2010 Rider of the Year: Tom Fooshee
Motivation is a funny thing, mainly because it varies so widely from person to person in both form and function. For many wakeboarders (and many people in general) success, personal achievement and recognition are some of the biggest motivators. Tom Fooshee is not like most wakeboarders. Nor is he like most people, for that matter. Rather than motivated in the interest of success, Tom is successful because of his motivation. Think about that for a moment, or just talk to Tom for a couple minutes, and you’ll understand what we’re getting at here. Tom loves wakeboarding so much and is so dedicated to not only riding as much as possible, but also traveling the world as an ambassador, that success, to him, is doing more. There’s an old adage that applies less and less to the self-indulgent, instant information, on-demand attitudes of today’s society: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” These days it seems everybody just wants to get there, as quickly as possible and by whatever means necessary. But for the life and career of Tom Fooshee, this is not the case and that statement fits perfectly.
Over the past couple of years Tom has established himself at the front of wakeboarding’s growth and progression. We may not have realized it at first; given that Tom calls Texas home, rather than Orlando, but in just this past year he’s accomplished more than most will in a career. To put it simply, Tom is one of the best wakeboarders in the world, with a list of podiums, championships, titles, and tricks that stretches much farther than you’d think. While many might label Tom as a “cable rider”, Tom is much more than that. Really, he’s just a wakeboarder, who happens to shred anything, in all sorts of manners, no matter what is pulling him: but he does so with a passion and dedication that unfortunately is all to rare in the sport these days. Tom not only pushes himself to succeed, but he envisions a bigger, better future for the sport on a global level and he pushes in the interest of reaching that potential as well.
Wakeboarding and wakeskating are dynamic sports; constantly evolving, progressing, and growing in ways often thought not possible just a couple years earlier. But in order to continue evolving, progressing, and growing, a sport needs catalysts; people a little bit ahead of the curve to set things in motion. People who don’t mind potentially being isolated and lampooned for a while as they wait for everybody else to catch up. When Scott Byerly started turning heads, the established industry initially blew him off. Today he’s known as the Godfather. Thomas Horrell, for better or worse, was also a few steps in front- he could see things playing out way beyond what anybody deemed possible. We believe it’s safe to say that wakeboarding is now catching up with Tom Fooshee. And if Tom could have things his way, there wouldn’t be any destination at all; he’d just keep going right along with the journey, shredding in ways only he can and helping the sport one trick at a time.
Alliance: Where did you grow up and how did you get into watersports?
Tom Fooshee: My parents lived in a house on Lake Austin where I was born, where Jimmy Redmon created his first wakeboard (the Redline). We lived out there the first five years of my life and I started skiing when I was like four. My dad and brother were competitive skiers, so I just kind of grew up doing the whole watersports thing.
A: When did you get into wakeboarding?
TF: I first learned in like ’93 or ’94. I rode a Flight 69 and that was the thing that made me love it (wakeboarding). So I’ve been riding for like 15 years.
A: When did you get your first sponsor?
TF: My first sponsor was back in the end of 2002 or early 2003 and it was with O’Brien. It was kind of the standard “send in a video and get free stuff” kind of deal. I sent them some clips of my riding and they picked me up and I rode for them for four and a half years before moving over to Liquid Force. But it was definitely a pretty big deal for me back then to get a response to my “sponsor me” video and get connected with a board company.
A: When did you realize you might be able to do this professionally?
TF: I had kind of always wanted to do it professionally, but it was when I was in high school that everything started coming together. It was funny because all my buddies in high school weren’t really into wakeboarding, so I’d have them come out to my friend’s boat I used all the time and I’d whip them around on tubes just so I could get a couple sets in on my wakeboard. But that was when I started progressing a lot and my riding really improved. My senior year I completely made the decision to go to Texas State University down in San Marcos because the cable (Texas Ski Ranch) was there and I knew I could ride all the time.
A: How many times had you ridden the cable before you left for college?
TF: Really just a few. I went there the first week it opened, when the only obstacle they had was this basic slider thing – it was awful (laughs). But I thought the whole idea of being able to ride as much as I wanted for little effort – loading up a boat, gas money, those things – was pretty awesome.
