2006 Rider of the Year: Danny Harf
By Tony Smith
Danny Harf is the Alliance Rider of the Year for 2006 … which shouldn’t come as a real shock to anybody. Even if you only casually keep up with the professional wakeboarding scene, you can’t miss Danny. If the sport were a radar screen, he would be the giant asteroid hurtling towards the Earth right now as people stared on in disbelief. And yes, like every other asteroid that has ever been on a collision course with our planet – he would split mercifully at the last moment, causing bad husbands to reunite with alienated wives, kids to discover estranged dads, and whales to breach and make love. He’s that good.
To our judging panel of Alliance staff members and previous Riders of the Year, the vote was not exactly a tough one. And this was weeks BEFORE Harf became only the second (maybe third) person in the world to ever land a 1080 (switch heelside, to boot). The only other rider that was even mentioned in the voting was Keith Lyman, who proved worthy solely based on his constant devotion to the sport and apparent disregard for his knees. But in the end, it was Harf’s professionalism that was the determining factor, and the fact that every other rider is in love with him. Because if you spend any time around Danny, that’s what you quickly figure out – he is a complete professional, and he’s extremely nice. I have never once heard him talk shit about anyone or anything. He shakes your hand like a man, in the figurative sense. There are some other things that help – he doesn’t ever act cocky and he works as hard as a B-team rider at a clinic or boat show. But really, the thing that made him the 2006 Rider of the Year is that he is a complete freaking bad ass once the rope gets tight and the throttle goes down. Need I say more? The guy did a switch 1080 this year and he didn’t go to jail or anything. That should be good enough.
A: Looking back on 2006, what was the most memorable thing for you?
DH: Probably being on the whole World Cup Series. I did a lot of traveling, went to more contests than I have in the past and really got focused on trying to win the Pro Tour and the World Cup. The World Cup’s not done yet but I reached my goal to win the Pro Tour, and that was a long time coming, for sure. And that was a big deal for me to be a Pro Tour winner, because not that many guys have won it. To be able to ride consistently for a whole year and win three of the stops, that was definitely a highlight.
A: Why was that different than in years past? Why did you focus on that?
DH: I think part of it had to do with me and Rusty (Malinoski) moving out of town a little bit and he really pushed me to get focused. And we were riding every day, a couple times a day, and just kind of being outside of the mix helped. Before, I went to the contests to kind of put on a show; I didn’t care whether I won or got last as long as I went out there and did something that nobody else did and made people go, “Wow.” My goal was to impress people, and everyone always told me I would go too hard. But that was just my style – all or nothing. I think being smarter, being more of a veteran now and the combination of riding with Rusty made it happen.
A: So it wasn’t that you moved out of town to focus on training? That was just sort of a byproduct of the move?
DH: Yeah, and also the riding conditions out in Clermont are really, really good, we can always find calm water and we’re pretty motivated to ride.
A: Is it really that much different? Do you ride a lot more there than you did at Hiawassee?
DH: Yeah, personally I’ve been riding more. But not so much because I moved, just because everyone on the Tour has been really motivating me to ride harder. Rusty, Andrew (Adkison), Philip (Soven) – those guys have really stepped it up as far as their contest riding and definitely make it harder to keep winning against them. Yeah … uh, I kind of forgot where I was going with that answer … (laughing)
A: It seems like lots of guys start with contest riding and get turned off by it and focus on free-riding, but you were the opposite. You kind of started as someone who was known for free-riding and now are pretty much dominating competitions.
DH: Kind of, yeah. I definitely enjoy shooting videos and filming a rad section over biting my nails on a starting dock at a contest. I like the laid back atmosphere of being progressive at home or on a video trip or whatever. But I always wanted to do well in contests; I think it just took me a while to win and to win doing the tricks that I want to do.
A: Was it the change in format that helped you do that, or a combination of other things?
DH: Well, all the head-to-head I think puts more pressure on you ‘cause you have to ride well to win six times in a row. I think if anything the new format makes it harder, but not until the end because the top-seeded guys have a lot easier run through.
A: Is the plan for 2007 the same thing, to get the Tour title again?
