2016 RIDER OF THE YEAR: JOSH TWELKER
By Garrett Cortese
A lot of today’s pros are known for something other than their riding. Maybe they’re the rocker, the fisherman, the gym rat, the comedian, or something else. Not Josh Twelker, though. The kid-turned-style-magnate from the dirty waters of the California Delta is best known for and defined by his riding; and if you ask that suits him just fine. Since his earliest photos and web clips in ‘09/’10, Josh has garnered attention because of his attention to the details in his riding. What’s incredible is how much attention his riding now commands just over a half decade later. His video parts are revered and awaited upon in anticipation because people have to come to expect the unexpected. While good style is subjective from one rider and viewer to the next, there isn’t a single person who has ever said Josh Twelker doesn’t have it.
Since his first photo in 2010 Josh has gone on to grace the cover of this magazine four times, most recently in the last issue doing an insanely awesome doubles session with his best bud Trever Maur. To get the amount of coverage a rider like Josh does you either have to be really good, really well connected, or both. Josh falls squarely into the really good category. In the past six years he’s gone from the kid with good style to the pro at the forefront of the style movement. All you have to do for evidence is a quick Google search and watch his web edits and video sections in chronological order. The progression has been incredible and it came together in a year like no other for Josh. With the release of Dog Dayz, his part in Real Wake, winning Less Than 5 at the votes of his fellow competitors, and all of the editorial coverage, Josh has had a year many other pros would kill for. What really set it all apart was that everything was done with his signature style while simultaneously taking his riding to the next level. The precision and control Josh rides with can be easy to miss sometimes because it’s almost too subtle and too smooth. Watch his Real Wake section and Dog Dayz part a few times and slow them down if you need to; you’ll suddenly notice a lot more switch tricks, late grabs, and legit pokes than you did the first time through. Those subtleties in riding don’t come easily – if they did every pro rider would do them – but the truth is Josh is one of the very few who can, and he’s the only one who can make it look as good as he does.
“Not enough people see wakeboarding as art, but it can be just that when done right. And Josh Twelker is a master artist. Every stroke of the brush is intentional – and every time Josh rides it’s seeing his art come to life. The beauty of art is that its relevance transcends time. Josh’s sections today will continue to inspire riders ten, 15, 20 years from now. I have had the privilege of watching Josh’s riding evolve since he was 11, and he’s been a favorite rider of mine since he was 16. I never doubted his ability, and seeing him honored as ROTY is just further validation of the artwork he’s given us.”
– Mike Schwenne
Alliance Wake: What does the title Rider of the Year mean to you?
JT: Everything! (laughs) Rider of the Year, to me, is the biggest accomplishment you can achieve in our sport. It’s a huge honor to get that and become a part of that group of riders. I think it means you’re being recognized for the work you’ve put in. To me it feels really good to get that sort of acknowledgement and I’m more honored than I’ve ever felt. I think it lights even more of a fire under me to do even more though.
AW: What does it mean to be only the second west coast rider to get ROTY after Randall?
JT: That’s huge. In my eyes he could win the title every year if he put his mind to it. Randall has been one of the legends that I’ve always looked up to and he’s still my favorite wakeboarder. Growing up watching all of Randall’s old sections, I never thought I’d be in a position like this myself, so it’s pretty special to share that connection and follow in his footsteps somewhat. Nobody can really follow in Randall’s footsteps though (laughs). It’s cool to have had the year we’ve all had out here and put West Coast wakeboarding back on the map in a big way again.
“Rider of the Year means you shined brighter than all other riders. Josh clearly did that. He did that with the mechanical exactness of a ninja assassin. He did it at events, he did it in the magazines, he did it in the videos, and he did it on the line. Balancing technical wizardry with a mind-boggling style game, no one had a bigger impact on the sport during the previous twelve months. Thanks for bringing ROTY back to Cali Josh!”
– Randall Harris, 2002 + 2007 ROTY
AW: How has growing up on the Delta and amongst other west coast riders shaped the way you ride and how you view the sport?