A: So being at TSR helped your career?
TF: Most definitely, it probably had the biggest impact on me being a professional wakeboarder. At the end of my senior year, after spending some time at the cable, but still riding boat a bunch, the guys at TSR asked me if I wanted to be part of this “pro team” deal they had. It basically got me a few boat sets a week and a free cable pass – from there on I was hooked. A lot of things came about because of being involved with and working at TSR.
A: That’s sort of where the industry found out about you, because you worked at TSR?
TF: Yeah, I worked there for like four or five years doing everything: running the cable, working the pro shop, in the rail room, giving lessons, you name it, I worked everywhere in that place. I was basically just doing the college thing, riding every day, and traveling when I could. That’s when I had tons of energy, young legs (laughs); two boat sets a day, cable in between.
A: What has it been like to be part of Texas’ growing scene the past couple years?
TF: That’s been absolutely unreal, ‘cause we’ve seen this for a while, we know what Texas has to offer, so to be a part of it growing and getting more recognition is great. What a lot of people might not realize is we have a pretty deep history, too. Jimmy Redmon and Pat McElhiney are from here, and some other OG’s too.
A: When did you go to college and when did you finish?
TF: (laughs) That’s funny. I started in 2003 and graduated in December ’09, so we’re looking at six-and-a-half years (laughs). But it was good; it was one of the best decisions of my life. The school treated me and my crazy schedule really well – they acted like I was one of the athletes on one of the school’s teams. Instead of going to my professors and telling them I needed to miss two weeks of school to go to Worlds in the Philippines, I would go to the administration and just give them my schedule ahead of time with all the dates I’d be traveling. They were really cool with it and really helped me out. I ended up missing almost five weeks each semester, but it was totally excused.
A: Goes to show that you can balance the riding and school thing if you work at it?
TF: For sure. I showed them that graduating was important to me and that I wanted to finish school despite traveling so much and doing all these other things in wakeboarding, and they helped me work around all of it. The funny part is that I actually got more work done while I was traveling than I would have if I was at home because of all the time I was spending in airplanes and at airports with nothing else to do other than schoolwork (laughs). Then I would have my work done and I could treat the rest of my wakeboard trip like a vacation and party (laughs). Plus, I still got to have the whole college experience. So I got to do the fun life of college with the fun life of wakeboarding and travel.
A: Where do you live these days and who do you ride with?
TF: Right now I live in New Braunfels, which is where TSR is located, and it’s only about ten minutes from where I went to school at Texas State. I ride a ton with Gabe Lucas and Aaron Reed now. I also have a lot of homies at the cable who I ride with a lot. I also ride with Bret Little and my two roommates a bunch, one is Earl Bal and the other is a salesman at the boat shop at TSR.
A: Did you ever contemplate moving to Florida to help your career?
TF: Oh yeah, definitely. For a long time that’s what I thought I was always going to do. The plan was to graduate and then move to Florida – I had a place to live in Ft. Myers with the guys who run the cable park there, and that’s not too far from Orlando, and that was sort of the plan. But in the spring and summer of ’09 I just started to think, “Man, I’ve got everything I need right here in Texas.” There were more guys into shooting photos and making videos than ever before, there were lakes diverse from anything else, there’s the cable park, there’s tons of spots to winch, and there’s a great group of motivated riders who love to ride together. So I ended up buying the house I live in right now so I could stick around and be right in the middle of it all and it’s worked out perfectly.
A: What’s a typical day in the life of Tom Fooshee like?
TF: That’s funny ‘cause really there is no such thing as a typical day (laughs). Especially this year, it’s been so crazy and so fun. Really, a typical day is more like waking up in a foreign country, going out and riding for a contest or a photo shoot, and just having a blast (laughs). When I am at home though, it usually consists of some e-mails / work in the morning, a boat set in the afternoon, and some cable riding in the evening. Mix in a photo shoot or something and a lot of SportsCenter and that’s my life here in Texas (laughs).
