2009 Rider of the Year: Chris O’Shea
All sorts of arguments can be made as to why Chris O’Shea might not have been the best wakeboarder in 2009. He might not have landed the most rotations this year, won the most contests, or had the most written about him on the internet, but those arguments are subjective, up for debate, and typically inconclusive – especially in the eyes of this particular magazine. What is totally undeniable though, is what Chris-O has done for the sport over the last 12 months and beyond. As a rider Chris-O has set himself apart with his riding: a unique blend of tech and smooth, big air coupled with a style uniquely his own. And while the wrap handle has been around for years, it hasn’t caught on with many of the top pros, particularly until Chris-O started using it and doing tricks in ways nobody really thought possible. Many times it’s not necessarily the actual tricks that are the most important, but the way they are being done. More often than not this past year, when it came time to talk about the way riders were doing tricks, Chris O’Shea’s name was always at the top. In addition to that, Chris-O has developed and successfully run his own contest based on nothing but freeriding and progression. While the path less traveled can often be a lot more work, it usually realizes a much more unique journey.
If you’d like to hear some inconclusive arguments, we can still oblige. There’s a reason Chris O’Shea was featured in three video sections in 2009, received loads of editorial exposure, and had magazines literally racing to be the first to feature him on a cover. There’s a reason he is respected throughout the activity as well, from the top pros to the weekend warrior fans. There’s a reason his riding not only garners the attention of those watching, but actually makes them want to push themselves to progress and try something new. As DVS Team Manager Sam Ratto once famously said, “It’s called style, kids. Bring that shit or get out of here…” Chris O’Shea has undoubtedly brought it, is still bringing it, and will continue to bring it for a long time to come.
A: What does being named the Alliance Rider of the Year mean to you?
CO: It’s a huge honor. It puts my name alongside some of the best riders ever. I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for the Alliance Rider of the Year just because of the riders who have won it in the past and because of the direction Alliance has been pushing the sport for a long time. For it to happen to me is kind of surreal, really, and a bit unexpected, but I’m really stoked.
A: How was 2009 different for you as a rider than years past?
CO: In 2009 I definitely took some steps away from the contest scene and focused on riding more, focused on filming. I knew I had the opportunity to work on some videos that were going to be pretty legit: Box of Fun and Rewritten, as well as an Aussie film called Canvas that turned out really solid. So I just had the mindset to focus on those things and express what I wanted to do on a board more than trying to get consistent with a contest pass.
A: What does wakeboarding mean to you?
CO: Everything. It’s crazy because it’s been something I’ve wanted to do before I even had thoughts of doing or being anything else. I started getting into it when I was 10 or 11 years old and it was the first thing I ever wanted to do as a “job.” From that point I pretty much just wanted to wakeboard and that was it. I’m just stoked that wakeboarding is still growing, there are so many new ways of getting pulled that are coming into light, and it’s exciting to think that there’s still so much more that can be done in terms of progression. I love seeing all the new styles that are coming out. There seems to be more and more crews of riders doing their own thing. It’s a super inspiring time in the sport.
A: How did you develop your view of the sport?
CO: When I first started riding I was really into the way the Hacko crew in Australia would ride – Marshall Harrington, Reese Jordan, and Paul Boyd. Those guys were always pushing the “Don’t do a trick unless you grab it” vibe. And then Mick Watkins, Daniel’s brother, was the editor of the magazine down there and when I would ride with him he was always say, “No tindy’s!” Also, I was into skating and snowboarding too, and I kind of built a mindset when I was young that was like, “Why do it if you’re not gonna grab it?” Basically I learned every trick with a legit grab. It might have made me not do the tech stuff every time, but I was doing it the way I wanted it to look and feel. With those influences and the fact that the sport was so young when I was starting out, it was a big deal to me to make wakeboarding relate to the boardsport world, not the skiing world. So that was my outlook, and it’s fun to play around with that stuff. It feels cool and it’s fun to mix things up.
