2012 Rider of the Year: Raph Derome
Every generation of professional wakeboarders and wakeskaters seems to have one or two guys who really stand out. These riders have a vision that is a bit different from the masses and they push harder to see it through. It’s not that they’re turning left when everybody else is turning right, it’s just that they took that right turn well ahead of everybody else. We believe that many of our past Riders of the Year are some of those guys. In 2012 it was pretty easy to see who took that right turn first, because he took it pretty early on in the year in pretty dramatic fashion and never looked back. Raph Derome didn’t just lead the pack or set a new trend this year, he single handedly grabbed the attention of every pro rider and the entire wakeboarding industry and made them all rethink what it means to be a professional in this sport.
There are a lot of things one could point to about Raph’s riding that make him stand out from his peers, but the overriding argument is that he is incredibly good at everything, so his riding automatically stands out. To top it off, Raph is one of the most focused and self-critical riders you will ever meet. He is never content with something he has done. He is consistently thinking about how to do it better, or how to do something new, or how to push things even farther. Raph’s mind never seems to rest, leaving the rest of the riders trying to figure out how to keep up. While other pros are flying to Vegas for mega parties, perfecting their after-hours skills downtown, doing the permanent vacation thing, or looking back at what they’ve done with satisfaction, Raph is forging ahead more focused than ever. He has a vision and he knows exactly what he wants to do to get there. We at Alliance aren’t sure where that vision will lead, but we’re excited as can be to help see it through and to name Raph the Alliance 2012 Rider of the Year.
Alliance: 2011 was a rough year for you physically with all of the complications with your elbow. Was there something that triggered mentally for you during that time that lead you to dominate the 2012 season?
Raph Derome: When you get hurt, many people will say how something good always comes out of an injury. I guess in a way, I tried to convince myself that good things would come out of a year filled with many complications. To have been outside the industry for a year has helped me see what was outside of wakeboarding. I got interested in everything except wakeboarding for the whole time: skateboarding, snowboarding but especially other random things that would just make me think of things other than wakeboarding. I used that time to learn to love things other than wakeboarding. In a way, I think it helped me love wakeboarding way more when I came back, but it also helped me to see it differently. I probably rode about 15-20 boat sets this year and rode better in competition than ever. I was not stressing as much and tried to grab every occasion I had instead of stressing my run up. I did not get mad behind the boat once this season, either. Not once. Same when I was freeriding on cable. I would enjoy every ride like never before. I probably had a smile all the time, which is crazy to think since I used to always bitch when I was riding. The cool thing about this year is that I was able have fun every set I took. I wanted to come back and do stuff that would make me look at wakeboarding differently. Because to be honest it got to a point where I felt wakeboarding was feeling like waterski three-event competitions: you train everyday, and you have to perform in competitions. Over and over. I was 18 and I hated the whole thing. So many things were going on in my mind during that year off. Too many things. I wanted to quit wakeboarding in my hospital bed and just become a doctor at one point. That injury definitely changed my perspective on life and definitely changed me as a person. Every time I see someone with only one arm I put myself in their shoes and realize how lucky I was not only to wakeboard again but to actually come back to where I left off. When I was on the sidelines, it was definitely rough to disconnect from wakeboarding, but I learned so many things apart from wakeboarding. I got to know myself better as a person, what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Whatever happened during the18 months before this 2012 season helped me. I’m stoked to wakeboard, and I can’t wait to keep filming and try to progress my riding.
A: Why are you so critical of your own riding? Is there a specific set of rules you abide by when it comes to riding?
RD: I am critical, of everyone around me and myself. I want wakeboarding to look like I think it should. I’m not saying my riding is perfect, proof is on wakezeach.com (laughs). I think I am just never satisfied, to be honest I didn’t like many things I did in my last (short) video. A lot of crooks. I told myself man, next year I will make a video that will be way better. After that one, I’ll have done everything I wanted to do and it is going to be like I want it. Next thing I realized when I was filming for RAPH, I was not satisfied with some shots. My nose press on the up flat was too crook to me. I wanted my toeside backside 3 off the corrugated pipe to be more tweaked out, more Japan-like. Whatever, that’s how I filmed it, it’s too late.