JT: When I started getting into wakeboarding the west coast scene was pretty huge, but right before Trever and I started getting to a point where we were doing photo shoots and getting the mags it had died a bit. Some of the older guys like Aaron Aubrey and Daniel Doud weren’t riding much anymore, and Schwenne was super focused on his camps. It was really just me, Trev, and Derek Cook on the Delta for a while. That worked out for us to really hit the scene though and make an impact. But growing up amongst all that has influenced how I ride in almost every way. The influence of those older riders can’t be emphasized enough. I remember when I went on my very first photo shoot with Schwenne and Rodrigo. Mike was telling me what looked good and what to do or not to do, or what looked lame (laughs). We definitely push ourselves in a unique way and strive to make our own individual impacts on the sport. There just seems to be this mindset out here that has gone from one generation to the next, and it definitely rubbed off on me and Trever, too. I’m definitely thankful for it because it’s shaped my career, for sure.
“I moved in with Josh and his family back in 2010 and this is the stuff we dreamed of. ROTY… What?!?! Crazy! We were nobodies just wakeboarding everyday, filming everything, and making a ruckus. It was like there was no option to not follow our dreams. From back when we were 16 just jumping on the trampoline talking about this stuff to now, it’s insane. Josh has always been a quiet kid, but now he’s the loudest ripper on the water making noise and defining style everywhere he goes. I’m stoked for him and proud to be a friend to such a humble person and incredible rider!”
– Trever Maur
AW: How hard is it to be a top level pro rider living full time in a smaller, seasonal scene like the Delta?
JT: It’s definitely not as easy (laughs), but I do it because I love it. I love California and the West Coast, and I especially love the scene out here that we have going. You go to Florida and it’s a totally different vibe. For me wakeboarding is more fun here at home than out in Orlando. I think I could move to Florida and still have my same approach to riding, but I wouldn’t be around the place and people I love, and there’s a lot of inspiration from that. I feel like I progress my riding as much as I possibly can as opposed to be in Florida, anyway. You just have to be more proactive about it out here. It gets cold, man (laughs), it’s frickin’ 40-degrees out right now. But you just gotta suit up and go for it.
AW: What are some things that you saw during the past year that got you really stoked on wakeboarding and the sport as a whole?
JT: The Valdosta Crew has been killing it. All of their videos are so creative and they definitely get me amped to ride. Guenther Oka has been really fun and inspiring to watch, too. His edit at Surf Expo was sick. He’s super creative – so good at all the aspects of riding – and such a cool guy, too. Honestly though the kid I’m really pumped on is the one that’s been riding with me since he was ten or something – Tyler Higham. His riding has really progressed and he’s crushing it this year. I ride with him almost every day during the summer and this year is when he actually started pushing me with some of what he was doing. It made me proud, but it also keeps me motivated. I think wakeboarding has a lot of good things going for it right now, though, I’m stoked on where it’s heading.
AW: How was the Real Wake experience?
JT: Real Wake was insane – by far the most pressure I’ve ever put on myself. First off we were stoked to get the call, but we were stressed, too. I could see it in Trever’s face, like he’d just gotten done with Dog Dayz and how the hell was he going to be able to do a Real Wake part (laughs). Trever is the hype man of the group out here though, so even if he’s freaking out about something, he can pick up the morale and make it fun. Real Wake is stressful for a lot of reasons though; one because it’s freaking X Games and that carries a ton of pressure (laughs) and two, because the schedule is pretty tight. Trever and I were able to line up about three-and-a-half weeks to film together. Going into it I wrote down every trick I wanted to get and every winch spot I wanted to hit. I knew I wanted to take an aspect of the sport I wasn’t known for – winching – and put that in there with my own twist.
