I said that (everybody laughs) – and those guys. So I definitely preferred watching Mayday over the Masters video, and I can definitely say I was more inspired as a kid by freeriding than contest riding.
Erik Ruck: That almost brings us back to the original question and what PB said about freeriding in the youth. We’re talking about freeriding dying in the youth that we’re seeing riding in the contests every weekend; the kids coming up that want to be in contests and want to be pro riders. So basically I think that freeriding has slipped away a little bit because we grew up watching guys wakeboard strictly for fun, doing big, fun tricks, living a fun lifestyle and we based our whole perception of the sport on wanting to be like Mike Weddington or Greg Nelson. I think a lot of the videos lately have just really showcased hammers rather than the fun lifestyle. But I think the videos coming out like Out of the Pond, Rewritten and Box of Fun, well definitely Box of Fun ‘cause fun is in the name, are really gonna showcase what wakeboarding really is and all aspects of it, rather than just hammer, hammer, hammer. I think that’s important for young riders who are developing and being molded. These could be their first motivation, the thing they want to watch every day from 10-years-old to 13-years old and that could impact them for the rest of their life. I think it’s important for the kids to have a video that portrays the sport in a positive, fun light. And I’m not saying hammers are bad, hammers can be just as important as any style issue, but I’m saying that there needs to be a balance. Like when Danny put his run together back in the day – 7, 7, 9 – how many kids did you see that couldn’t do a front flip or any old school looking moves that could do 7, 7, 9? That really was the beginning of the youth forgetting about freeriding.
Danny Harf: Sorry guys, it’s all my fault (everybody laughs).
Trevor Hansen: I can honestly say I wore out my Mayday, the tape disintegrated. And with 12 Honkeys I watched your section (to Parks) more than any other section in my entire life and I’ve told everyone that. Still to this day I can pop in that section and get stoked to go ride. Those videos back then were the inspiration because back then the contest scene wasn’t that big and when did you ever get to see it? It was on like ESPN de Ocho at 2:00 at night. But that’s where I got my inspiration was from the old videos like Mayday, 12 Honkeys, For What It’s Worth.
Chris O’Shea: Obviously videos inspire creativity and progression. I think Out of the Pond is really different and that’s pushing the winches and pushing different types and styles of riding. There’s a lot of diversity in the videos coming out this year and I think that’s going to influence the youth a lot and I think that’s where freeriding is going to become stronger.
Parks Bonifay: I fully think this handful of videos are going to change freeriding. Every kid growing up has their own favorite video, like Danny said Mayday and Trevor said 12 Honkeys, and each generation of kids is going to have different choices, like some kid right now may like Butter Effect or Relentless best, and some kid may like one of these new videos the best. There’s gonna be different eras of kids liking videos from that time, and it’s like the first time you fell in love with some guy you’ve never met before… (everybody starts giggling and Parks gets a little flustered) No! But come on! F&#*! I love f@%#*!%& Scott Byerly and f@%#*!%& Greg Nelson and those guys… I love Spray! (everybody is laughing uncontrollably and Parks gets more flustered) Sorry, I’ve had a couple Jack Cokes and I’m emotional! No, I was that kid who worshiped that one guy in that one video, and there’s gonna be that kid who sees one of these videos and the same thing will happen and freeriding will grow. It’s really some of the best freeriding videos ever with Box of Fun and Out of the Pond and Rewritten.
Erik Ruck: Danny, I didn’t mean you killed freeriding…
Danny Harf: I know, buddy… (everybody laughs).
Parks Bonifay: If you got paid $50,000 for Best Video Section, would you be considered a contest rider?
Rusty Malinoski: Well, you’re competing for $50,000…
Trevor Hansen: Even if you’re a freerider, you’re technically still competing because you’re still competing for something. It might not be a contest title, but it’s a sponsorship or a spot in a video or something.
Danny Harf: Exactly, there isn’t one real freerider in here because it’s not like any of us are just riding for ourselves. Everyone who is in here is riding for a paycheck, a sponsor, a video section.
Parks Bonifay: It’s all about what you’re looking for, I guess. Some guys care about contest results, some guys care about going out and impressing their peers, and some guys care about themselves.
Trevor Hansen: In the end I think it’s all pretty much the same, because in the end you’re all looking for somebody to notice that you’re doing something. You’re looking for recognition.
Danny Harf: Right, we’re all riding for recognition in some form or another. Whether it’s in a magazine, a video section, or a contest, I mean, I think it’s all important.
Jimmy LaRiche: Well, with what Shane said about the rollercoaster of freeriding and contests. I think there have only been three or four really good videos in the past four years. There haven’t been videos like there were back in the day, and maybe that’s because I don’t have that perspective ‘cause I’m younger.
Alliance: To wrap up with one final question…
Parks Bonifay: What do you all think of the upcoming Parks Bonifay Documentary? (everybody laughs)
Alliance: What is most valuable to you and the industry, and they might not be the same, a contest title/Pro Tour/Worlds or Video Section of the Year/Alliance Rider of the Year, a title or something else?