A: Australia has a huge part in wakeboarding’s history, but you’re basically the first “endless summer” Aussie who is solely a freerider. Why do you think that is?
CO: That’s hard to say. I’m the first rider that has come along with a different mind set. Most Aussies are super competitive and I’m not, so that probably has something to do with it. Plus the opportunities for a rider like Daniel or Ike to come to the U.S. were a lot different back in the day.
A: What’s it like living an endless summer year-round?
CO: It’s awesome. It can be pretty hectic because when I’m back home I can be pulled from one end of the country to the other on a regular basis. Sometimes I’ll only see my parents for a week, and then I’ll be on the road for a month before I come back home. So sometimes I’ll only see my parents for two weeks out of the year, which kind of sucks, but everything else is good and worth it. I wouldn’t do it any other way.
A: Do you progress more as a rider in Orlando or back home in Australia?
CO: Definitely in Orlando. It’s so much easier to progress because of the access, and because I get to ride with a bunch of sick riders like the Box of Fun crew and the Pointless shredders. For me to ride at home in Australia I’ve got to trailer a boat for three hours, put it in the water, fill up the Fat Sacs and then do it all in reverse and drive home for three hours. Whereas in Orlando I can walk out the backdoor whenever I want and go ride. Going through that process puts things in perspective, though, ‘cause you can get spoiled out here in Orlando. You gotta’ love wakeboarding.
A: You recently made a big move in your career by signing with Company. What’s the story?
CO: The whole Hyperlite thing just wasn’t working out, but it’s really been a blessing in disguise because now I’m working with Justin Stephens and Randall at Company. The product is awesome and I love riding it, and there’s a ton of motivation as I’m going to start working on new products including a board for the wake and a board for rails. So it’s all exciting, and those guys’ ideas and motivation is inspiring. We’re about to get started on a team video project called Good Company. It’s definitely an exciting time and a step forward in the right direction for me.
A: What are your plans for 2010?
CO: Working on Good Company, obviously. I’ll also be working with Aussie filmmaker Josh Robinson (creator of Canvas) on a movie called In Transit. And then there is 55 Elements, which is going to be a skateboard, snowboard, surfboard and a little wakeboard movie. I think it’s going to be me, Danny Harf and maybe Parks. It’s going to be more of a documentary with wakeboarding as one component, kind of comparing the different industries and their lifestyles, you know? So that will be interesting. And just those three things alone – three video parts is a lot of riding, and I definitely don’t want to be working on much more than that because I don’t want to be repeating a bunch of the same stuff for different videos. So I’d say I’ve got my hands full for 2010 in terms of filming already. Then I’ll be working on boards for Company as well as some life jacket stuff and clothing pieces for Jet Pilot. I’m pretty psyched for this year. I’d like to get to Japan for a little winch trip – I’m organizing it right now. I think that’d be pretty fun – go bomb around some Japanese cities (laughs).
A: What are some of the things you’re working on with Jet Pilot and Company in particular?
CO: Jet Pilot and I are working on a new clothing line and vest. Company and I are just starting to dig in on a board. We’ve got the graphic done and it’s dope.
A: What’s the winch done for you as a rider?
CO: I haven’t done a ton of winching in the grand scheme of things, but it definitely opens up a lot of doors and brings in the urban element. It makes it cool ‘cause you can get really creative with photos and stuff. It brings more people into the sport, as well, because it’s so much cheaper.
A: You have taken a much less conventional path to wakeboarding success. Rather than grind through the contest scene and try to get noticed, you’ve spent the last few years dedicated to freeriding, video sections, photo shoots, and even developing your own freeriding-based contest. What was your reasoning? Did you have one? Has it worked the way you envisioned?