DH: I haven’t really thought about my plan for 2007 just because it’s been so hectic this year and we’re launching the new company, Ronix. In the off-season I’m going to settle down, go surf, go snowboard, I want to get certified to skydive … I want to kind of step back and reassess my goals for next year.
A: When did you officially start with Ronix?
DH: Well, my Hyperlite contract ended the day after the Reno Pro Tour stop, I think it was August 15th. That was the last stop of the U.S. Pro Tour.
A: Why did you switch from Hyperlite? They seem to have done pretty well by you for a lot of years, how many was it?
DH: Ever since I went pro, pretty much six years. And, I mean, I have no beefs with anyone at Hyperlite or the company, or the owners or anything. But my loyalty was to Paul and Herb (O’Brien), not to Hyperlite. So to me it was a no-brainer to switch and it was a new challenge that I thought would be fun and exciting. I think it’s good for the sport to have another company out there pushing the product end of things …to me it was just exciting. But it wasn’t like I had any hard feelings, I left and those guys were totally cool and they understand. But now it’s exciting to be a part of the new company and those guys gave us a small piece of ownership in it. It’s pretty awesome as a reward for our loyalty and desire and taking on this new challenge they said, “We want you to have
something in the end. Here you go.” So that’s cool, I get to know the financials, know why I get paid what I get paid, and getting to learn more about the industry is probably the reason I did it. I wanted to be able to work with Paul and Herb and learn more than just being a pro rider.
A: Hyperlite had to pay you a pretty good salary though.
DH: Yeah. I took a pay cut to switch and to me it was all right because I could afford to not make the same money I was at Hyperlite. It wasn’t really about the money for me to begin with. I’m definitely having fun doing it … minus a couple grand in the bank account I guess (laughing).
A: So obviously that wasn’t your new Ferrari in the first Ronix ad.
DH: No, it is. They just got that car and keep it up in Seattle so whenever we’re in town working on stuff we can rally it.
A: Get out of here, seriously?
DH: Brian Gardner did it. It pretty much belongs to the Ronix team, that was his contribution. So we’re gangster.
A: Are you serious?
DH: No. But that’s what we’re telling everyone, so you can roll with that. It’s a buddy of a buddy’s car, but we’re telling everyone it’s ours.
A: All right, you definitely got me. Now here’s one for you: Sum up 2006 in terms of wakeboarding.
DH: Well, it’s definitely come a long way, and I think that 2006 is one of the years that it definitely stepped up even more.
A: In terms of what, though? Because you could make a pretty good argument that, at least on the wake riding side of things, the sport kind of flattened out. Did you get that feeling at all?
DH: Not for me, personally. But overall, I think there has definitely been a lot of progression at the top level of the sport. But I hear ya’, too.
A: There was a lot of emphasis this year put on professional riders going to rail contests, but we didn’t really see anything that amazing go down on rails, and until yesterday we didn’t see that much really go forward on the water, at least on a wakeboard.
DH: As far as the run that it takes to win contests, it’s definitely progressed from last year to this year.
A: But really that is a consistency issues isn’t it? It is just improving the string of moves that have already been done vs. actually progressing the sport with new moves or styles.
D: Yeah, you’re right. There hasn’t been any crazy new shit going down in contests, but definitely a lot more consistent, good riding.
A: What do you think it’s going to take for the level of creativity to be raised, not just the level of consistency?
DH: More opportunities to compete on a creative level, not just a technical level. Things like the Double or Nothing contest, or maybe a style contest. Like a photographer and a rider teaming up, trying to get the most legit sequence captured the best.
A: It seems like all these answers have been based around competition, do you feel that’s the only way for there to be progression?
DH: No. I think having guys like Chris O’Shea and Shawn Watson and a lot of guys who focus more on being creative and stylish in their everyday freeriding can get that done. We just need more Watsons.
A: Do you think more people focused on contest riding in 2006?
DH: Yeah, well I think it’s definitely harder to progress the sport when we spend all week on airplanes and all weekend at a contest site. Usually you see the most progression in the off-season, when everyone is at home riding every day, and that’s coming up.
A: Do you feel like there were too many events?
DH: There’s definitely a lot going on. It is good for the sport to have that much action and to showcase pro riding to a lot more people. But yeah, it was definitely a full season. I pretty much didn’t have one weekend off and I was skipping contests to take a break. I think most people would agree it’s not a light schedule.