A: What was your first impression of cable when you got into it?
TF: For me it was just another way to be on my wakeboard, ride and have fun. I thought it was awesome that I could go out for three hours and just charge almost nonstop. Then I was watching myself progress so quickly because of the time I was spending on the cable. I could take tricks and fundamentals I was learning on the cable and I’d start sticking new tricks first or second try behind the boat. It made everything come quickly. So after I’d been doing it for a while I started to see the real potential in cable parks. I saw the lines at the park with people waiting to ride, the different obstacles that could be added and the amount of fun people were having together as a group. It made me realize that this could be a viable way to pursue wakeboarding and it made me think I need to start pushing it.
A: Were you sort of ahead of the industry here in the States in knowing that cable would eventually start growing here and become a legitimate facet of the sport?
TF: In a way I definitely feel like I was, simply because of what I was doing, seeing, and feeling at the park. It didn’t take that long for it to click because I started seeing how many boards would be sold based on people demo-ing them at the park, or how many people could be riding together at the park and enjoying it together as a social experience. Also based on how many different jobs I worked at TSR I knew what it cost to run an operation like that, pay employees, etc, and it all just started clicking after I was around it for about a year. There was sort of a group of us in the U.S. who started traveling a bunch and seeing the cable scene internationally and we just knew it would pick up in the U.S. The cable has come a long way; it’s not anything like what it was just a few years ago. Now you can basically build whatever you want in your park and make it totally badass. It just needed to wait for the right time.
A: What influences your riding?
TF: I actually think a lot of it is from my friends around home in Texas. That’s what I like about the group I ride and hang out with, there’s a lot of diversity. Gabe, for example, is a huge inspiration because he doesn’t ride like anybody else out there – he’s always thinking outside of the box and doing something different. There’s also a group of three guys who rode the cable a bunch and when I first got started they always had something for me to learn or watch or be a part of. I feel like my riding is a bit of collaboration of a bunch of my friends, whether it’s boat, cable, winch, whatever.
A: When you first started getting plugged into the industry and meeting guys, were there any in particular riders you were stoked to meet or ride with?
TF: Yeah, there were a bunch because I grew up as a huge fan of the sport. One of the guys I was really stoked to meet though was Keith Lidberg because he was sort of doing things similar to what I had in mind – just shredding whatever, whether it was boat, cable or winch. He’s one of my best buds in the entire sport now, we’ve got an awesome relationship. Then another one for me was Ben Greenwood, I love watching that guy ride.
A: What is the most rewarding part of being a professional wakeboarder?
TF: The most rewarding part for me is just the feeling I have for it – like how much I want to put everything I have and everything I can into it, you know? It’s like automatic for me almost, I’m just stoked to get up and get to work and do my very best to help my sponsors, help the sport, ride, whatever it may be. I will literally get excited just to answer e-mails if it’s about wakeboarding (laughs). There’s never a thought in my mind to just blow something off or save it for later so I can do something else – every single moment I enjoy it so much. So that feeling and that sort of motivation that I get from wakeboarding is the most rewarding thing for me.
A: Some riders might just see themselves as athletes, not necessarily ambassadors for the sport. Do you see yourself as more than just an athlete then, given how much it stokes you out and how motivated you seem to be?
TF: It’s been more and more that way with how much I’ve been traveling internationally the last couple years and being exposed to different aspects of the industry and seeing how big the world really is. I feel it more too because of the respect I’ve been gaining from other riders in the industry – they’re not just trying to label me as some little cable rat or something, they know I ride everything but they really respect what I’ve been doing with my cable riding and how I’ve been pushing that side of the sport. That’s really one of the most honorable things for me.
A: What keeps you humble, despite all the recent success?
TF: The fact that satisfaction kills, you know? If I were completely satisfied with what I was doing then I wouldn’t keep progressing. As soon as I start to feel like I’m content with it, then I’m not going to go much further. Plus, my family has always been amazing. I had a great upbringing that kept me really grounded and I’m grateful for everything. I can’t take the opportunities I have for granted.