Chris O’Shea: Definitely a video section of the year or Rider of the Year is most important to me. I just want to contribute to the sport that I’m a part of and try to influence as many people as I can to have fun, and to give back more than what I’ve gotten out of it.
Ben Greenwood: I think for the industry the most important thing would be something like the Reader’s Poll. If you’re recognized by your whole industry then you’d have a lot of influence on the sport, in my opinion. For me it’s always been about video sections. I grew up watching Murray in Daily Dose and knowing that’s what I wanted, and I get more out of that than watching a contest or something.
Jimmy LaRiche: I’d say for me it’s more like a trick, like a move of the year kind of award. Or a section of the year would be insane. As far as the industry, I just want to show how fun it all is. ‘Cause day-to-day we’re having so much fun, even if it’s something stupid like the SPR (single person rollercoaster). I’d just like to show the kids coming up how much fun it can be.
Phil Soven: I’d say Rider of the Year, because it is probably the most prestigious award you can get. Not because it says you’re the best at this or you’re the best at that. It’s easy to be good at a lot of things, but for Rider of the Year that means you were great at everything. That’s why Rusty has won the past two years. Not because he’s just been great at contests or just been great at filming video sections, but he’s been great at getting a lot of exposure and doing well in contests. He’s done it all.
Shane Bonifay: I’d say for me the biggest achievement would be doing something like what Danny did last year. And I think for most of us the biggest thing we can do is impress our peers with something like Wakeboarder of the Year or Video Section of the Year or Rider of the Year, those are all big things. I don’t think that, and I HOPE that my biggest achievement this year doesn’t come from a contest.
Danny Harf: I agree with Shane, I think a lot of it is respect from your peers. As much as it means for any magazine to acknowledge me, it means more to me for them (peers) to say something. I’ve made a career out of wakeboarding and I think when it comes down to it, what matters in life is not really what you accomplish, but who you touched. I don’t think I’m going to die worrying about what tricks I did or didn’t land; I’m going to die remembering the people who were friends. Peer respect is ultimately what we’re living for. You can win a million awards, but unless your friends agree with the award you won, it doesn’t really mean shit, you know what I mean? You can win an award all day long but unless Ben, and Shane, and Parks, and Rusty, and Trevor and all these guys all agree, then you might as well just hang it up.
Parks Bonifay: I think it’s like that in anything, even outside of sports. If I had to choose one, whatever you want to call, whether it’s Video Section of the Year or Rider of the Year, that’s what matters most. Obviously I’ve won a lot of contests in my career, and recently I’ve gone through my injuries and stuff, so I’ve had a different motivation for my career recently. Obviously right now I don’t want to go out and win another contest, I just want to focus on having fun. I think that’s what this is all really about anyway, having fun on our wakeboards. If you’re not having fun, you should quit wakeboarding.
Rusty Malinoski: Thinking on my career, it’s all happened pretty fast and I’ve had some success in both areas: I’ve won contests and I’ve won some rider awards, and that’s all great. But one of the best feelings and what keeps me coming back is that insane feeling you get the first time you land a new trick. The thing that gets me going is progressing and getting better.
Shane Bonifay: What do you think your biggest goal is this year, Rusty?
Rusty Malinoski: Honestly, Shane, now I feel like I’m at a point in my career where I can really enjoy what I’ve done and take it all in a little bit more. I’m just having a blast and trying to be there for my family and keep an income coming in and be the best wakeboarder I can be.
Erik Ruck: I think apart from titles whether it be contests, video sections, any kind of award the sport can present, I think what any of us wakeboarders truly strives for is to just straight up do something that is timeless and that will truly make an impact and be remembered. I think when it comes down to it everyone strives for the one moment where they can really say, “I did it.”
Rusty Malinoski: I understand Ruck’s point. Like for example, there have been a lot of 1080’s done at this point, right? A lot. But everybody goes back to PB’s very first 1080, you know what I mean, that’s for a reason. PB will always have that in his career and legend. And JD’s gap, he will always have that. And Danny will always have the 1260 now. Nobody can take those things away from them. Nobody will get the feelings that those guys got because they were the first.
Trevor Hansen: I agree with what both Danny and Ruck said, they pretty much hit the nail on the head. Just to have either that timeless move or that timeless instance that happens, or to be respected by your peers, I think everyone just wants to be remembered for something, whether it’s Rider of the Year or winning King of Wake, or landing the first tootsie roll (everybody laughs). No, but thinking back to the guys that I idolized, they weren’t even the guys that won much. I remember watching Staker do his toeside front flip and still to this day when I’m cutting in toeside I think to myself, “Dammit, I wish I could do a toeside front like Staker…”
Shane Bonifay: If you can be the guy who some other rider is trying to be like when cutting into the wake, then that is the ultimate achievement. ‘Cause that’s kind of what wakeboarding is: to do a trick like somebody who’s done it before.
Trevor Hansen: Yeah, all these awards are awesome in and of themselves, but if you can’t leave that one thing behind, that staple, then what did you really accomplish?