Hello, My Name is Gunner…
“My dad wanted to name me Lars… he was like some guitar player or drummer in a band or something.” Photo: Cortese
by Garrett Cortese & Bradlee Rutledge
Anytime you go over to Gunner Daft’s place on Lake Conway in south Orlando you’re likely to see several things: a few bros on the couch streaming Californication, a lady friend or two scanning her iPhone, to-go bags from a recent run to Chik-Fil-A, remnants of whatever shenanigans went on the night before, a warning letter from his HOA, and wakeboards. This should be expected when you’re a 19-year-old up-and-coming pro rider. What isn’t always expected is the quiet demeanor, laid-back attitude, and distinctive style. Over the last couple years Gunner’s name has become more and more recognizable, and not just because it’s unique. Gunner is part of the next generation of rippers trying to push the sport to the next level (while having a good time doing it). With recent contracts from O’Brien and Rockstar, he’s well on his way. If you haven’t seen his legit back 9 off the wake, get on Instagram and try to wrap your head around it. While it remains to be seen if Gunner and the other Conway Kids can live up to the likes of a Hiawassee Posse circa 2002 – both in terms of progressive riding and run-ins with the law – there is no doubt it will be fun to watch. In the meantime, here’s our conversation with the kid from Oklahoma almost named Lars…
Garrett Cortese: What’s your full name?
Gunner Daft: Gunner Keith Daft
Bradlee Rutledge: That’s a good one, can we just call you Keith now? Is that your drunk name?
GD: It is now! (laughs)
GC: Where does the name Gunner come from?
GD: Honestly, I’m not sure. I know my dad wanted to name me Lars… he was like some guitar player or drummer in a band or something.
GC: Lars Ulrich is the drummer for Metallica.
GD: Exactly, that’s it! (laughs) He wanted to name me Lars Daft! Thank God he didn’t! (laughs)
BR: “Next on the dock, Lars Daft!”
GD: Oh man, I can’t even imagine. I don’t know who I’d be if my name was Lars.
BR: Screw Keith, your new drunk name is Lars!
GC: Metallica is the reason I got kicked off of Napster, but that’s probably before your guys’ time.
BR: I remember Napster. I could never get it to work, I was too young.
GD: I don’t even know what it is! (laughs)
Japan in Orlando. Photo: Rutledge
GC: When were you born, and where?
GD: March 7, 1996 in Lawton, Oklahoma. Lived there until I was 16.
GC: That’s gotta be our first question, how did you convince your parents to let you move from Lawton, OK to Orlando, FL at 16?
GD: It’s pretty difficult, but I had a few people on my side. Cowboy (Ryan Anderson) helped out a lot. I just convinced them that I would finish school online and if I didn’t I’d move back home.
GC: Were you already doing online school before?
GD: No, I started doing it between my sophomore and junior year, and that’s when I was able to convince my parents to let me move.
GC: So you were at a normal high school with normal classes and doing normal high school stuff, but you had a dream to move to Orlando and be a pro?
GD: Yep, exactly. (laughs) Plus I was going to a lot of contests and was pretty much gone all summer, so I didn’t have too many close friends at school anymore. All my friends were the other guys I was competing against.
BR: Where did you move into when you first came to Orlando?
GD: I knew all the other Jr Men’s guys from riding against them, so I made some plans and I moved into a house with Dowdy and like six other guys. That was the Lake Jessamine house.
BR: Oh man, I remember that house! That house was a shitshow, there were like mattresses scattered everywhere because there weren’t enough rooms.
GD: I didn’t even have a bed for the first few months, I was just sleeping on a couch in his room. (laughs) That was my first year living alone, so we might have gone a little crazy…
GC: Brad made sure we parked in just the right guest spot when we pulled in. What’s the deal with all the vehicles that get towed from your place?
GD: The downside of living in a condo complex: HOA and and cranky neighbors (laughs). Bradlee even had his jet ski towed from here!
BR: From the water!
GC: How many times has Massi’s car been towed?
GD: At least ten!
GC: What’s it like living with Massi?
GD: It’s a rollercoaster, but it’s awesome (laughs). I love the kid to death, but man he does not know how to pick up after himself. He’s the only kid who cooks, and he’s Italian, and there can be a bunch of dishes out that clearly just cooked something Italian, but he’ll be like, “No way man, wasn’t me!” (laughs)
GC: Did you read Massi’s interview a couple issues back? He said you were high maintenance…
GD: I don’t know about “high maintenance”, but I might be a little slow in the mornings (laughs). I like to take a shower to wake me up. Massi will just roll out of bed, no shower, no brushing teeth, and he’s good to go.
BR: He’s Euro!
GD: (laughing) He gets mad at me when I tell him he doesn’t brush his teeth, he’s gonna love this!
GC: What do you guys normally do for cooking around here?