A: All those contests seemed to cut pretty heavily into the amount of video projects that were being worked on this year. Are you working on any new ones now?
DH: Well, we’re going to start filming a Ronix video here pretty soon. But other than that I shot with Sean Kilgus for his Bent Felix video, and with you guys for Innuendo. But that was really it for me.
A: Next year you’re going to have to vote for a Rider of the Year, but if you had to do it this year, who would you have picked?
DH: I’d probably have to say Reed Hansen, he’s really, really stepped it up on the wakeskate side of things. The stuff he’s doing I never thought was possible when wakeskating started. I figured people would do a kickflip, but heelflips, 360 flips, backside big flips – that’s just getting crazy and he’s the main guy. He’s really come into his own, I’m pumped to see him doing so well because I used to go and ride with Trevor and him back when Trevor and I were in the Boys division together. Reed was wakeboarding at the time, but wakeskating definitely was his thing and I’m glad he found it.
A: Do you ever wakeskate?
DH: Yeah, I can do a shuvit indy wake-to-wake, that’s about the best thing I can do. I can land the occasional shuvit on the side of the wake, backside 180 and stuff … nothing impressive. I can’t really hold a candle next to those guys.
A: Wakeskating also had a pretty big year in 2006, what are your thoughts about seeing it grow?
DH: It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if wakeskating became more popular than wakeboarding, just because you can do it behind a boat, a PWC or a winch and still have
fun. Where with wakeboarding you need a $50,000 boat and a $1,000 set up. It’s just more accessible.
A: You mentioned that this has been your busiest year ever for traveling, where was your favorite place?
DH: I would have to say … we did a trip to Paris, France, and then left Paris and flew to Beijing, China, and then went on to Shenyang, where we stayed with some Australian friends who were over there doing an action sports show. I was with Rusty, Ike, Josh and Chad and we had fun on that trip, I had never been to Paris before. We were going to go to the Moulin Rouge show, but there was this long line and it was really hot. So instead we just cruised around and had a beer at like every bar in the middle of downtown Paris, it was pretty awesome. It was during the World Cup so people were pretty much freaking out.
A: I forgot to ask you before, but how different do you think Ronix is going to be from Hyperlite? And what are those differences?
DH: I guess the main difference is that we’re not associated with every other company in the industry. So that gives us an opportunity to be a lot different. We’re making our boards in a different factory and our boots come from a different place. And giving Paul and Herb a chance to step back and look at what they had created … I think they had learned so much in the past as far as the business was concerned. Pretty much the overall philosophy is that we don’t care if we are the biggest company, that’s not our goal, we don’t want to take over the industry or be the powerhouse. We just all want to have fun with it. Where Hyperlite’s main goal seemed to be to “grow, grow, grow!” The line was huge and they almost got ahead of themselves because it was so big. With a smaller line we can really focus and make sure it happens a lot easier.
A: Wakeboarding was pulled from the X-Games this year. As a four-time champion what were your thoughts on that?
DH: Yeah, they didn’t give medals and we had a pretty small, untelevised platform to do a rail jam. But as far as I know, X-Games is still totally down with wakeboarding, they just had some budget cuts or money came in from other sources to go to specific events. I’m not exactly sure of the reasons. But the people I’ve talked to from the X-Games are all down with wakeboarding and said that they didn’t officially give us the boot. But it’s kind of a bummer for me, and it’s kind of a blow to the industry. I think wakeboarding will be fine without the X-Games, but it was cool to be a part of it.
A: Man, there’s never any controversy with you, it’s awesome. And I’m not trying to get you to say something controversial either, but that was such a well-rounded answer.
DH: No, I mean, I’m definitely bummed because that was like our Olympics, our main event. That was what everyone tried for, a gold medal. So for sure, it’s a bummer. But I think if we were to get all mad and say, “Screw the X-Games!” – not that I feel that way about it – but if we were to have a chance to get back into the X-Games it would be because we’re totally cool about it. Like if we’re trash talking them one year for not giving us medals they’re probably not going to invite us back, you know?
A: But did you take it personally at all? You were in some pretty elite company and then they just kind of decided that you didn’t get a chance to compete this year.
