2004 Rider Of The Year: Chad Sharpe
By : Tony Smith
I apologize to Philip Soven for what I’m about to say, but Chad Sharpe should have won the X-Games this year. Soven probably did the tricks technically deserving of the gold medal, at least by way of the current judging format in professional events – he spun the extra 180’s and flung himself a bit higher off the wakes and longer across the rails, and he did it all with an amazing amount of composure for a 15-year-old kid. But Chad’s run was better, and the one everybody watched.
You could say that latter part about any run Sharpe had this year, in competition, for video, or just in his backyard. He was the rider whose combination of fearlessness, commitment, casualness and humor had us hanging on the edge of our seats and rooting for him from the shoreline every time, as much as our past Riders of the Year did in their respective seasons. Alliance is in its fourth year of doing this, picking out one rider who best represents the state of the sport, and the state of the art within it. This year we expanded the voting process to include votes from all the former winners – Brian Grubb, Parks Bonifay, Randall Harris and Aaron Reed – to add to our own. The result: Chad Sharpe by a nose, mostly because he never let up, which has been his M.O. from day one.
Sharpe actually had the best competitive season of his career in 2004, although that doesn’t have everything to do with why he was chosen. He was on or near the podium every Sunday of the Pro Tour, won the big air division of Parks Bonifay’s Double or Nothing event, won the Best Trick at the Ambush/Buywake Slider Slam, and, of course, that notorious second place in Long Beach. Add to that the intangible things, the ones you haven’t seen on all the websites or in the magazines, and you’ll begin to understand how the voting panel came to a decision. Grubb and Bonifay, while obviously holding some bias as fellow Hyperlite teammates, said his name almost before we got the question out. “Chad. He just pushed everybody to do everything a little harder this year,” was Grubb’s comment. That statement was probably tied to one particular trip, the Hyperlite team trip to Radar, during which Sharpe was the first on a team of legitimate superstars to put on a show on the biggest gap/rail on the lake, one that riders had to hit at 30 mph and travel 50 feet or so before landing on a down rail that was 10 feet above the water. “Yeah, just the way Chad was bombing at that rail was pretty crazy,” Bonifay said. “It made everyone else step it up.” Shaun Murray is more philosophical about it, “Chad is all about shock value sometimes. He likes doing the things that he knows are hard and that people will take notice of. That day there was a whole group of people out there for a barbecue in the middle of the day, and Chad knew that everyone would see him set the bar. He was the one who made all of us sack up. That’s just the way he is. Where I might be thinking exactly what I want to do and how I want to approach something, Chad’s just ready to go and throw his body into the wind and get it done. That kind of makes everyone more inspired to be better.”
Past just the one-rail-to-glory fame, you can hold Sharpe up to the sport as a whole right now. As much as anything, 2004 needed someone who we wanted to see ride, because of the way that the sport tended to look the same every time it was viewed on a public stage. With Sharpe, the fact that you were never quite sure what you were going to get may have made his accomplishments seem that much more meaningful. But isn’t that better than expecting perfection and being disappointed when it doesn’t come? In 2004, as with all of our past years of voting this award, being real was just as important as being real good. With Chad Sharpe this year, we got both.
This interview was done at the 2004 Wakeboarding World Championships; about 20 minutes after Chad did not qualify for the finals:
A: Are you mad right now?
CS: F*** yeah! (laughing) No, not really. I could’ve done better, but that’s just how it goes. It’s a small part.
A: Are you just saying that? Or is it bigger to you because it’s the World’s?
CS: World’s is definitely the one everyone wants to win if you do contests like that. But to be in that heat and get knocked out, I’m happy actually watching Shane or Danny or Collin move on because they absolutely killed it and they deserved to move on. Everyone was throwing down; it wasn’t a bad heat, so I don’t mind getting knocked out so much.
A: Do you want to be a world champion someday? Is it a big goal?
CS: It’d be cool. Honestly, the World’s is the least prepared for a contest I’ve been this year. Everyone at the house knows I haven’t been riding that well lately. The hurricanes came through and I got a little lazy for a week or two, and then I was just trying to pack in a little bit too much in just a few days.
A: You go though that more than some riders, don’t you? Spurts of riding really great and then spurts of being off your game.
