2007 Rider of the Year: Randall Harris
Over the past decade, beginning from the time I first knew OF Randall Harris and through the years as I’ve gotten to know him personally, two questions have always lingered in my mind – How many times can you be the future, and how many times can you come back? People were always making these kinds of claims on his behalf, and after a while it’s tough to believe. But now the answers seem so damn easy: once, and as many times as it takes. That’s it. The act of just being DEEMED the future is the legacy, not living up to anyone’s expectations of what that future holds. It’s his life, after all. And as far as coming back, well, I think 2007 pretty much put that one to bed.
The bonus, of course, is that Harris has far exceeded what we so desperately wanted to call our own, back when he was coronated the Great West Hope at the tender age of 15. That was just about the moves. Watch him today and it’s obvious it’s about so much more than that. It’s about peace and second chances, about blind luck and things we can’t explain, about passion and finally, it’s about love. Love for wakeboarding, sure, but also love for himself and obviously for God. Whether that’s your thing or not, there’s no denying that that is what has resurrected him.
The odd thing about this 2007 Rider of the Year business is that nobody saw it at first. In fact, up until a few weeks ago we still hadn’t nailed it down. I actually called an emergency meeting of the former ROTY’s to get them to lock down their yearly vote, and literally ended up presiding over a table of chicken wings and apathy. Danny and Rusty with their 1080’s? Parks made a nice win at the Carnival, right? Collin Harrington has been doing some cool all-around waterman things. “What about Randall Harris?” I asked. And then the stories started pouring down. Everyone had something to say, and all of it resonated. After 10 minutes of non-stop talk the table reached a 10-second silence, which Parks broke by saying, simply, “I think we just decided it.” This may sound strange, but I felt like it was some sort of divine intervention. Maybe the Big Guy really is trying to deliver wakeboarding someone special. If you watched Randall Harris over the past year, I don’t think there’s any problem in believing that.
– Tony Smith
If you look back on where he’s come from this year, or where he’s come back from really, it’s pretty easy to see why he’s the Rider of the Year. To not ride for two years and then come out and do what he did was pretty amazing. I mean everyone saw him ride in a couple contests this season, but his style of riding is just so much more visible in a video section. And towards the end of the year people saw his sections in Transgression and it got everyone talking. Just the way he does all his tricks…I remember seeing that double up shot in the movie of his backside 180, and it’s all in slo-mo and it’s just perfect. Plus he grabs for so long and goes so big, and does all those wrapped tricks that no one really messes with, so just style-wise alone he’s on a different plane. And everything in his personal life that he’s overcome – being able to come back and ride a wakeboard as well as he does after not riding for two years – he’s just got such a drive now, he’s fueled, and he has all this motivation. I guess what it comes down to is that he just loves to ride a wakeboard, and it shows.
– Brian Grubb, 2001 ROTY
This is a true story, and I think it’s a good metaphor for Randall actually growing too big for the sport: So we’re in Canada riding at Wakestock, and you pretty much ride right by the dock during your run. Randall rides like a 90-foot rope, and he goes about 27 or 28 MPH and goes huge on everything he does. So literally, the way he rides in a contest is too big for the course, and for the sport, itself. Anyway, he edges out heelside and hops around to switch, and then comes mach-ing into the wake right near the dock. And the whole time I’m thinking, “If he even goes remotely as big as it looks like he’s going to go, he’s going to land right into the dock.” So sure enough he comes in, does this big, tweaked out mute, and then turns it around to backside 180. And he does it so far into the flats that he lands about 30 or 40 feet away from the dock and he’s heading right for it doing about 30 miles an hour. He sort of bobbles the landing a little bit, and by the time he steadies it out he’s 10 feet away from two Jet Skis sitting at the dock, not to mention the crowd of riders who are waiting their turn to ride. He lets go of the rope, somehow gets his board up in front of him and hits this metal pole that pretty much bolts down the whole dock, hits the Jet Skis, and sprays everyone on the dock. We’re all turning white because we thought we just watched him get really wrecked, but somehow he got his board up and didn’t even really get hurt. If he had hit it any other way except with his board he would have broken his back, or his leg, or maybe even worse. I mean the guy was going 30 miles an hour and hit a pole! But he came out just fine. I think that alone is Randall growing too big for the sport, it can’t really contain him, period.
– Parks Bonifay, 2002 Co-ROTY (with Harris)
It’s rad seeing Randall win ROTY this year. I think the main thing is that he didn’t just show back up where he left off, he came back with his guns blazing. I just saw his parts in the new Gator video and his riding has risen to a new level. It really says more than anybody ever could about him. He’s always gone really big, but now he throws all his hammers that big too.
