Words: Kevco | Photos: Jason Lee
Although we think Dean Smith is one of the most stylish riders of all time, his balls-to-the-wall approach is tough to get consistent in contests. But no one really considers that a negative trait. In fact, anyone who sees him ride in person will agree he is one of the most impactful riders on the water today. Armed with several moves that are truly his own, including the sickest stalefish backside 360 you’ve ever seen, Dean has been on our radar for quite some time.
It’s hard to imagine a long-term career going as big as Dean does. It’s like eating bacon at every meal, you just don’t do it. But Dean has that perfect wakeboarding frame we are all jealous of — 5 feet 7 inches, 157 pounds and shredded. For those who think his Worlds run was a fluke — time will tell. But on Aug. 22, we saw him go bigger than everyone and grab everything. He is unique, original and has more fun than anyone else. In our eyes, that is the perfect definition of a World champion.
Your style resembles more of a free-rider than a contest rider, but you’re very involved in contests and the format, etc. Why is that?
I’ve always believed contests hold a very important place. They are the basis for which we can become “professional” wakeboarders. Besides, competitions are a great way to get in touch with fans and be involved in the industry.
Why do you choose to ride balls-out in contests when most riders are more conservative?
I don’t really think about it. It’s just how I ride, so why change it? It would be more difficult for me to change my riding style than to keep my balls on the ban saw in contests. Inevitably, it means I fall a lot, and it can be quite comical. I remember Erik Ruck describing a ride I had at the 2006 Masters as a “bull in a china shop.” I also remember Ruck coming up to me in Atlanta that same year (where I KOed myself) and telling me: “Congratulations! That was the hardest crash in the last five years on tour.” This made more sense when he told me he had the last one. This could end up being my legacy: “Remember Dean Smith? That guy got smoked at every contest! Didn’t he win Worlds one year too?”
Speaking of Worlds, did you know I had to explain to Harley Clifford why he didn’t make it into the finals because you beat his run?
He had a World title and a KOW title in his sights. He wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until right before the final that I found out Harley lodged a protest, and I don’t blame him! Protesting is just the nature of contests, and if I were chasing a King of Wake title, I would have wanted to talk it over as well. I caught up with him later that night briefly at Collin Harrington’s after party and he congratulated me, which was cool. A lot of riders were making a pretty big deal out of it, but Harley was fine. It was probably only brief because I tried to throw him in the pool. I don’t remember much of the after party! I rode against Harley a lot during the season, and Worlds was only the second time I managed to beat him in a heat. It’s crazy how mentally strong he is in contests.
Tell us about the nose glide backside 360 off the double-up to cap off your run.
Riding away from that was one of the highlights of my life! To land it, look back and see everyone in the rider’s tent going nuts was an incredible feeling. It’s funny because I had so many thoughts going through my head coming back to the dock, and none of them were about the possibility of winning the World title. It was more about me simply being stoked with my run! I had been happy with how I rode the whole weekend, but that double-up topped it off. I got back to the dock, and I’m pretty sure I was force-fed a beer, probably from Scotty Broome. My thought process after watching each rider was like, “Wow, I think I’m still leading!” When I realized I had beaten Bob Soven and only Phil Soven was left on the dock, the gravity of the whole situation finally sunk in. It would have been funny to be a fly on the wall watching me during Phil’s run because I can guarantee I was bouncing off the walls. I was standing next to Paul Obrien when Phil finished his ride, and I remember asking, “Did I just win the World title?” It was a long wave of emotion all the way onto the podium — where I’m pretty sure I made an idiot of myself! “I’m World champ for the next 365 days!” All-time dumbest quote ever?
There have been several Aussie riders who have put your country on the map and pushed the sport big time. What’s it like being the first to have a World title?
Australia already has a proud history, going from Shannon Best to Mark Kenney, Marc McNamara, Daniel Watkins, Josh Sanders and Brett “Ike” Eisenhauer. These guys paved the way for people such as myself.
What surprised you about the experience?
I don’t think I was surprised by people being pumped for me, but I didn’t expect it on the level I received it. Everyone I can think of in the industry, both domestic and abroad, came up to me at expo or called me to tell me how stoked they were to see a fresh face on top of the podium. It was really humbling to have previous World champions, Pro Tour champions and people I have looked up to since I was 14 going out of their way to give me a pat on the back and congratulate me. Hearing Shaun Murray say “welcome to the club” was a pretty damn cool feeling!
What advice would you have for any aspiring World champions?
I don’t think I’m the person to give advice. I still have a lot to learn in my career, plus I don’t want to sound like Yoda or anything. I’ve definitely learned a lot up to this point, though. Having people like Watkins, Sanders and Ike as mentors helped me a lot. I guess the main thing is to be patient. Wakeboarding is all about paying your dues and biding your time. If you are good enough, everything will fall into place. I think that’s missing with a lot of groms coming through the ranks at the moment. Some act like the world owes them because they can do a 900 when there are another 50 kids who can do the same trick without the attitude. I think someone like Daniel Powers is a good blueprint for a grommet. It becomes cliché and I used to hear Watkins and Sanders say it, but you see kids come and go, and usually you can just tell who will last.