CO: There has never really been a plan other than challenging myself and riding a bunch. I was never doing as well as I would like in contests and really after a while I was like, “Wakeboarding isn’t just about winning.” I had no idea that just working really hard on how I want to represent the sport and contribute to it would work out to be successful. Success or no success, the plan has been to ride ‘till I can’t ride anymore, and that’s still the plan. The motivation behind my freeride contest was to compete in a way that would be fun to me.
A: What was your plan of survival if you were totally backing away from contests?
CO: I definitely focused on filming and shooting as much as possible. The sport is still small, so the amount of people that can be supported by just freeriding is pretty small, so I had to work at it. I focused on double ups and trying to be progressive; and then capture everything I’m doing, as well. So if I’m doing a trick I haven’t seen done before, or doing something else different, I just had to make sure to get somebody to come and film or shoot it. I like documenting, whether it’s for a mag or video, I just want things for my own memories. I just worked hard at pushing myself and documenting it, not just going out five times a day and doing the same pass. Like this morning I was working on something new, just to get a shot of something I’ve never done before, you know? That’s kind of what I try to do – not have the same trick over and over in a number of photos… except for the method… I could have 500 shots of a method and I’d be down. Everyone’s sweet on methods (laughs).
A: You even came up with your own freeriding-based contest, the Pressure Cooker. How did that all work out and was it a success in your eyes?
CO: Yeah, I think it was successful. It was a huge learning process for me. I learned a lot, so it was a success in that regard. It was just cool to have a bunch of riders get together at a pimp location and do something that’s just about the riding. All we did was ride and film each other, and it was a contest, but it was more about everybody working together to push each other and learn something new. Everybody who was at that contest told me that they all tried something that they’d never tried before. So it was definitely a success. Financially I came out of pocket, but it was worth it. I’d love to do it again, but it’s been tough logistically so far and with the economy – I hate using the economy as an excuse, but it’s hurt – so it’s on the back burner for a bit, but we’ll see what happens.
A: What motivates you to go ride?
CO: Just having fun riding and seeing new kids shredding and seeing new styles. I was injured the last three months and I just really started riding 100% again, and to start riding again and working on a bunch of different stuff is really fun. I’ve been riding for 10 years now, but I still feel like I’ve got stuff to learn, whether it is rails or winching or double ups, it’s a challenge and it’s fun.
A: So do you look at what a lot of other guys are doing on their wakeboards and say, “I gotta do that as differently as possible”?
CO: I definitely used to do everything as differently as I could from what everybody else was doing – that was one of my big focuses – trying to make my riding a little bit different. But everybody’s started to change their riding, too, it seems, which is kind of awesome. It’s harder to be an individual because it seems everybody is grabbing more, but I’m stoked about that. I’ve noticed a big change in the last two years. Everyone is focusing a lot more on grabbing longer and holding stuff, it’s cool.
A: When you’re riding do you think about the line you’re putting together? Is a good line more important to you than a single trick or two?
CO: I like doing it all; throwing down lines, double ups, and rails. One’s not better than the next. To me they’re just different aspects of my riding. I’ve got a line I’ve been trying for about a year now. I still haven’t got it on film yet, but I’m having fun trying.
A: When did you first start using a wrap handle and what do you like most about it?
CO: I first started doing wrapped tricks when I was a little kid, like 14 or 15, then I didn’t do wrapped tricks for a bit. I’d say I started doing a few wrapped tricks here and there three or four years ago, but within the last couple of years is when I really started doing a bunch. It’s much more fun because you can grab with another hand, grab longer and you can stall stuff out. You can do a stalefish 720 and grab it for a really long time, which feels way cooler to me than to just grab the nose right of the wake and do two handle passes. Randall inspired me first with those sick stalled out indy wrapped 3’s he’s been doing forever.
A: What do you think about it becoming a trend amongst all the other pros?
CO: I think it’s cool; it’s good to see. I’m glad Danny started doing it (laughs)…. If Danny does it it’s cool, right? (laughs)
A: What was it like working on Box of Fun and Rewritten?