– Chad Sharpe, 2003 ROTY
I went on the Kilgus film trip this year and I was all pumped to ride with the guys and kind of show them some of my new stuff. So I went first on the first day, and I did this tail grab that was all poked out to backside 180. I was pretty pumped on it, and everybody in the boat threw up their hands like, “Yeah, that was cool.” And then Randall goes out next, and I think his first trick he did the same exact thing, except it was probably 20 feet into the flats and five feet higher than mine. And then he goes to switch and does the same exact thing. It pretty much crushed all my dreams (laughing). But it was cool – everything that no one can imagine landing into the flats, he can do. The other thing I remember was when we were filming for Transgression with Ronn (Seidenglanz), and we were doing a helicopter shoot out at the Projects. Randall comes down to the dock and says, “Yeah, we’re just waiting, I need two boats.” So I thought he was just waiting for the chase boat so we could shoot from both angles. But then we get out there and he starts cutting in and I notice that the chase boat is really close. But that was the plan the whole time, he just railed in and did a double wake indy front flip and landed on the down side of the chase boat wake. Actually, I think he even cleared those wakes too. Plus there were several double ups that he had to bail out on because he goes so big he realized he would have gone right into the blades of the helicopter. Anyway, he pretty much needs a wake that’s as wide as two wakes put together if he ever even wanted to dream of going wake-to-wake. It’s crazy.
– Jeff McKee
It wasn’t until this year, while filming with Sean Kilgus for his new movie, Drive, that I finally got the chance to ride with Randall. I think for anybody that has been wakeboarding as long as I have, the anticipation of that moment is pretty great. I can remember being really excited going out to the lake that first morning, and straight out of the gate, he didn’t let me down. I saw him do some of the most difficult things that could be done on a wakeboard during that first set – back-to-back (switch and regular) backside 5’s, melan crow mobes, grabbed front mobes – all the way into the flats and not just carrying the trick out, but up as well. Jeff McKee was on the trip as well and we were laughing in astonishment during every one of Randall’s sets. I also saw him do what I am going to claim is one of the hardest things anybody can do off the wake without passing the handle. Coming in switch toeside, full Randall-style edge, he booted into a frontside 270 to perfect regular method about 20 feet past the second wake. I’m not sure how many people understand the control it takes to do something like that, but I know if I tried it, it wouldn’t be pretty. You can watch someone do mobe 5’s all day long, but the precision that it takes to do what Randall did so well this year is extremely rare.
– Ben Greenwood, 2005 ROTY
I spent a week with Randall in Arizona on a film trip this year, and it was so cool to watch him ride the way he does. It’s great to see someone taking a different approach to wakeboarding like Randall. He really focuses on how he thinks his riding looks, not on how many rotations or flips he can do. I’m definitely just really psyched on having him back in the scene; he’s always been one of my favorites to watch. I think he’s more than worthy of Rider of the Year.
– Danny Harf, 2006 ROTY
For most of us, Randall Harris is an inspiration, and proof that the sport of wakeboarding can continue to evolve. Personally, his inspiration took hold of me the summer of 1993 at a Correct Craft dealer reunion in Needles, CA, when “Randy” was just a kid. I had been riding wakeboards since 1991 and at the age of 17 I found myself wondering what life would be like if I could dedicate myself to the sport of wakeboarding. One demo and lesson from Randy instantly lit the path. His transitions from trick to trick and just how he rode his board connected me directly with my roots in surfing and skating. In time we became friends.
Throughout the late 90’s and into the millennium, Randy’s career took on many challenges. Like most young pro athletes in action sports, he had to balance growing up on the road and the influences that can lead you off a seemingly straight path. Unfortunately for him, a cycle ensued and the scales were often tipped. In order to keep the wheels on, Randy made what some might describe as a life-saving decision, he put down the handle and went to work for the family business, effectively leaving the sport that helped feed his demons. His absence quickly left a void and only a small few like Keith Lyman, Danny Harf and Ben Greenwood could keep the pilot light going for the type of riding Randy was known for.
In the summer of 2006 word was that Randy was back, and now to be called Randall. Shortly after the rumors surfaced, Randall and I spoke in person for the first time in years at the 2006 Surf Expo in Orlando. Not only were the rumors true, but there was something inherently different about him. He was in a good place, with a good mindset, and he had a plan. A plan so well thought-out that he e-mailed me a document a few weeks later listing everything he was going to do in the next few months and everything he wanted to accomplish. It’s something very few professional athletes have ever done, at least in my experience, and I am proud that he gave me, and Alliance, a chance to work together towards some of those goals.
This past spring, for the first time in five years, I had the pleasure of watching him ride while we were shooting video for our Alliance commercial for FUEL TV. In the boat that morning were Kyle Murphy and Melissa Marquardt, a re-gathering of the Canyon Lake band, if you will. Randall was nothing short of extraordinary. Everything was seemingly bigger than it had ever been, a strong portion of what he was doing was switch and he was producing some of the most technical lines possible. It was wakeboarding’s essence in its purest form. But it wasn’t the geometry of what had transpired that morning that made the experience so unique. It was the light emitting from Randall that made it profound. He had obviously shed his demons and by doing so he could ride without reservation or distraction. Historically a normal fall would have been followed by Randy murdering the water with his fist, leaving the mood in the boat pin-drop silent, but now Randall was happy and offering up jokes and a positive attitude. I looked at Melissa and Kyle in disbelief. The nods and bright looks on their face were as if their captain had found his way home, re-forging WSR forever.
– Corey Marotta