It’s a grind for sure, especially when you’re trying to get everything exactly right. There were a lot of times where a clip was probably “good enough” but we wanted to get it perfect. Ultimately the experience was cut a little short for me because of injuries. When I was winching through the doorway on the elevated dock I fell and cracked a couple ribs. It hurt really bad (laughs). Continuing to film with that injury was some of the worst pain I’ve felt while riding. I would ride until I couldn’t handle it anymore and hopefully get a clip, then take a break. We stacked a lot of footage that way though, including some winch spots, which I was really stoked about; but there was still a lot left on that list. At one of the final winch spots we’d been hitting it all day and I was trying to get a trick I really wanted – another one of those “just right” scenarios. I was probably at a point where I should have stopped instead of trying “just one more”, but I did and it cost me. I slipped out on the concrete and broke my collarbone, and with only 10 days left of filming I was done. At the time I was so bummed, because in my mind I was sure my section was going to be shitty, but when we went back and started looking at everything we had I was pretty stoked with everything. In the end I’m really happy with what Trever and I were able to accomplish. It’s really cool to be a part of something like Real Wake because it puts wakeboarding on the biggest stage and I think every team this year did an amazing job of showing the sport in a cool, unique way.
“Nobody rides like Josh. He’s been pushing the sport in his own direction and it looks insanely good. One thing that stands out for me is watching other people see him ride in person for the first time. They’re always floored, right away. He’s that good. Every time I’m on the boat with him it’s like he’s one-upping his style. His Real Wake section was ridiculous, a bunch of new tricks, and all with a broken rib. Get out of here, that’s nuts! I’ve watched him progress over the years since he was a grom and even though he’s ten years younger than me I look up to him and his riding.”
– Derek Cook
AW: What was it like finally winning Less Than 5?
JT: (laughs) Finally, right? I think I might be one of the only guys who’s ridden in all five, and I’ve loved every one. I’d done pretty well in the past, even made a few podiums, but I definitely always wanted to win one. This year I thought the 20-minute freeride style format was rad. To get the win with your fellow riders casting their votes is pretty cool. I wasn’t expecting it at all. Less Than 5 is such a cool concept though, it’s right up my alley. To be able to just go out and express yourself through your riding and do what you think looks cool is really fun. The vibe with all the guys is awesome, ‘cause they’re all there trying to do the same thing and you feed off of that. It’s my favorite event of the year. I love getting out with those other riders – some of my favorite guys to watch – and see how they interpret some of the simpler tricks and push their own style, it’s really cool.
AW: Is there anything in wakeboarding you’d like to change?
JT: Not a lot, really. I think with all the facets of riding there is a lot of really cool stuff going on. Wakeboarding looks better and more unique than it’s ever looked before, whether that’s boat, park, or winch, and I think that’s really cool. It seems like more and more top riders really care about how the sport looks, and that’s a good thing – even if some of what they’re doing is different.
I wouldn’t mind seeing more people wakeboarding on the Delta instead of wakesurfing. Not that wakesurfing is a bad thing, it’s fun. But I don’t see kids being as stoked on wakeboarding as I was when I was a kid and that’s kind of a bummer. I’d love to see more kids riding boat these days, that’s for sure.
AW: What’s next for you and the Delta Force?
JT: I’m not sure, man (laughs). I think right now we’re still letting a bunch of stuff soak in, it’s been a long year. I think we’re going to keep riding over the winter and seeing what we can get, but nothing crazy. Everybody will get that itch to do something big again, though, and with Trever being as good as he is with the video stuff now, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start working on another project at some point. We’ll see. All I know is we’ll keep pushing what we do and how we do it and hopefully the world keeps enjoying it.
“Aside from what we know of Josh as being the guy with the most style, what I really liked and respected from him this year was seeing him step out of his comfort zone and really show that he’s so much more than a single-faceted rider. As a judge in Real Wake I was really impressed with his creativity in all his riding, too, both boat and with the winch. Twelker’s style is unmatched, he really is like his generation’s Ben Greenwood, who is also a ROTY. He can take a very technical trick and turn it into something really stylish. Only a very select few have been able to do that, and Josh is one of the best. He really stepped into the spotlight this year, put in the work, and it showed – and he did it while working through injuries. There isn’t a word that can describe the respect I have for Josh and what he’s done this year.”
– Tom Fooshee, 2010 ROTY