CO: Rewritten was a lot of fun because it was the whole team hanging out. The team has a lot of unique personalities and different characters, so it was just a lot of fun. But we shot during one of the coldest winters in Orlando so that made it really hard, and we were pressed for time, so I know my riding wasn’t the best it could be. But the team things we did and the types of shots we got were awesome. And that intro shot is something I’ll never, ever forget. Box of Fun was different because we didn’t have deadlines or anything. It was just the crew getting together, riding, and shooting whenever we had time for like two or three years. So I had as much time as I wanted to get some tricks locked down on video.
A: What was it like being a part of the freeriding roundtable discussion? (See the September 2009 issue)
CO: That was cool. It was really interesting. It brought a lot of attention to a lot of people that didn’t really think about stuff like that before. I think all the riders realize that we need both sides of the sport (contests and freeriding) and that everybody has to work together, even though there are different sides. That was really cool to me that everybody agreed on that point. A lot of people came up to me after the article came out and talked to me about how much they like the freeriding side of the sport and how they want to see it pushed harder.
A: Do you think what was said there stuck with the guys? Do you think anybody changed their approach to the sport after that meeting?
CO: I think some readers probably changed some things, for sure. Like I said, I had a lot of people come up to me after that article came out, so I think it was really good for the sport. As for the riders who were a part of the meeting? I don’t know… The guys doing Moby Dick 540s are probably still out training to do more Moby Dick 540s (laughs). Just kidding…
A: If there were one lesson you could teach the next generation of wakeboarders, what would it be?
CO: Oh that’s deep (laughs). Just do a method you little bastards (laughs harder). No, I’d tell them to just remember why you’re doing it. Don’t do it for anybody else. Do it for yourself. Do it as something to have fun with. Express yourself! Don’t let anybody tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing on a wakeboard. Somebody who’s like, “Oh yeah, you just need a KGB, a crow mobe, and a backroll to blind and then you’ll have your tech done for contests…” or whatever. Don’t look at it like that. Do what you want and what you think looks cool and what feels good to you.
A: Do you think too much of the younger generation gets caught up in trick counting and just getting a few things dialed for contest passes?
CO: I don’t think all of them do, but contests are a big part of the sport. Parents are really pushing a lot of times more than the kids, and that kind of sucks. I think that’s how kids get burned out on something that should really just be about having a fun time.
A: Do you think you’ll ever approach the contests scene again and take it more seriously?
CO: I actually want to go and compete, just not all the time. And every time I do go to a contest I take my riding seriously, no matter what, you know? I want to put out the best riding I can for the people who are there watching. I just don’t always put it together well enough to win (laughs). And actually, going back to the leaving Hyperlite and signing with Company thing, at first I was kind of worried because I thought kids who follow me or what I do might think that I got dropped because I wasn’t a contest rider or something, or that I wasn’t doing well in contests, you know. Everybody makes assumptions these days on why something happened. But that wasn’t the case and while I might approach contests more in the future, I still want to be known as a freerider and somebody who will continue to progress the sport in new directions.
A: Why do you think you have trouble “putting it together”?
CO: I think it has to do with the fact that I have a really hard time seeing the fun in going out and doing a few passes a day that are just the same tricks over and over and over. I can’t be that rigid with my riding. You go to a contest now and you see these guys who just have the gnarliest tricks on lock – they don’t even do just a straight air grab or anything, it’s just tech right off the dock all the way down the lake and back – it seems robotic at times, you know? I’m never going to change my riding to make that happen, ever. But I’m going to go into contests and try to ride the best I can, the way I want to ride. If it works out, cool. If not, oh well.
A: With the explosion of the Internet amongst all the pros, are you going to jump on the bandwagon and get a blog?
CO: No, I’ll just be in everybody else’s blog (laughs).
A: What about Twitter?
CO: I might get on Twitter. I don’t have an iPhone, though. If I had an iPhone I might be a good Twatter… Tweeter? Whatever…