Unfinished Business …20 Years Later with Brian Grubb
By Corey Marotta
For some people, failing to complete a task or fulfill a goal is something that falls into the “such is life” category, justified by a list of excuses. But for professionals, not completing a task or goal can be haunting. Regardless of time gone by, an unfinished anything tears at their moral fabric, looming in the background, as if that unfinished business questions their existence.
Over the past two decades Brian Grubb has been one of the most accomplished athletes in the history of the sport. A focused tactician by nature, his competitive accolades speak for themselves. Grubb has won every major wakeskating event including the Pro Tour, Nationals, Worlds and The Masters. Some of which he has won multiple times. His collection of hardware is all-but untouchable. For Grubb though, freeriding and video projects are where his talents and passion shine. Known for taking the sport to faraway lands, he has a unique way of seeking out incredible landscapes that act as a “pallet” for his wakeskating missions, earning him a well-deserved global spotlight. Whether it be gapping down the emerald green rice terraces in the Philippines, making a line through the snow-filled “Dragon’s Tail” river on Bjelasnica Mountain in Bosnia or being towed by a squadron of drones on the Sava Bohinjka River in Slovenia, Grubby has taken our sport to places only he’s capable of imagining. In total, his travels have yielded over two million flight miles – or nearly 80 times around the planet – supported by wakeskating.
But with all the trophies and all the travels combined, Grubb’s career has thrived with one achievement unfulfilled, and the same could be said for us here at Alliance. Twenty years ago, Alliance Wakeboard Magazine launched, and would become the industry’s most outspoken media entity in wake. Birthed from opinion, history in the sport and publishing experience, our original team of Bill McCaffray, Tony Smith, Chase Heavener, and Matt Staker launched Alliance as an independent publication without the confines and red tape known with other wake media entities. Bottom line we could live and die by our own sword, only to be penalized by our after-hour meetings the following morning. Politely put, our approach to the activity was slightly contrarian.
At the time of our launch, the Pointless Crew was running full throttle and completely changing the way the sport of wakeboarding was presented. For Danny Harf, Chad Sharp, Shane Bonifay, Erik Ruck, Parks Bonifay, Nick “Britney Spears” Weinacker, Shawn Watson, Francois Roy and Brain Grubb – wakeboarding was along for the ride. The crew charged into the millenia armed with a video camera and some basic editing equipment, purchased with one of Shane’s recent contest checks. The decade that followed can only be looked at as one of the most progresive and wild times in wakeboarding, and it completely motivated the team here at Alliance. While filming for their first all-rider-shot-and edited movie, Incomplete (a must watch) the original up-gap to flat rail was constructed on the backyard shoreline of Danny Harf’s parent’s house. Danny was in highschool at the time, and came home to his friends constructing the absolute monstrosity of a rail without any previous knowledge.
This soon historical rail was assembled as if it’s existence was going to be Pointless’ statue of immortality. Or, it was simply based on what Homedepot had that day. Either way, the rail stood for their movement. In parallel, Grubb was also stepping into his own future mission. It was at this time Grubb was transitioning from wakeboarding to full-time professional wakeskating, something he (and not too many others) felt passionately about. Whatever hack, thrown-together death structure the Pointless boys would concoct, you bet your ass Grubb was going to hit it on a wakeskate – this newly formed monster rail included.
With little hesitation, Grubb took aim at this rail on his wakeskate and on the first attempt nearly went full-pull, sending the rest of Pointless into a frenzy. Although it wasn’t a complete “make”, the attempt alone would define not only Pointless, but Grubb’s future path. At that very same moment Grubb was stamping his mark on wakeskating, we at Alliance Wakeboard Magazine were putting together our inaugural issue – most importantly, selecting our first cover. The cover of any magazine is the most coveted, and celebrated, form of recognition in any board sport. We understood that our first cover had to be a statement. Not only as an image, but as a direction, and ultimately, a VOICE. Grubb’s attempt at THIS rail, on a wakeskate, was a defining moment not only for him, but perfectly timed for the statement and history Alliance hoped to make. For us, choosing the image was undeniable and when the cover hit there was no question: Alliance, Grubb and Pointless were moving the sport forward in a new way. This was not only our first cover, but Grubb’s as well. Pointless would soon debut Incomplete, and Grubb would earn Alliance’s first coveted Rider of the Year award. That’s a lot of history for one move, and a magazine cover that wasn’t a make.
Twenty years of anything is a monumental feat. In today’s quick fix culture, content beyond 20 seconds is seemingly not worthy of our time as we cling to measurements of social media insecurity. For an athlete or print publication, two decades is rare. Especially if you consider physical longevity, relevant shelf life and the ability to maintain a creative direction. As we looked to our upcoming 20 year anniversary we had two decades of history to consider. A lot of things happened in the industry during that time and most of the sport’s athletes have moved on. Luckily, Grubb has not. There was unfinished business we both had to attend to. A cover photo and attempt gone incomplete. And that’s when the questions popped up: Could we recreate that moment, together, all these years later? Could we pay homage to where we started, yet still push the limits of today? Grubb didn’t hesitate for a second, responding in his usual understated yet confident manner, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
The day of the recreating the original rail was more of a reunion than labor. Brian, in his usual tactician approach, had gone back to our first issue’s photo sequence of the rail and calculated all the materials, up-rail angle, distance of the gap and height of the flat rail. The Pointless Boys were together again as if nothing had changed – with the exception of a few added scars, barnacles and ROTY achievements. Everything dropped into place and within a few hours (and Not Beers) the original rail was standing ready for the following day’s attempt. This left enough time for some water frolic and storytelling supported by a growing local contingency joining our gathering.