DH: Yeah, I guess. I had an opportunity to put my name in the books with the top X-Games athletes. At one point someone told me – I’m not even sure if it’s true – but someone told me that me and Dave Mirra had the most gold medals. And there’s only a handful of people that have won several gold medals. Put it this way: I wasn’t excited to hear that we were doing a rail jam at the Home Depot Center (laughing.) But I was excited that they didn’t totally shut us down.
A: Another reason why I said you’re not controversial is because there are very little politics surrounding you. You’re like the Sweden of wakeboarders. And I mean that as a compliment.
DH: I’m definitely a pretty easygoing guy and I try, for a lot of reasons, not to be involved in any of the politics. I’ve always just kind of done my thing, and I’m not trying to stir anything up, I’m just having fun being a pro wakeboarder, you know what I mean?
A: What’s it like at the Playboy Mansion?
DH: I’ve never been. I’m still waiting for Heff to call me.
A: Parks has been there like five times it seems.
DH: But Parks is down with Pam Anderson so I’m hoping to ride his coattails in the front door.
A: Speaking of Parks Bonifay – he did the 1080 back in 1999 and finally after all this time someone else has done one, you. You did it switch heelside just yesterday morning. What was that like?
DH: It was a rush. Every time you learn a new trick on a wakeboard … that’s the reason I still ride because you get that rush when you ride away from something you’ve never done before. So not only did I have that rush, but I had the rush of being the first person, I guess, to ever do a heelside 1080 and only the second person to do three 360’s in the air at one time on a wakeboard.
A: And what was really cool was that the first person to call everyone to tell them was Parks. He called me and he sounded more excited that you landed it than when HE landed it.
DH: I called him first, too. He didn’t pick up the phone because he was shooting some photos with Letchworth, but when his phone rang he said, “Hey Josh, who is that calling?” And Josh told him it was me and Parks had ESP on it, he said, “He landed a 1080.” Then I called Hicks at Fox and then Paul at Ronix and then my parents … and then my phone didn’t stop ringing for two days. But I definitely put my time in to learn it.
A: Had you tried it a lot lately?
DH: Yeah, it was pretty much my goal for the past two weeks to land it and I was just going to commit to having a camera and getting it on film. Yesterday I basically got out there and did a pass up and down and then just started trying it. So the first double up wasn’t good and I did a switch five and cased the wake, then I did another one and fully got the pop and rotation, I just missed the handle pass. Then I landed the next one after that. So it was really the second legit try yesterday, like a ten minute run. But I had tried it the day before and tried like five of them and I came super close, I just batted the handle right at the end.
A: So if you were going to instruct somebody to do a switch heelside 1080, what would you tell them?
DH: Uh, hit the third roller and stay with the handle. I’ve been doing switch nines for like a year now so I’m just really comfortable with coming out of them – I know where I am the whole way coming around to nine. So I just have to get the handle to there and then shift my weight under me and do another 180.
A: So I guess the whole move out to Clermont is really agreeing with you?
DH: Yeah, it’s a good Clermont crew out there. I mean, I definitely like living in Orlando too, Clermont is 20 minutes more on any drive but it’s also wakeboarding heaven. Our motto is “Stay glassy, Clermont.” Kevin Michael actually thought of, I can’t take credit, but I say it a lot now.
A: So what’s next?
DH: I’m probably just going to retire. I’ve never really planned my life more than a week in advance. You probably know that from trying to set up photo shoots and video trips with me. I can, like, tell you what I’m doing this week … but that’s about it!
A: Now’s your chance to say thanks.
DH: I definitely have to thank my parents and my sister; they’ve been awesome throughout my whole career. They gave me a solid foundation to do this and it’s cool to have a really supportive family. And then to all the companies that support me, and the people at those companies – Todd Hicks from Fox, Brian Sullivan and Kevin Durham at Correct Craft, Chris Bischoff with Reef, Chris Heffner at Billabong, Aaron Grace with Spy and Monster. And then Paul and Herb O’Brien, Brian Gardner, Jason Stanley and everyone at the Radar Barn. Bill Porter, he’s been giving me stuff since I could do one invert, just because he’s that kind of guy.