Words: Luke Woodling | Photos: Bill Doster
Olivier Derome was born and raised in Coteau-du-Lac, Quebec, a small Canadian town about 45 minutes southwest of the island of Montreal. Derome’s birthplace as a professional wakeboarder is nearly 1,500 miles south at the series of lakes, rails and trailers that comprise The Projects wakeboard and wakeskate camp outside Orlando. Derome lived and worked at the rail mecca for four years, honing a style that has made him one of the world’s elite rail riders. In fact, it was the first-ever Red Bull Wake Lab — the brainchild of The Projects mastermind Pat Panakos — that afforded Derome his first break. Matched up against the world’s best rail riders, Derome stood out for the first time, winning the revolutionary event and cementing a foundation he’s built on ever since.
While The Projects’ rail gave birth to Derome as a pro rider, the 25-year-old is far from a one-trick pony. Last year, he notched his best competitive season ever behind the boat, scoring third-place finishes at two stops of the MasterCraft Pro Wakeboard Tour. He finished seventh overall in the PWT season standings and landed just outside the top 10 in the King of Wake. In April, Derome landed his first 1080; it was only the second time a rider has completed three full rotations wake to wake.
Derome’s duality extends beyond his success on both rails and boat. Perhaps more than any other Canadian pro, Derome maintains a dual citizenship of sorts, splitting time between his birthplace and his birthplace as a pro. Derome spends much of the year as your quintessential Orlando pro, riding daily alongside Aaron Rathy and Phil and Bob Soven. Yet he still spends the summers at home in Canada, heading up a wakeboard camp called Pop Wake School with his younger brother Raphael, last year’s Rail Master at TransWorld WAKEBOARDING’s Wake Awards.
We traced Derome’s career from early sessions as a toddler to his recent introduction into the 1080 club and found out how he maintains focus in the face of so many twin allegiances.
You got a really early start on the water, right?
My father was a national champion in water skiing. He mostly jumped. And he and my mom built a house by a lake, so they got me water skiing by 18 months old. I got into skiing as I got older, but when I got into sixth grade, all I wanted to do was wakeboard. They got me a wakeboard for my last day of sixth grade, and from then on I stopped skiing. It was a natural transition because I’ve always snowboarded and skateboarded, so being sideways was just natural.
How did you discover wakeboarding?
On the lake we lived on, there were these two teenagers with a PWC who would always wakeboard around on a Skurfer. Every time I saw them, I’d get excited. It really intrigued me, and I would ask my parents if I could build one. Eventually, they got me one. That was a really good day for me.
Where did you go from there?
I started going to this wakeboard camp, 900 Camp, that was put on by JF Gosselin and Guillaume Pare, some of the riders in the province. I went to it every year and learned my first inverts. As the years went on, they took me under their wings, and I got to do demos with them and I started helping out at the camp too. From there, I started competing, first in the province and then around the country.
Was your dad supportive of your wakeboarding?
At first he was kind of hesitant about it because it was new to him as well. He wasn’t really sure. But as he saw how much fun I was having and how happy I was wakeboarding, he let me go and do my thing. He’s very happy now that I did that.
When did you go pro?
I got my first sponsors in Quebec. A shop helped me out and then the Canadian dealers sponsored the guys at the camp and they started helping me out with boards. I wouldn’t say I was riding pro until I came to America and rode and coached at The Projects and went that route for a couple years.
When did you first come to the States, and when did you move into The Projects?
The first time I came to Florida to wakeboard was in 2002 for Worlds. I had just gone to my first Canadian Nationals and rode decently. I flew to Florida with my parents, and the day before the event I actually broke my leg. Then I’d come down usually in the spring and do a week of camp and then go back home and spend the summer there. Then I’d go back to school for the whole year and go to The Projects again in the spring. I went as a camper for two or three years. When I got close to finishing school, I e-mailed Pat and I was really lucky to get the opportunity to ride and coach at The Projects because that changed my life and my career. I started coaching and helping out and cutting the grass and doing a bunch of stuff at the camp so I could ride. I did The Projects thing for four years. I lived in a trailer for two years and then lived in the house for two years.
How much did your time at The Projects affect the way you ride?
So much. For the first two years, I lived with Ryan Doyle and Robby Jacques and Pat, and all those guys had a lot of influence on me. Keith Lidberg was always my coach, and he was always coming around and helping me out and riding with us. Doyle was always pulling rails, so he really helped me out on that, and then Robby was a great inspiration because he had such great style. Pat was almost like the father figure at the camp because he ran it and he was oldest one and he knew everything about the sport and the industry. He was just a great influence on all aspects, on and off the water. Pat was always there to help and support and guide us.