CS: Yeah. It all comes down to motivation. There are parts of the season for me that I’ve just been doing it so much that I just want to take off and do other things. But at the level professional wakeboarding is right now you can’t afford to do that, you have to be on it almost every day. You’ve gotta’ stay strong, maybe not doing contest moves everyday, but I’ve gotta’ be on the water everyday to keep myself competitive.
A: So what’s good motivation for you?
CS: Especially when the season was coming up this year, I was motivated at the beginning. Because last season went all right and I wanted to do the best I could this year, not do it half-assed. It’s been a lot of fun this year too, so that’s the way I want to keep doing it.
A: When you first came to Florida to start riding professionally you were kind of defined as this kid from Canada who was a really good snowboarder but was really good at wakeboarding too. And even up until last year you used to go back to Canada every winter to snowboard. But you’re staying in Florida this winter. Why?
CS: I just love it down here so much now. I could go back home this winter to snowboard but up there all my friends have real jobs and they’re working all week and it’s just not any fun to go snowboarding by yourself. Plus, just being able to be down here and ride about three times a week during the winter and stay a little sharp has become more important to me. Like this winter coming up we’re filming for the new Hyperlite video, so starting after this weekend that’s just going to be life for me. All the guys on the team are just going to put our hearts and souls into that for the next few months.
A: You sound like you’re more dedicated to wakeboarding now, which is weird, because when I met you about six years ago you were always begging and bugging everybody to take you out in the boat with them all day long. Is that the case?
CS: I think back then I hadn’t been doing it that long and I was so eager to get into it. And I was just like, “I wanna’ do it, I wanna’ do it.” But now it’s just like wakeboarding is my life, it’s all I want to do.
A: What are the good and bad parts of it being your life right now?
CS: At this point it’s just so much fun because Danny and Rusty and I rode so hard before the season started and it’s been paying off, at least in contests. I mean, it IS fun to do well in them and whip into the dock and all your friends are happy for you. And the only thing that’s been bothering me this year is all the little, “not-put-you-out” injuries that wakeboarding gives you. It was weird, throughout our household (Danny Harf, Rusty Malinoski and Chad) this year there was like a two-month period where at least one of us was either hurt, sick, or on antibiotics.
A: Yeah, what was the story with all the skin boils that you guys were getting?
CS: I got one right now. We were going to walk-in clinics for a while and every doctor was telling us a different thing and then finally one doctor told us that since we all had them in the house that we all had staph infections. And then I got two more of them and I went to a dermatologist and he said it’s because Florida’s water is so warm and some people are just more susceptible to staph and then get boils. Because what happens is your board shorts rub against your body and the bacteria in the (warm) water is still alive and it gets into your leg or whatever because of your shorts chafing you. And then it goes underneath your skin and tries to get back out, but it can’t so you grow a boil. It’s fun stuff.
A: Where’s the one right now?
CS: On my ass. Dude, I was walking out of the doctors yesterday and the nurse was like, “I know it looks funny, but do you want a donut to sit on?” I should have taken her up on it but I was a little embarrassed. But it kills to sit on it now.
A: I’m wondering where you feel like you fit in with the rest of the Hyperlite team, because that’s a pretty amazing group of riders, and they get called things like, “The Godfather of Style” or “The Best Wakeboarder of All Time.” What’s your place on the team?
CS: I don’t know, I think something like that doesn’t come with what you try to be, it comes with what people see you as. And I honestly don’t know. Hopefully just working hard and trying to make things happen.
A: Do you feel pressured being among that company?
CS: Hyperlite’s a family but there’s always pressure because there’s always that kid coming up or the other guys on your team that are ripping. But we’re all unbelievable friends. One of the main things about our team is that there’s not one rider that doesn’t get along with each other. But there’s still that competitiveness, and I think that’s what pushes Hyperlite riders to go so much harder, beyond just the team. It’s what I dreamed of growing up to be on.
A: What about Pointless? Is that still as tight of a team as it used to be?
CS: Yeah, the movie (Mix Tapes) is premiering tonight. Pointless is definitely, like, if we’re going to do anything it’s always the same group of people. There are a few new friends that are always around us, too, like Rusty and Collin Harrington. But Pointless as the original nine are still a good group of friends. But as you get older people move a little bit away and do other things. When it comes down to it though, we’re all still really good boys, you know?
A: Yeah, but you also like to beat up some of your friends when you’ve had a few drinks. Why is that?
