Delabeling Aaron Rathy

by Garrett Cortese

Editor’s Note: This interview with Rathy appeared in the June issue of Alliance.

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That’s a nice cup ‘o Joe…   Photo: Cortese

Too often we find ourselves looking for labels to affix to people. Good guy or bad guy. Spoiled rich kid or redheaded stepchild. Jock or nerd. Weird or normal. Legit or lame. Labels are everywhere we look and all too often we throw them around without giving it a second thought, let alone a third or a fourth. In wakeboarding we have labels like contest rider or freerider. Style guy or tech guy. Angry rider or lazy rider. Into the flats or wake-to-wake. Boat or rails. Park or winch. If Aaron Rathy hasn’t been cast with all of those labels throughout his career, he’s at least gotten 90% of them. In the end there is only one word in all of those labels that really matters though: rider. For the past decade Aaron Rathy has been just that, a rider, and he’s done it in a way like nobody else before him. By continually finding ways to push his own riding Rathy has also found ways to continually change the labels affixed to him as a pro. Yes, he’s been a boat guy and a park guy. A contest rider and a freerider. An admittedly angry rider and sometimes a lazy rider. He’s even been a wakeboarder and a wakeskater. But through it all he has been himself and he’s been really, really damn good.

Alliance: Do you remember the first time you rode a wakeboard?
AR: Absolutely, I think I was about 10. My dad got an HO Perez board and I rode it once and I loved it. I did a couple wrapped 360s – because that’s how I did them on a trick ski – and I was digging it.

A: Hyperlite was your first big sponsor, what was it like being a young buck on a team with guys like Parks, Danny, Chad, Murray, Byerly, etc?
AR: It was almost overwhelming because those were all the guys that everybody looked up to. It didn’t seem like a reachable thing because as a young kid looking in the team seemed pretty full, but I was pretty lucky with my situation. I was originally hooked up through the Hyperlite distributor in Canada and he started telling Paul O’Brien how good I was getting and that I was the new kid from Canada or whatever. Because I was in BC and pretty close to Seattle Paul flew me to Radar and I went and hit rails and stuff – all the rails from “Welcome” – and it was sort of like a tryout. I was definitely the kid trying to prove myself to everyone and prove that I deserved to be there. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, but when you’re young it’s hard to take a step back sometimes and realize “wow, this is really happening to me.” I was focused and didn’t want to blow the opportunity I’d just gotten.

A: You got a pretty gnarly injury at one of those first Radar trips with the team though right?
AR: Yeah, that was in the days of metal fins. I was hitting the step-up-step-down rail and caught my fin. I slammed my back into the kink of the rail going up and it was brutal. I don’t remember a lot because it all happened really fast, but I ended up in the hospital. I was devastated at the time, but looking back I’m glad it happened when it did. Had it happened a year earlier I wouldn’t have had any other sponsors supporting me and I probably would’ve been passed over. Within that year I’d made a name for myself somewhat to where sponsors stuck with me. Had it happened a year or two later there probably would have been some other young kid coming to take my spot.

A: What was your actual injury?
AR: I bruised my spinal cord – it was pretty bad – and I had some internal bleeding. I was really, really lucky to not break my back. What’s crazy is right before I rode I was looking at two different vests, one had all the padding and one had all the padding cut out. I don’t know why I chose the one with padding, because any other day hitting rails I probably would have chose the one where I cut the padding out of the back, but I did and it probably saved my spine and my career – maybe my life.

A: Did you always feel like you had something to prove?
AR: I think so. I think that’s what makes people good.

A: Do you still ride that way?
AR: Not as much anymore. Now I’m just riding to have fun and have that show through with my riding. But you definitely want to be as good as people say you are. Or better.


Signature Rathy    Photo: J. Lee

A: You seemed a lot more focused on contests a few years ago than you do now, what changed?
AR: I think the contest scene just got dull for me, probably because I won them. I would win something and then the next year I’d go and it’s the same show. In my mind I’d already accomplished that so if nothing has really changed then what’s my motivation to keep doing it? I just need to keep doing new, different things. Doing contests over and over is just mentally exhausting for me. I take my hat off to guys like Phil and Rusty. I really don’t know where Phil gets his motivation, it’s insane. He’s done it for so long and been the best for so long. It’s crazy. I respect it, but it’s not really for me. I get more out of putting together an awesome video part than I would ever get from winning a contest… I like keeping things fresh.

A: Is it that desire to keep things fresh that has helped you be good at so many different aspects of wakeboarding? And even wakeskating?
AR: Yeah, I think so. When I was just starting rails were a big part of wakeboarding, and I really liked hitting them, so I did it a lot. And even when I first got to Florida we were going to OWC all the time and riding cable. We were having fun doing different things. I like being on my wakeboard, whether it’s boat, rails, cable, winching or whatever. Like I said earlier, focusing too much on one thing, for me, is boring. I like mixing it up. It wasn’t a conscious decision where I was like, “Ok, you’ve got this down on boat, you need to focus on this part of rails, and this part of cable.” It was all just organic because I was having fun with it all. Now I think some people are trying to force themselves into being well-rounded, and I don’t think it’s a terrible idea, but you want to make sure you’re always having fun with it.

