Less Than 5 presented by MasterCraft Boats

by Josh Palma  //  photography by Garrett Cortese

Straight outta Japan… Shota

In just three years, the Alliance Less Than 5 (LT5) event has become the most legit freeride-inspired event in the industry. What started as a fun freeride “contest” with a handful of select riders is now an exclusive event many of today’s top pros want to be a part of. More than anything, Less Than 5 provides a break from typical wake events and allows riders to focus more on individuality, originality, and style. To put it simply, they are rewarded for unique toe back 3’s instead of KGB’s. Method grabs instead of whirly 5’s. The list could go on…

Taking place right after Surf Expo and as the competitive season was winding down, the third Alliance LT5 provided a much needed break from the madness for all involved. Similar to last year, we hosted the 20 invitees at Lake 2 of The Boarding School and had solid prize money for the podium spots thanks to continued support from MasterCraft. The structure of LT5, however, differed in some key ways. To prevent riders from doing similar runs in each of the three rounds, we created a format to encourage a bit more creativity. Each round was limited to six tricks and two falls.

  • Quarterfinals: Straight airs and 180’s only
  • Semifinals: 360’s only
  • Finals: anything less than 5, but one trick has to be a method

The judges (Jeff McKee, Derek Grasman, and yours truly) were looking for overall impression from each rider, taking into account grabs, amplitude, and flow.

Just like a real contest!

Judges’ lunch break

As we walk you through some of the highlights of the afternoon, you might notice that the reigning champ (Bob Soven) did not compete this year. Unfortunately, Bob had a mishap at his hot yoga class the night before the event and sustained a severe strain to his lower back/upper gluteal region. Not gonna lie, there is something funny about a text message from Bob at 10:45 PM trying to explain what happened and why he can no longer make it. When asked to comment Bob said, “Yep, it’s true. I overstretched during Yoga class and had to hand my title over without a fight. It’s sad; embarrassing, really. But I’m coming back next year focused and more flexible than ever!”

We wish him the best in his recovery.


The first round (quarterfinals) featured five heats of four riders. The top two riders from each heat would advance to the semifinal round. With a select group of riders like this and being limited to 180’s and straight airs, each rider had to get as creative as possible in order to ensure making it through. That in and of itself is one of the main premises of Less Than 5: to make riders think differently about the “basics”. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Shota Tezuka took first in his heat with the insane tail backside 180 into the flats that helped land him on the podium last year. In the past couple years Shota has quietly become one of the most unique freeriders on the planet.

Shaka Shota

  • A lot of people might not see Rusty Malinoski fitting into a contest like this, but those people haven’t been paying attention to much of Rusty’s riding the last couple years. Malinoski has added a lot of variety and creativity, including wrapped and rewind spins, to his repertoire. Plus, his melan backside 180 way into the flats is always impressive

Rusty can hold his own in a Less Than 5 contest, and then some

  • Massi Piffaretti had the best trick of the quarterfinals with his method backside 180 into the flats.
  • Bob Sichel was on the reserve list and filled in when JD Webb had to cancel last minute. Props to Bob for not only being a good sport, but for coming out guns blazing and making it through to the semis. His indy poke backside 180 into the flats is legit.

Bobby’s big back 180

  • Josh Twelker’s run was nearly flawless. His banked out stalefish to backside 180 and super tweaked Japan air are rad.

Twelker showing everybody why they continue to talk about his riding

  • Harley’s method into the flats was perfect – he can mix big air and style like it’s nothing. We’re fairly certain that Harley can do anything on a wakeboard if he puts his mind to it.
  • Jeff House’s riding seems to get more creative each year. His indy wrapped backside 180 is awesome to watch.
  • Raph’s consistency is uncanny. He probably rode behind the boat 15-20 times this year and he still came out with his signature style and precision. If not for a couple falls on his rewind he probably would have made it through.
  • Jacob Valdez was a last-minute fill-in for the reigning champ. Having been off the water for much of the last 18 months with injuries, nobody knew what to expect. Jacob took the opportunity and ran with it – blowing people away with where his riding is at these days. His first trick was a mute wrapped toeside back 180 that he grabbed the snot out of.

Jacob came out with guns blazing

Semifinals – 360’s only

Heat 1: (riders in red advance)

Rusty Malinoski   Harley Clifford   Massi Piffaretti   Trever Maur   Jacob Valdez

  • Massi has a stalefish rewind 3 that is as good as anybody’s in the game.
  • Trever’s whole run was unique in that it consisted of almost all wrapped tricks. Regular and switch 3’s, toeside 3, tail back 3… all wrapped. Trever’s approach to riding is refreshingly awesome.

Trever unwrapped nearly every trick he did in the semis

  • Harley launched a stalefish frontside 3 into the flats that almost got him through, but Trever’s creativity edged him out.

Heat 2:

Shota Tezuka   Chris O’Shea   Jeff Langley   Bob Sichel    Josh Twelker

  • Twelker came back with another near perfect run, including the best trick of the event (in my humble opinion) switch tail grab 3. Just process that in your head for a bit and realize how technically difficult it is. Then add Twelker’s signature style to it. I rest my case.
  • Shota came out swinging with a massive melan 3 and a double grab toe 3 (tail to mute).


Finals – anything less than 540 (must do one method)

Massi Piffaretti    Trever Maur    Shota Tezuka    Josh Twelker

  • Massi threw in a tuck knee indy back 180 that had the judges and riders stoked. He also landed another perfect rewind 3, but he messed up his method. He probably would have gotten second if it weren’t for that hiccup. #rookiemistake
  • Trever went for broke with more wrapped tricks and some rewind stuff but had a couple costly falls.
  • Twelker came out firing with a signature poked stalefish toe 3 and Japan backside air, but he fell on his insane switch tail front 3. He probably would have won if he landed it clean.
  • With his big, floaty style that has become synonymous with his name, Shota took the top spot on the podium. His tail back 180 into the flats and corked toe 180’s are super smooth.

Massi putting in work for 3rd place

Shota is a ninja, which is probably an unfair advantage…

1st: Shota Tezuka

2nd: Josh Twelker

3rd: Massi Piffaretti

At the end of the day all the riders came away from the contest pumped on the format and the continued progression of both the event and the riding within it. Second place finisher Josh Twelker had this to say about his day, “I’ve been to all three LT5 events, and this was by far the best. It is always an honor to be invited. I was so stoked to land in second place this year. The riding was insane to watch. It’s so cool to see the innovative riding everyone is bringing. It’s almost like we’re all just going out there and freeriding. That’s what makes this one of my favorite events of the year.”

Yes, wakeboarding contests that show riders landing the most technically difficult tricks in any conditions are necessary, but sometimes a seemingly necessary evil. Less Than 5 was built on the premise of not just shaking that notion, but flipping it on its head and rewarding creative riding in a fun, carefree environment. And don’t be fooled into thinking that because all of the tricks are less than a 540 they are somehow easier. The precision and control needed to do a lot of these tricks can make them just as difficult as more technical ones. Next time you hit the water looking to progress your riding, don’t think it has to come by adding a 180. Maybe the best way to progress is to actually subtract one. Addition by subtraction… I think that’s the mantra for Less Than 5 2015… See you then.

Trophy posers

A bunch of thanks have to be given to MasterCraft and Travis Moye / The Boarding School for putting up the prize money and hosting the event. Something like this wouldn’t be possible without their help and support. Thanks to those guys for believing in a small contest like Less Than 5 and continually supporting unique riding.

Big thanks to T-Mo for the pulls and hospitality