I just want to do better every time and I want it to look better every time. I want to progress my riding at my rhythm – I love pushing myself and seeing what I can and can’t accomplish. I love when I hit a spot or a rail that I have no clue how it is going to feel or if it is going to work. I have the chance to push the sport and I want to grab that opportunity. I think my motivation is to start a trend, do new things, create tricks, innovate or just do whatever is hard to do and really special. To copy and play around with the same idea is way easier. It’s not a bad thing, I mean that’s what we do 99% of the time. That is why I have a lot of respect for artists like Danny Harf, Byerly, Parks, Panakos and many others. I want to be part of wakeboarding’s progression. That is what keeps me excited about wakeboarding. That’s what I want to do.
A: Do you enjoy hanging out with other pro wakeboarders or do you prefer to be on your own?
RD: Flying all over the world with your friends to go and ride with them is the best. I don’t talk that much and I have my brother talking twice as much for me anyway (laugh). I’m not mean or anything to anyone, I’m just more reserved. It doesn’t mean I don’t like talking to people. I actually love talking with people. I think people are just so used to the top riders in the industry being all extroverts that when you are not, you can be misread by a lot of people. I have a group of riders that I like to hang out with. I try to keep it simple. I’m a normal kid who started wakeboarding with all of my really good friends (Still Not Famous Crew) because I loved it. I never thought I would be where I am right now. I’m stoked. I don’t want to be someone else. I’m myself and I sticking with who I am. I’m not going to try to squeeze my face in the MTV show Wake Brothers to be more famous.
A: Do you feel that there are pros out there who lack the work ethic necessary to stay on top?
RD: Some of them have been at the top for so long. I think they do what they have to do to stay around and that’s alright. That’s a hard one because I don’t exactly know what their work ethics are. Some pros definitely get lazy and lose their passion or their objectives. Sometimes to step back and be outside of Orlando is good. I feel like you can get caught up in a routine and you stop thinking. I think a lot of riders who lack a strong work ethic are the ones who lost their passion to ride. Because a good work ethic is not necessarily to change your diet and become a vegan – (laughs), sorry Dylan! – and train everyday. It can just be to keep yourself in shape and ride everyday. I love that athletes like to party, I think we need those guys in our industry. I think we need all kinds of people in our sport. Partyers, funny guys, serious guys, mysterious guys, athletes, west siders, artists, guys with struggles and inspirational stories, whatever it is that sets them apart. In the end, whatever work ethic you have, it’s on the water when you ride that separates one from another.
A: How do you avoid the distractions of partying and getting caught up in the pro lifestyle?
RD: This year was totally different; I mean I was coming back from 18 months of antibiotics, surgeries and bullshit. I was not healthy last year. My stomach lining was all burnt from the antibiotics, my elbow was shaky and hurting. I had not ridden boat and kicker in a really long time. I had a lot of stuff on the task list to get back. No one put pressure on me, I just wanted to be back and be riding better than before. I didn’t want to waste days because I had a hangover or something, I wanted to ride and I was really hungry for more. Many people say I don’t like to party, but I mean who doesn’t like to have fun with their friends? If you make it a habit, it’s too easy and it’s kind of being lazy to me. I’m also really superstitious and I am scared to ride the next day if I partied the day before. I’m scared I’ll blow my knee or something. I try to choose my nights when I’m going to let loose, usually it’s in the offseason sometime.
A: Do you see other athletes on the rise with a work ethic similar to yours?
RD: I can’t necessarily name one because I don’t feel like my work ethic is that serious at all. But that could just be me (laughs). I try to eat good stuff throughout the year. I only ride about seven months a year, but I do take full advantage of those months. During the other four or five months I will be going to school like every other kid, then workout after school and hang out with my friends. The month left is just for holidays and relaxing. I don’t really like when I see buffed riders training everyday like crazy and eating perfectly. I mean it is good, but I think we should just all take care of ourselves and be professionals and kind of do what athletes should do to continue being able to ride. We’re not MMA fighters (laughs). We’re riders. It kind of makes us look like jocks or those Jersey Shore Guidos (laughs). To me it kind of results in wakeboarding losing a lot of credibility. I definitely prefer less over than too much.
A: Your brother Oli is also an extremely focused rider, does it have something to do with the way you guys were raised?
RD: I guess, I don’t know. My father was a national champion in ski jumping, so he is a pretty serious and competitive father, he pushed us to succeed. He always pushed us really hard in all of the sports we did. He would yell at my brother to workout so that he wouldn’t blow his knees because he knew from his ski jumping how easy it is to blow a knee on the water. Oli did not listen and blew out his knee. Since then Oli listens to him and so did I (laughs). I used Oli as my guinea pig for that one – he might have saved me one knee.
A: What did it mean to you to win the Red Bull Wake Open?