GD: Umm… Chik-Fil-A, Chipotle… (laughing) There are some lovely ladies that might cook us some good meals sometimes… I like cooking but it’s so much work! (laughs)
GC: How is it riding with Massi?
GD: It’s helped my riding a lot. The past couple years he’s just been blowing up, getting so creative. It’s really helped me with trying new things and doing things differently. We kind of have the same outlook when it comes to wakeboarding. If you’re gonna do something, make it look good. It’s not about hucking shit and just adding another 180. Try to make a trick your own. There’s a difference between just doing a trick versus knowing a trick and making it your own.
BR: Are you into contests still or would you rather freeride for a photo shoot?
GD: I’m definitely more into photos, 100%. I’m not much of a contest guy. I’m still not in the Pro division either, I’m in Jr. Men’s. I’ll probably do more contests next year when I go into Pro because it’s good to be in the scene and represent the brands who help me. I just signed with Rockstar, so I know it will be good to be there because of how much they support our sport.
GC: Growing up as a fan of wakeboarding in Oklahoma were you one of those kids that was tearing out pages of magazines and watching videos over and over?
GD: Oh for sure. I was on it, pages all over my room, any sticker I could find went on my board (laughs). That was back when MySpace was in (laughing); I had some wakeboard layouts! Maybe a little Benny G Quiksilver ad layout, you know? (laughs)
GC: Whose pictures would we have found on your wall?
GD: I had some JD Webb pictures on my wall for sure. I always looked up to him and I still do. He’s the raddest dude, super friendly, and he shreds. Also watching Randall Harris, there’s just nothing else like it.
BR: What’s it like going from JD Webb pictures on your wall to being friends and riding with him regularly?
GD: It’s awesome. I never really thought that I’d be where I’m at right now. All the guys that I looked up to – and still do – being able to ride with them and continue to push my riding is sick.
BR: What did winning Nationals last year do for you?
GD: It’s definitely my biggest win to date. It gave me a lot more confidence and opened some doors with different brands. Up until that point it was hard to get sponsors to pay attention. I was just a 17-year-old kid living on my own in Orlando, you know? There are all these other big name riders around, so why would they care about me? So that win was the boost I needed for my career, for sure.
GC: Your dad isn’t a Wake Dad out there pushing your career for you?
GD: No (laughing), definitely not. My dad loves wakeboarding and supports me, but he’s not a wake dad and I love him for it.
BR: Mr. Daft likes to party.
GD: Yeah, my dad loves the social scene of wake! (laughs)
BR: Do you feel like, being as young as you are, you could make it and survive just focusing on photos and video and not doing contests?
GD: I feel like to some extent I need to ride contests to continue establishing a name for myself. Look at guys like Rathy and JD who don’t necessarily do much with contests now, but when they were 17-19 they were killing it and making names for themselves in the sport. That’s eventually where I’d like to be. You gotta put your time in and get your name established first, I think.
GC: Do you think not having a “Wake Dad” was a disadvantage at first because you didn’t have somebody sticking up for you and negotiating with sponsors? What was the learning curve like for you?
GD: It was hard at first because I didn’t really know how to approach anyone, and I didn’t want to be that annoying little kid who bugs everybody like, “Hey please, come on, sponsor me!” I kind of have had that attitude where I want my riding to speak for itself and if it catches some attention then good things will happen. I’d rather have just one sponsor saying, “This kid is pretty legit.” than four or five saying, “Damn, that kid is annoying.”
GC: Have you noticed potential sponsors being more into your followers and even changing the scope of a contract based on what kind of social media presence you have?
GD: Yeah, social media is really important to companies these days. You have to post certain things, at certain times. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… I think it can be good. If you work it and get your name out there it can be a good tool for you and the companies you represent.
BR: Is it hard to balance quality vs quantity with social media?
GD: Yeah, especially with sponsors wanting you to put new stuff up. It can be hard to save stuff for a video project sometimes. What I try to do is save all my bangers and then focus on a few simple things with some different grabs that I can use for social media posts.
BR: What do you want to be known for in wakeboarding?
GD: That I stayed true to myself and made a unique impact on the sport. I want people to enjoy being around me. I don’t want to just be seen as a good rider, but as a good guy, too.
GC: What do you do to not get burned out? You’ve lived in Orlando on your own since 16!
GD: I just love it! (laughs) And I’ve got a good crew of friends and a good crew to ride with. I feel like there is so much more for me to do and accomplish, if I was to get burned out already wakeboarding wouldn’t be for me. Being able to ride with some of the older guys like JD and Danny, too, you just learn to appreciate everything that much more; they’ve taught me a lot.
GC: Have any older riders given you any good advice?
GD: JD really stressed to me when I first moved down here to make a name for myself by making my riding stand out and doing things differently.
GC: It seems like right now the 21 and under riders are making a huge push in the sport. Do you feel pressure on your riding from your peer group?