A: Where did wakeskating fit into everything for you? At one point you were competing with the best at Toe Jam.
AR: I actually was more of a wakeskater before I started wakeboarding. The first time I ever wakeskated was before I really started pursuing wakeboarding. Back then I actually filmed a video part – a sponsor me video (laughs). I just always did it and enjoyed it, especially having ridden a skateboard almost all my life. It was just another way to enjoy being on the water. Eventually I got pretty good and was competing at Toe Jams and stuff.

A: Why not keep doing it?
AR: It just got too crazy trying to be really good at both. That was when I was into competing and doing well more, and it was hard to do both. Early on wakeskate and wakeboard events were tied together, so it was easy to bring my wakeskate and do both. But then there was the year the Toe Jam had a full tour and it became too much. Plus there was some pressure from sponsors to pick one and most of them wanted me to focus on wakeboarding.

A: What do you think of wakeskating and where it is now as a sport?
AR: It’s unreal. It’s my favorite thing to watch. Some of those kids – like Ben Horan and Andrew Pastura and Yan…. I could go on and on – they’re so gnarly. It looks like skateboarding on water. I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen in the next few years. The Wakeskate Tour is amazing and I think it’s cool that they’re staying true to their vision. I’m proud of wakeskating because even though I was only competing in it for a few years I feel like I was a tiny little bit of a part of the progression.


Not a bad way to spend a windy evening in your backyard   Photo: J. Lee

A: Is winning Wake Open your biggest contest accomplishment?
AR: Yeah, just because it had that unique format with all the different aspects of wakeboarding. I was even proud of taking 2nd the year before, I thought it was unreal. I think they put more emphasis on the overall title this year – it’s definitely my biggest contest win.

A: But now you won’t have a chance to defend that overall title.
AR: Yeah that sucks. It was cool to have that platform and Red Bull’s backing. Last year seemed like it went really well, too. They said the crowd was bigger and the ratings were really good… That was by far our biggest platform, so it bums me out that our sport doesn’t have that anymore. I’m just hoping somebody will step up and do something similar.

More realistically is just having some one-off type of events and combining them to have an overall title. I think our sport needs more of that – a tour that has all types of riding. Surfers don’t surf the same waves every contest, right? Some stops on the tour cater to big wave guys, while other stops cater to air trick guys. We might just have to start from the ground up and have some of the bigger named guys step up and do it, even if there isn’t any money at first, because it’s for the betterment of the sport. Sort of like what they’ve done with The Wakeskater Tour. Those events aren’t huge, the money isn’t crazy, but it’s showcasing the best riding in the world in a wide variety of ways.

A: You mentioned you’d rather film for video stuff than do contests over and over. What’s your take on the web video vs. full length video situation?
AR: I think they are both good for the sport, and everything ends up online now anyway, but there is a definite art form with the full length video when a guy is editing all the different riders into one project with music and stuff. I understand the need for regular content on the web, but sometimes it sucks feeling like I have to go film a quick afternoon session just to have something fresh out there. I’d much rather take my time and come out with something that has tricks just the way I want them shot just the way the filmer wants them. I try not to do too many of those “one set” type videos anymore. I really like what the Shredtown guys have been doing with “Drop the Gun.” That’s the video I’m most excited to watch this year, I think it’s going to be insane. They’re taking their time and making sure they get shots just how they want – and they’re hitting the most insane spots. It’s raising the bar, and that’s what it takes to push the sport. Seeing them do that definitely pushes me to make my sections better, and hopefully that in turn pushes somebody else.


Towing into some waves in Mexico   Photo: Rodrigo

A: Last year you spent a lot of time filming with Spencer Norris for a longer web video piece and the footage was lost on a hard drive right before it was finished. How hard is that to deal with as a rider, especially one who places as much importance on filming as you?
AR: It was so devastating and there’s nothing you can do. We tried to save the drive and something broke off in the drive and damaged the data, so most of it was gone. We recovered like 8 gigs or something, but in RED footage that’s almost nothing. And it was devastating for both of us because we both put a year into it – I got broken off filming for it, Spencer went days without getting anything – we both worked really hard. After it happened I felt like I’d lost the whole year, like it was wasted. It still sucks, we moved on from it, but it still hurts. That’s probably the biggest tragedy of my career – worse than any injury in terms of how defeated I felt.


Hand rail gap at CWC    Photo: Rutledge

A: You have won the Alliance Most Improved Rider three times: once for wakeskating and twice for wakeboarding. Does that make you feel good or is it a bit of an insult?
AR: (laughs) No I think it’s cool. It’s flattering actually. It’s like I proved myself one year and proved myself again another year. If you take a positive thing like an award like that and try to turn it into something negative that’s such a stupid way to look at it. Honestly I think it’s cool, it’s kind of unreal and hopefully is a testament to my riding. I think it’s cool I won it as a wakeskater one year and won it twice as a wakeboarder, that shows I’m continuing to push myself and my riding.