The considerable crosswinds and less-than-stellar light conditions the day of the attempt was a stark contrast to the prior day’s spirit. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a one-time hit, nor did any of us really know what to expect. It had been 20 years since Grubb’s last attempt. Would 20 years of wakeskating under his belt be the deciding factor? After the first attempt the challenge was clear, the rail wasn’t going to give in easily. Which, in a way, answered any lingering questions as to the challenge of the original rail. In 2000, Grubb had caught the handle around the top, effectively ripping the apparatus into splinters on the first night. Meaning: Could he have gone full-pull with enough attempts? A solid two hours into the reunion attempt, Grubb’s chances were starting to look bleak. He’d make it clean over the gap about 10% of the time, but the landing was too aggressive. Falling out of the sky from 14 feet above the water, we started to wonder if his body could continue. Additionally, his hands were bleeding from the handle ripping out of them each time. But this is Brian Grubb, this is how he has always defined himself, and nobody in the history of the sport could take the continuous beating we were witnessing and still have a chance. As our spirits and the spirits of the flotilla started to dwindle, you could see Grubb’s willingness take new flight. And, as we approached the four-hour mark of continuous riding with little to no light remaining, Grubb hit a full-pull seemingly perfect. Before his board even hit the water you could see in his eyes that he was going to ride this one out. Pandemonium ensued; the flotilla went completely bananas. In nearly 20 years of being on the media side I can say without a doubt the effort, determination and grit Grubb put into this day is something truly special, and will likely never be replicated nor survived.
As the saying goes, you only have the opportunity to be first, once. For Brian Grubb, to be Alliance’s first cover and first Rider of the Year may have been an unforeseen destiny, but a definitive moment nonetheless. Twenty years of history; Grubb and Alliance are still here. We’re more profound than ever, and we can finally check the unfinished business box.
Testimonials – unedited
Erik Ruck – What can I say about Grubby recreating the OG Alliance cover? Those couple days of having the Pointless crew back together was like putting on an old pair of jeans, they might be a little beat up but once you put them on it just feels right. From being back in the water pounding post with the boy to filming and just feeling the hype that we would create for each other. It just brought back amazing memories and the fact we got to do it all again to support Grubb was amazing. Not to mention that this time he evened to score with that rail and walked away with the win.
Parks Bonifay – That day was a special one. To be united with the Pointless crew for a replica build of Grubb and Alliance’s first cover really time warped me back to those days. And the way it unfolded with Grubb’s buzzer beat maker after 60 hard bloody tries. It was truly amazing, a day I’ll never forget. Not sure how grubb keeps getting better, but he does. And that does not apply to anyone else in the pointless crew. Hahahah it’s fascinating. 🙌🏻 Congrats grubb you deserve it!
Meagan Ethell – “Grubb really put in so much work to build and hit his 20 Year Rail. The amount of effort and determination he had was inspiring. When he landed it on his last go, everyone was freaking out and it’s something we’ll never forget!
Shane Bonifay – I spent so much time with these guys back in the day as a group and I’ve got to spend time with a few of the guys individually since, but we haven’t got everybody back together in one spot in a long time. That made this one more great memory of which we have a bunch of. When you get all of us back together again it’s just like it was 20 years ago acting like we are 20 years old doing whatever the f#&k we want. And Pointless has always been “Incomplete” or had unfinished business if you will. Not saying that it is complete now but this is one of many things we wanted to do and never finished.
Massi – I have been lucky enough to know Brian Grubb for quite some time now, we’ve traveled together to some of the most amazing places and shared some unforgettable memories that I will carry on for the rest of my life! Grubby is extremely focused and determined in anything he does, he is a natural and as a sports lover he’s always down for adventures and new challenges! He has done and still will be continuing to do so many unreal projects that makes wakeskating standout in a global point of view and that’s huge! This summer I got a call by Grubby telling me that he wanted to replicate the shot that got him the very first cover of Alliance Wakeboard Magazine 20 years ago, right away I was fired up and couldn’t wait to see that rail in real life since I was only 6 years old when it happened the first time! Once we pulled up I couldn’t believe how big that rail was and that grubby was about to hit that mountain on a wakeskate, he was so focused and so ready to do this shit that immediately grabbed his board and got after it, when he stated to figure it out on a landing ripped his calluses open so he ended up taping his hand in order to continue hitting this rail, after an unreal sesh Grubb stomped it and everyone went crazy we couldn’t believe what happened! Possibly the biggest rail ever hit on a wakeskate had just gone down in front of our eyes, for sure that’s another moment that I will never forget, thank you Grubb for being inspiring and always sending it to the max level you are such a G.20 Years for Grubb
Guenther – Grubb has been, and continues to be one of the biggest innovators in our sport. To see him come out and tackle this gigantic rail was nothing short of surprising. The entire Pointless Posse was back in action and there to watch him stomp it. It was a battle for sure, but it made the end result that much better. The man seems like he never ages and proved to all of us that he still has it.