The beginnings of Freedom

“For the Love of Wakeskating”

I was going to be nice. After over two years of writing this column, I stepped aside to let other voices be heard. Now after several years, I am writing it again, just once, and I was going to be nice. Nice was how I ended this column and my reason for relinquishing it. No one wants to hear how great everything is, or how silver the lining really is. I wasn’t asked to come back to be nice. So I won’t. Instead I want to talk about the cycle. It’s always the old guys in their infinite wisdom talking about “the cycle of life, man…” and there is a reason for that. They have made it around a time or two and have seen it begin again. So what does this have to do with wakeskating? It’s life, man, it has to do with everything. Shit is getting mystical.

I’ll start with the nice story I wanted to begin my nice article with. The story of a kid finding a wakeboard in his attic at the age of 14 and his life changing forever. How seeing Scott Byerly do a wrapped backside 360 without bindings changed his world again. And how, with the help of people like Scott, Thomas, and many, many others, that kid made a name for himself. All he had to do was be nice, have fun, and ride his wakeskate. I was that kid, and I was part of a cycle I didn’t even know was spinning. As I became more known in our sport, I took more of a proactive role in shaping its direction. I took it upon myself to write this column every month, and it wasn’t nice, and it wasn’t fun. Depending where you were in your cycle, you may or may not have agreed with me. Maybe you wanted to scream out that you were just having fun, but you were just too nice. As the issues rolled past, my edges got rounded and my fingers were tired of typing. The cycle spun on and I found myself where I had begun, just having fun. It was time for me to step aside. Time for me to take a step back and enjoy what I had helped create. Time for me to start a new cycle. The kind that Scott and Thomas and others had been on years before when I was just that fun-loving kid on a wakeskate. Time for me to listen to the new voices in wakeskating. But as I listen, I don’t particularly like all of what I hear.

Wakeskating is, and always has been, fighting a battle on two fronts. One battle is to grow our relatively small, insignificant, yet amazing activity that we all love. The silent battle to show the world how amazing wakeskating is so more of our heroes can be supported, and more of the brands we love can flourish. The other battle is to legitimize the perception of our now growing activity. This battle is louder and more brash. It talks trash and makes noise to try to make a difference. Both battles are equally important and both equally influence each other. But it seems to me that the latter has turned on the former. And this is where it stops being nice.

There are a group of people who are starting to make a living from a sport that has grown large enough to accommodate them to some extent. But they don’t seem willing to embrace the responsibility that comes with that – responsibilities that might not have been as diverse when I was playing an active role in an earlier cycle of our sport. In this current cycle there is a lack of professionalism shown by those who call themselves “professionals.” I have always been a proponent of standing for something and marching to your own beat. But when your beat radiates some sort of ego-driven sense of entitlement, it leaves a bad ring in everyone’s ears. Like the smell of the dead horse that has been beaten again and again. Get over it. Move on and grow up. Grow the sport. None of us are getting rich from this sport. Alienating other participants because they learned to wakeboard without bindings instead of learning to skateboard on the water only makes our sport smaller. Ironically, skateboards don’t work well on the water.

And these battles almost reflect themselves in the boat vs. winch argument. The arguments are seemingly one in the same, and the proponents for each seem to go the same way prospectively. It’s some serious West Side Story shit. “Don’t let the winchers know that you like to ride the boat.” Screw that. I love riding the boat. I always have. It’s one of the best things a wakeskate can do on the water. The board was literally made for it. But I also love winching. In fact, minus one or two people that may be reading this, I have been riding my wakeskate behind a winch longer than any of you. I have always helped support and grow both sides of wakeskating because it is all just that: wakeskating. I could sit here and list the ways, but I don’t need to, or want to. I will say, do not to believe every kid that tells you that back tails, winching drops, and flicked kickflips couldn’t have happened if it were left to us old schoolers – the ones doing 360s and shuv indys. No more beating around the bush.

If you make a living from wakeskating you have inherently sold out, or bought in, or whatever you want to call it. At some point you have had to make a decision that directly influenced your ability to pay the bills, instead of the pure integrity of your “art.” And that goes for everyone, not just riders. Photographers, videographers, everyone. There are very few that I can think of that did not “buy in,” and their careers were short lived and not very publicized. And it goes for all of the people making the most noise today. If you think I might be talking about you, you are probably right.

I was going to be nice. I was going to spin a story of myself at 14 finding a wakeboard and my life changing forever. It was going to be real nice. I was going to talk about 2012 being the best year for wakeskating in the last five, if not ever. Then I decided I was going to try and say something, but I still wanted to be nice. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t say it and be nice. So I decided to be real. It’s not that often these days that I get the opportunity to write this column, so you think it would be easy. When I wrote it for two years, every issue, the words just flowed. There always seemed to be something to say, and I knew just how I wanted to say it. But it’s different now. Wakeskating is in a different place.

There are two battles being fought right now. The battle to grow our relatively small activity, and the battle to legitimize its perception. Obviously we don’t need to do this for ourselves. We all think our way of riding is legitimate for some reason otherwise we wouldn’t do it. But these reasons are different for everyone. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but that opinion does not entitle you. We are all fighting the same battle, even if your voice is louder. If we want to continue to grow this sport, we need to be cognizant of different reasons for doing it, and of different opinions. The legs of this sport have been built by both battles. The battle for selfish idealized progression, and the sacrifice of adapting those ideals. Continuing to beat that dead horse, and narrow the perception of our sport, will only chop those legs out from under us. I can’t continue sitting idly by, being nice, and allowing this. Lead by example. Love wakeskating.

Words by Aaron Reed


Byerly keepin’ it classy. Photo: Rodrigo