A: Who’s your favorite rider to watch ride right now?
AR: Right now I really like watching Josh Twelker. I think what he’s doing is sick because it’s a fresh new look. I’ve only seen him freeride in person a few times, so it’s sort of like a treat for me (laughs). For me Josh’s riding is fresh and he’s mixing tech and style really well in a way nobody else does.

The other one is Raph. He’s just insane. And what’s crazy is that he can make a stupid big rail look cool and even easy, and he can make a stupid simple rail look cool and hard. His style is flawless. If I could combine Twelker and Raph – and no offense to Twelker’s rail riding or Raph’s boat riding – but that would be the ultimate (laughs).


Philippines chillin’    Photo: Rutledge

A: Who is the most underrated rider right now?
AR: Kaesen Suyderhoud. He stays with me when he’s in town and for the last five years he’s been really good and he doesn’t really get the recognition for how good he really is. I’m sure there are a lot of underrated guys, but he’s been the one that stands out to me because I’ve seen it.

A: Do you like the direction the sport is heading right now? What direction do you want to push it?
AR: The only thing wrong with the direction is kids being told they have to ride a certain way so they can land certain tricks so they can stand out on the PWT so they can get noticed and get more sponsors. There is this formula for riding and winning, and kids are following that formula to the point that it is actually hindering their riding. We’re missing out on potentially unbelievable riders if they actually focused on what they’re good at on their wakeboard and what they have fun doing. Maybe he’s good at some tricks, but he’s only doing tricks that people are telling him to do because that’s the formula – and it might look like crap because it’s not natural for him to be doing them, but he’s doing them and he’s getting noticed. First off, a kid is going to be good at what comes naturally to him, and secondly what they’re passionate about. When you get a rider that combines his natural talents with his passion is when you get something special.

Take me for example. I sucked at toeside 7’s for a long time. Couldn’t do them, but I busted my ass to be able to do them because the formula told me I needed it. I wasn’t good at them, ever. I never did a good looking toe 7 – I hated the way I did it. There were times when I freaked out over doing them and some other tricks. I recently stopped doing some tricks because of that. I’d rather put my time into something I’m naturally good at and get even better at that because then it will look and feel right. I think one of my favorite guys who has done that is Chris-O. He doesn’t force tricks that he knows he’s not that good at. He does tricks that feel good to him and it shows when he rides.

A: Were you an angry rider?
AR: Yeah, for a while I was (laughs). I’ve gotten better, and I can tell my riding has gotten better since I’ve cooled off. There’s just no point to get that mad. Yes, there can be high pressure situations when you’re in a contest or you’re filming for a big video part. If you don’t ride well it’s frustrating, but you’re wakeboarding. Just appreciate the moment. When you cool it and enjoy it, chances are you’re going to get it.


Canadian ninja skills    Photo: J. Lee

A: If right now you could go back and tell the up and coming kid ten years ago one piece of advice what would you say?
AR: I could probably tell him a lot of things… (laughs). But it happened the way it happened. I might not be sitting here doing an interview with you if it didn’t happen the way it did. I would probably just say, “Cool it off that double up and don’t blow your knee, dude.” (laughs) Those are the things you wish you could take back, but personality-wise and the way that I’ve approached the sport is the way that it happened and it is what it is now. I guess there are a lot of things I could say, but right now I wouldn’t want to say it.

A: As you’re getting older and seeing budget cuts be made while younger guys keep coming up and getting contracts, does that make you nervous about the future at all?
AR: As I’ve gotten older I’ve just tried to stay positive and be motivated by the younger guys because that’s all you can do. There are always going to be young kids coming up and pushing the older guys. That’s what I was when I first joined Hyperlite. If those young kids who were pushing the sport weren’t able to get a piece of the pie that wouldn’t be right. I don’t want to be the guy that tries to keep everything to himself – doesn’t give a company an opportunity to grow because he won’t take less money. I guess it’s easy to say, but I just want to see the sport grow and see more people making money than just worry about the money I’m making. I’ve been fortunate with my career and what I’ve been able to do and earn, so I’m not afraid of what’s after wakeboarding. I think what I’ve been trying to say is it would be really selfish of me to think that younger riders shouldn’t be making more money than me when they are more deserving than I am. There’s always going to be a changing of the guard for every generation, but hopefully wakeboarding gets to a point where it can support more of the veterans. I just don’t want to be the guy doing the same ten tricks for years and years, I want to be able to go out still somewhere close to the top.

A: Do you think you’re the best all around rider in the world? You’ve got the overall Wake Open title to help make your case…
AR: No, not even close (laughs). I don’t know who the best wakeboarder in the world is, but I definitely don’t think it’s the guy that won the award. I might have been the best that weekend, but no, I’m not the best in the world (laughs). The minute you think you’re the best in the world, you’re not. Doesn’t matter what it is.

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Step into Rathy’s office…   Photo: Cortese