How did things progress from there? I ended up moving into the World Wakeboard Center. I lived there from March 2000 until school let out, which was May 2000. That spring, I went back to Massachusetts to do a regional tour with my boat sponsor at the time. Fall was rapidly approaching, and I knew I had to get back to Florida, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to live at the World Wakeboard Center or what. Instead, my sister moved from California to Florida and we rented a house in Windermere. So I was going to school, but it was really difficult for me to find a person to ride with. Then Surf Expo came along and a kid I met in Massachusetts, Ben Greenwood, just so happened to be down there. We ended up hanging out that whole Surf Expo weekend. I was like, “Man, I could totally use a friend down here to ride with all the time,” and he was all for it. That’s how Benny G and I became best friends.
What happened between moving down to Florida in 2000 and going pro in 2002? In 2001, I felt like I had enough tricks to go compete on the Jr. Men’s circuit, and I remember the early season of Jr. Men’s didn’t go well at all. Looking back, it made me realize I was never going to be a competition rider. I was riding really hard and riding the way I wanted to. I was going as big as possible and riding that way in competition isn’t very consistent. It was really difficult for me to do well in contests until Nationals and Worlds. At Nationals, I ended up getting second in Jr. Men’s and that was super motivating. Then I was lucky enough to win Worlds in Jr. Men’s, and that really turned eyes on me. From Jr. Men’s in 2001 to the start of the pro season in 2002, I really started changing my outlook on wakeboarding. It became more about: “OK, I want to go bigger. OK, I want to faster. OK, I want to ride a longer rope line.” That’s all I really focused on, and that’s when I stopped focusing on competitions. I was awfully lucky in the sense that I was able to meet a lot of key people and a lot of the athletes started talking about me even before I started getting published in the magazines. That had a really big impact on me becoming a professional athlete.
You’ve always been known as a free-rider, and it sounds like that was a conscious decision you made early on. Yeah, looking back, I would have loved to be a Danny Harf. I would have loved to be able to ride exactly how I wanted to ride and win competitions. I don’t think anybody can realistically say, “Whatever, contests are stupid, and I never want to win one.” Hell yeah, I want to win one — I want to make $10,000. Of course, I would have loved to be like that, but my style of riding really didn’t fit in with the competition scene and, for whatever reason, I was never super-consistent like I was when I free-rode at home. I always got more of an adrenaline boost at contests and tried to push things harder than I would at home. It was extremely frustrating. It was like, “I know I’m really good and I can do all these tricks at home every single time, but I’m just getting broke off at these competitions.” That’s when I really said, “Screw contests, I need to focus on my own thing.” I was awfully lucky to be one of the few who was able to ride exactly how he wanted to ride and be able to make it in the sport.
In 2010, you rode really well on Tour, especially in Kentucky. Where did that come from? The beginning of last year, I really knew I wanted to do the military thing and I was like, “What’s the one thing I really haven’t done?” One thing I hadn’t done was the whole Pro Tour, and I haven’t ever concentrated too much on contest riding. In December 2009, I went to Dubai and ended up getting third place at a double-up contest. That made me think, “Maybe I should focus on riding in a contest next year and having some fun.” I love travelling and, even more than that, I love meeting fans, signing autographs and stuff like that. I’m glad I did that because obviously this season I’m not going to be around to meet fans.
You’ve always been known for your riding style. How did that style develop, and who were your influences? The first wakeboarding video I got was Spray. I remember watching that and watching how everyone was grabbing the board and poking stuff and it just looked cool. That’s really where my love for the sport came from. After that, I started watching some more videos, and I remember watching the riders in Switch 22. More than anyone else, Randall Harris stood out to me. Once I saw Randall’s riding, I was like, “That’s what wakeboarding’s all about.” I guess I’ve always wanted to ride that way. I’ve always been super-independent, but I’ve always respected the way Randall rides — going super-big. It just looked right to me, and it was hard for me not go that direction with my own riding. Randall has always been my favorite rider to watch, but I have definitely been influenced by numerous other pros. I always loved the intensity Parks Bonifay and Darin Shapiro brought to the table, but I was also very heavily influenced by the smooth and fluid riders like Shaun Murray, Matt Staker, Shawn Watson, Danny Harf, Ben Greenwood and Scott Byerly.
Has it been hard to maintain a pro riding career with the path you’ve taken? Yeah, it’s been difficult. Obviously, sponsors love it when their athletes are doing well at competitions. Since I never really did so well in that realm, a lot of companies didn’t know what to do with me. I think they found it hard to really advertise a kid who wasn’t winning competitions — who didn’t have a title to go along with him. I think that had a lot to with why finding sponsors for me was such a difficult thing, until Oakley showed up. It signed me back in 2003 and it really was able to do for me what nobody had been able to do for me. Not only was it able to market a rider for who he is and what he likes to do, but it was able to see the value of that. It was huge for me. Oakley has basically been my career ever since it signed me, so I’ve been extremely lucky to be a part of Oakley.