A: You are well known for your cable riding abilities, but you shred as an all-around wakeboarder. Do you make sure you’re always mixing it up and riding different things?
TF: Well I started out on boat and only really rode cable because it was so accessible to me. I think if I’d grown up wakeboarding somewhere else things would be a lot different for me now. I just like to keep progressing my riding with the sport and having fun with it. Like two-tower cable systems are the thing these days and I love doing a bunch of that. I’m just lucky that a lot of these different things like the cable and the winch have come into the sport at the right time for me. I’m just about trying new things and having fun – we’re lucky to have it all down here in Texas.
A: What’s the key to being a good all around wakeboarder who can ride all sorts of ways?
TF: As generic as it sounds, it’s just to be so happy with doing it. Obviously I’ve been riding TSR for years now, so you’d think it would get boring for me, but it doesn’t. There’s always something new out there that you can learn. Always. And nothing feels better than landing a new trick. So just being able to have fun with it and progress are the things I think are key.
A: What did it mean to you to see a cable tour come to the US?
TF: That was one of the most important things that’s ever happened to cable riding and the sport as whole. Just to have a series of events come through here where the mass of pro riders and media are based was just huge. It was awesome to have some of the international guys who kill it on cable come to the U.S. and experience what’s starting to happen over here.
A: What do you think it means for the sport as a whole to have a cable tour in the US?
TF: It’s good because we’re still playing catch up with so many other areas – like Germany has over 60 cable parks. I think having the series here shows a lot of people the real potential behind cable parks and I think it will explode in North America really soon. Plus the riding itself on the cable is progressing so much it’s insane. Watching guys like Nick Davies will just blow your mind – we need more guys like him for sure.
A: What is the biggest misconception about riding the cable?
TF: That it’s easy and that it’s not really wakeboarding. I do a lot of crossover between boat and cable, I know what it’s like. There are some very similar things between both, and you work on the same edges, that kind of thing. Who’s to say that doing a legit 1080 is easier off the cable than behind the boat? There’s so much that goes into a trick like that. I think some people misconstrue rapid progression for being easy. You’ll often times see a handful of gnarly tricks get fired off at the cable, but that’s because it’s more accessible and you can go out and try it 30 times in a row, so progression can come a little faster.
A: What prevented cable parks / cable riding from getting more recognition in the US in the past?
TF: Well obviously the fact that there aren’t a lot of cable parks here and the fact that in the beginning there weren’t very many rails or kickers. Another thing is the fact that wakeboarding in the States came from water skiing, which was always done behind a boat. That’s just how it evolved here – there wasn’t really a need or purpose for a cable park. And I think another thing might have to do with the style of riding that cable riding was labeled with. Four or five years ago “style” wasn’t really something a lot of guys at cable parks were really concerned with – you know like grabbing or making things look different. But a lot of that has changed now, it’s cool to go to a park and see guys trying to add some style to their riding and make it look unique.
A: Did you ever feel pressure from the US industry to ride less cable or ride more boat?
TF: The crazy thing is that I never actually once got that, but in my mind I just had this “I don’t want people to only know me as a cable rider” type of mindset, so I was definitely making sure to keep my riding diverse and not just focus on one thing. I was lucky to come up right when cable parks were starting to realize all the things they could do with rails, kickers, things like that, so I wanted to be known as a guy who was pushing that sort of style of riding at cable parks, rather than the old school type of riding that was really only air tricks. I’m pretty sure that the cable was a big reason I got picked up by Liquid Force, because they were one of the first companies that were really into it – that’s why we see them as a sponsor at almost every cable park in the U.S., again in Australia, and they have a gigantic presence in Germany. They never once told me “well, we need you at this Pro Tour stop” or whatever, I’ve always been able to do my thing, I’ve never been told I need to do something else. I think I pushed myself to progress on both the boat and cable to prove the legitimacy of both to myself, and if other people saw that and thought the same thing, then cool.
A: How did you knock your tooth out this year?