CS: (laughing) In the past, there have been a few instances. But now it’s more about trying not to puke.
A: How do you do that punch where it leaves a bruise for about a month?
CS: That shit comes from your soul.
A: Did you think you won the X-Games this year?
CS: Uh, Froggy rode really well. I wouldn’t want to be the judges.
A: Are you as Canadian Proud as you used to be? Do you still ride for pride?
CS: I’m definitely still as Canadian proud as ever, but my presence isn’t there as much anymore. That was an awesome board, though, ahead of it’s time. Actually, my new graphics are pushing on that a little bit.
A: There’s a lot of reasons that you won Rider of the Year this year, I think the least known of which is probably that all of your peers said that you were the guy that motivated them to ride harder. But the one thing I think everyone knows about you is that you are pretty fearless when it comes to doing wakeboarding stunts – rails and big gaps. What are you thinking about when you get ready to do some of those things? Because the average rider would be thinking about dying.
CS: The first thing is that when you get ready to hit a big rail or gap, in the back of your mind you’re thinking of the worst possible outcome. But mostly you’re thinking, “Okay, I’m going to do this, it’s going to go like this, it probably won’t be clean the first time.” And once you get through the first one it’s good. But it’s when you start psyching yourself out beforehand, there’s no place for it. Because if you’re scared coming into anything your whole mind is not working at it right. Also, on a first hit, you’re thinking, “Alright, if I do screw this up how can I come off the rail or roll out or avoid that post or whatever.”
A: So you plan a few escape routes?
CS: Yeah, a little bit. Especially at that big rail at Radar because there’s all these posts underneath it that you could hit. So you’re just thinking about how you can get away from those posts if you do f*** up on it.
A: Do you do those big stunts because you’re trying to prove something? Like the gap to the A-frame you did here at the OWC a few years ago was your idea.
CS: It’s doesn’t have anything to do with proving, it’s just more of a driving force. To get a trick like that filmed for a video section, it’s just that you look back on it and it makes it so worthwhile. It’s like that for any rider learning anything new or different; it’s the whole reason why you’re doing the sport in the first place.
A: Does anything in wakeboarding scare you?
CS: Chase boats that are right behind me during photo shoots. Especially when you don’t know the driver.
A: It’s kind of ironic that you take a lot of chances when you wakeboard, but when you’re off the water you’re fairly mellow. You like to play golf and drive RC cars and things like that. How come you’re not jumping dirt bikes or bungee jumping or being extreme?
CS: Well, it’s because wakeboarding is what I like to do and that’s where I can do all that. Unless you’re going to go all the way in those other sports then you’re not going to have as much fun as you can, and then you’re just possibly injuring yourself for doing what you really want to do, which would be wakeboarding in my case. That’s why NHL players have action sports clauses in their contracts; they’re not allowed to wakeboard or anything like that.
A: Is there anyone you’d like to ride like?
CS: Definitely. There’s so many people that I ride with that do things a certain way that look so good. It would be cool to be able to do it like them but at the same time it would be cool to do it your own way. Like Parks’ intensity, or Danny, how smooth he is and how he tweaks stuff. They all have their own thing and it looks good. I’d like to have my own thing too.
A: So how do you want to be remembered by wakeboarding?
CS: Just to leave a mark. Not to be a rider who as soon as they retire their name completely disappears. Filming for this Hyperlite video we’re doing some pretty ground breaking stuff, so that kind of thing. Just to keep the sport moving in a direction where it’s appealing.
A: In terms of actual wakeboarding off the wake, what do you wish you were better at?
CS: Spinning backside (laughing.) It took like four years to learn a backside 540.
A: Shouldn’t that come more naturally to you from all your snowboarding experience?
CS: Right. It’s coming along now. I don’t really know what the hang up is, Rusty finally got me spinning backside better. But for years spinning backside … I could do it, but it was ugly. I’ve seen junior boys that could spin better backside than me.
A: Is there anyone you would like to mention?
CS: First off, this is the biggest honor I’ve ever had in wakeboarding, so I’d like to thank you guys for voting me Rider of the Year. Paul O’Brien and Jeff Heer, I definitely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those two guys. All the Pointless boys, my mom and dad, Heff, Aaron, Malibu and just everyone. There’s too many, but just everyone along the way. There are so many people that have helped me in both life and wakeboarding that I can’t thank enough.