GD: It lights a fire under me to keep pushing. Especially living with Massi and riding with him every day – and seeing his riding start to pay off with new contracts and stuff – it makes me want to stay on it.
BR: Do you have any fears with wakeboarding? I know it’s bad juju to talk about injuries… Any mental blocks with tricks?
GD: I’ve been trying to learn a double recently.
GC: Off the double up?
GD: No, off the wake. I’m not too big into double ups. I think injuries are always in the back of a rider’s head. But you can’t let that stop you. If you want to make it you’re going to have to try stuff and push yourself. Sometimes shit happens, but there’s nothing you can do about it. If you plateau you’re gonna get bored of wakeboarding. And the more you think about getting hurt the more it messes with your riding. I think once you get the first attempt out of the way on a new trick it’s a lot easier after that.
BR: Are there any new tricks you want to try this year?
GD: I’d really like to get a double off the wake, hopefully a ten… But I really want to get a back 9. That’s probably at the top of the list.
GC: How come you’re not so into double ups?
GD: I guess I just never learned to hit them properly. A couple years ago when I was out at the Hansen’s Cowboy would make me hit them every time I rode, but I still didn’t get that comfortable.
GC: Is that a mental thing?
GD: Yeah, I guess it kind of is. And the wakes are already big enough. Anything I’d want to do off the double up I’d feel more comfortable doing it off the wake. I’d like to start working on them more though. A few weeks ago I was out driving chase for Brad while he shot Massi and Langley hitting double ups and it was insane. Massi threw this Japan off the double up that blew our minds.
GC: Do you like going big? I know some guys don’t.
GD: No, I do, if it’s controlled. I used to go into the flats a lot before I broke my leg a couple years ago. All of last year I was riding with a plate in my leg so any semi-hard landing would just kill. Even now with the plate out it’s still in my head. It’s a trust thing I’m in the process of getting back.
GC: Speaking of not going big, how often is your crew of young guys wakesurfing?
GD: Maybe a couple times a week. We’re actually wakesurfboarding more now.
GC: What’s that?
GD: On our boards with a wakesurf line and slow speeds… (Gunner pulls out his phone and shows a video of himself doing a 720 over the rooster tail, using the wakesurf wave as a ramp).
GC: That’s awesome!
GD: It’s a ton of fun. Hilarious to watch guys try to do different stuff.
GC: How do your neighbors feel about wakesurfing?
GD: We’ve gotten in trouble for where we dock the boat in our backyard, but we’re trying to work through it.
GC: Are you guys the royal pains-in-the-asses of the HOA here?
GD: (laughing) We have to be up there… We started out getting a lot of letters: “You can’t do this, you can’t do that” type of stuff. It started because we had a mini-ramp in our garage. We were initially told it was fine, “Yeah, it’s your garage, do whatever you want.” I think it’s cause we were skating it at night. Even after we stopped using it though we were still getting complaints. It’s just storage now, there are literally just wakeboards and stuff piled on top of it and we’ll still get complaints. People must have been going in and looking at it. (laughs)
Just another letter from the HOA… Photo: Cortese
BR: What about social issues?
GD: Yeah, we’ve definitely gotten complaints from having a few social gatherings. We just don’t see eye-to-eye with our neighbors on some of those things… (laughs)
GC: How often are you having late-night social gatherings?
GD: Well when we first moved in it was probably three or four times a week… But they’ve been complaining for a solid year-and-a-half or so, so we’re trying to tone it down a bit.
GC: What’s the most people you’ve had in your condo for a party?
GD: Maybe 40-50. (laughs) The cops usually come.
GC: What’s your strategy then?
GD: The standard. Music off, lights out, silence! (laughing) It usually works. Sometimes it takes a while though…
GC: What’s the longest you’ve waited in silence while a cop is banging on your door?
GD: Maybe an hour? Hour and-a-half? One time the cops got called during a little pre-party. By the time they got here everybody else had left and me and my buddy were on our way out. They started pounding on the door thinking a bunch of us were still inside partying. My friend and I tried to quietly sneak out the back patio door – lights off of course (laughing). But a cop was coming around the corner and made us stop. We were like, “No sir, we haven’t had anybody over tonight, we were just on our way out…” They lectured us for a solid 30 minutes (laughs).
BR: So you’ve never run for it?
GD: I’ve only run once! A couple weeks ago some friends had their boats tied up by the bridge on the lake, it was Massi’s buddy’s birthday. It was probably 11 or 12 and we were blasting music and having a good time. Then we saw some cop lights on the bridge and they put their spotlights on us. So we turned off the lights and music and hauled ass back to the house. A few nights after that I got pulled over because I had a headlight out in my truck. The cop asked me where I lived.
“Lake Conway,” I said.
“No, where specifically?” he asked.
“Um, the condos,” I told him.
“Oh, I’ve seen your back porch before.” (laughs) “Your neighbors don’t like you very much.”