TF: (laughing) That was pretty funny, actually. I was at Wake the Line in Germany and they had a quarterpipe at the end of it. I hit it a few times and was starting to feel pretty good about it, so I decided to air out and try a backside 180, but I went too far out and went straight to my face – didn’t even get my hands down. It was weird because it felt like I chipped my tooth, but it didn’t hurt at all. It like chipped before the nerve endings, so I didn’t really feel anything. I just remember Parks being right there and laughing saying “Dude, you’ve got a hole in your grill!” It ended up working out though, ‘cause right after Wake the Line was BROstock in Arkansas and I think having a missing tooth helped me fit right in with the party crowd (laughs).
A: What’s your favorite trick to do behind the boat?
TF: I like different variations of heel and toe 3’s, just mixing it up with different grabs, pokes, stuff like that.
A: What’s your favorite trick to do on the cable?
TF: Really, just big, floaty front flips around the corner and into the flats, just ‘cause you can grab it indy, or tail, or stalefish, and it’s just a lot of fun. Every time I ride I’ll usually do one or two in the first couple laps.
A: What has this past year been like for you professionally?
TF: It’s been an extremely important year for me because I just graduated in December, so it was the first year I was able to ride full time without anything else to worry about. I’ve been waiting for this year to come for a while (laughs). As soon as I graduated I went straight to Australia for like five weeks just so I could ride during their summer and be part of the cable/boat tour they had going on. It was the first year I could work as hard as I wanted to so I could travel, promote my sponsors as much as possible, and really just do all of that. It’s been awesome, I’m not burnt out at all – I’ve been waiting for it for a long time.
A: Did you go into this year with specific goals or things you wanted to accomplish? Did you meet them?
TF: My goals were to just take every opportunity that I knew I was going to have this season and just run with them. From doing more photo shoots – I’ve shot way more this year compared to the last few because of being out of school – or just making a little online video, to every single travel opportunity. I made three trips to Europe, two trips to Asia, and one trip to Australia just in 2010, and I’ll be going back to Asia in January. Plus I’ve been all over North America. I just had to take advantage of every opportunity I had because I’d been waiting so long to be able to have a summer/season like this.
A: Where do you see yourself over the next two or three years?
TF: I just plan on continuing doing things similar to what I did this summer. I don’t want to stop or slow down, I want to keep going. I want to keep traveling, doing the World Series, doing the Triple Crown, doing the events like Wake the Line and Nokia Fise, supporting my sponsors as much as possible, and just helping the sport grow. I figure I can do it until I’m at least Lidberg’s age, and he’s 30! (laughs).
A: Where do you see the sport over the next two or three years?
TF: I see it continuing to progress the way it has been. This year has been insane with the progression in tricks and stuff. I definitely see cable playing a more prominent role and continuing to grow, especially with the contest scene just because of how accessible it is for fans and how much closer they can be to the action. You look at the way things are in Germany and it’s insane. Sometimes I’ll see up to 70 people in line waiting to ride the cable, and that’s in a country with 60-plus cable parks, it’s insane. The way they incorporate the parks into the local cities is awesome – like you’ll see P.E. classes from schools come out there, or you’ll see contests with huge sponsors like Sony, Nokia, T-Mobile and stuff. There is just so much potential with cable parks in the future that I can’t see them not growing and expanding in the sport. And of course there’s the winch, it’s hard to not progress with that thing, it’s opened up some awesome doors for riders.
A: What does it mean to you to be named the Rider of the Year?
TF: It’s the most honorable thing of my career that I could be given. Just to be put in with the names of guys like Parks, Randall, Hampson, Reed, Grubb, Benny, Chris-O and everybody else is just unreal. This is like one of the biggest and best moments of my life. I’ve put a lot of hard work and dedication into the sport and to be rewarded like that is just unbelievable. It’s definitely my biggest accomplishment. I love what I do, but to be awarded for it on top of that is awesome.
A: How does this affect your future?
TF: I’d like to think that it will help my career grow and help me do what I’ve been doing in the sport: working hard to promote things and to spread the word and help the sport grow. I’d really like to use this to my advantage to help the sport. I think this is another great opportunity and I really want to take it and use it to the best of my abilities to help things progress.