RD: I was really stoked to do it in front of my parents. They have been supporting me since day one and I felt like I was kind of giving them back a little bit for all the efforts they put in, but the thought that I had to do well because they were there never crossed my mind. Winning Wake Open was way bigger than I thought it would be. I knew it was a big deal for wakeboarding but man, so many people talked to me about seeing it on NBC. The whole event was huge for wakeboarding. For me riding behind the boat was the highlight, the MXZ wake was banging and the conditions were perfect. I wanted to make it to the next round just so I could ride again and add stuff to my run. I just wish I hit that double up in the final. I still think about it every now and then when I start over-thinking when I can’t sleep.
A: How do you plan to follow up such a dominant season of cable park riding?
RD: That is hard to answer because I still haven’t figured that one out yet. I have so many possibilities right now. I want to do everything, but obviously can’t. My gut reaction is to say that I would like to take a step back from competitions and concentrate on filming. I’ve had multiple offers to film for different video projects, but I can only do so many. I would like to actually only focus on one full part. Thoughts about leaving cable and rails for a year to just concentrate on boat have crossed my mind, but I’m pretty sure it won’t happen. I don’t feel like I’ve pushed myself in boat riding enough sometimes. I would love to see what I can and can’t do. I want to set totally new goals for next year. I guess I just want to make sure I don’t act like a junior men’s rider that just won the junior pro tour and decided to go back into the junior ranks the next year. I want to constantly reinvent – push myself to find and do new things. That’s my pretty much plan.
A: Do you think boat contests have any potential left for growth, or will cable eventually kill them? Do you plan on doing many boat contests next year?
RD: I think boat still has potential. Boat riding is the roots of our sport. It will not die. It will definitely give a lot of space to cable though. I think the Pro Tour needs to reinvent itself and find solutions. I know these organizers are working hard to make it better and it is easy for me to say “make it better.” I have to say though that it kind of takes away the special factor to be part of it when you know anyone can sign up in pro. Having some sort of Top Ten riders that are qualified at each stop with all the rest in a separate tour trying to battle to make it to the Top 10 would be a cool idea. Kind of like what Wake the Line is doing with their qualifying tour. Maybe I will do a couple of boat contests next year, who knows? I really want to take some time and freeride behind the boat, but we’ll see how I feel when the season comes around.
On another note, I think it would be awesome to have some kind of tour that does it all. Have one stop that is an urban winch spot, one that is boat, one that is a system 2.0 with all homemade rails, one that is full size cable, one that is double ups. This would be really fun to be a part of for every rider I think. That’s an awesome idea actually, I could actually sell that idea (laughs).
“It is pretty refreshing to see that an athlete like Raph could easily be on the podium each week at a boat tour stop, but he isn’t. He chooses to take a different path, a path that is more respected by his peers and other athletes in the sport. Raph is out winning System 2.0 rail events, redefining park riding, and winching the streets. He is the guy that athletes in other action sports look at and have the utmost respect for the sport of wake because of what he is doing. He is wakeboarding at its most raw form and yet is very artistic with his vision and display of it. What Raph has done this year could be the best year any rider has ever had in wake, thus the most deserving of the title of ROTY. Raph Derome is the best thing to ever happen to modern day wakeboarding!”
— Tom Fooshee, ROTY 2010
“You just say to yourself at the end of every Raph web video, “Damn, THAT’S the future of wakeboarding!” And as amazing as it all is, he’s just getting started! He’s young, creative, focused, and fucking ballsy. Raph will continue to keep changing the game for many years to come… I can’t wait!”
— Parks Bonifay, ROTY 2002
“We built that chain rain rail out at my place for Raph’s cover of the 100th issue this year. At first we built it out of two 4×4’s and my big bobcat chain draped across the middle. We got it pretty tight with ratchet straps on screw anchors, but Garrett (Cortese) and I were pretty worried about it. Raph really wasn’t worried about it at all… I would go as far to say fearless. So we fired up the ski and he hit it and snapped the chain off of our mount first hit. I thought he was dead, or at best maimed by my 75lb dot rated bobcat chain. Thankfully he made it out fine, but still not worried the least bit. We went back to the drawing board and came back with four 4×4’s and two more screw anchors. We made it a lot stronger and a lot tighter. Raph went into it again with no worries and 100% confidence that it would work, and he was right, it worked perfectly. He hit it for hours and scored the cover shot.
I guess if I had to sum up what I like about Raph Derome is that not only can he do whatever he wants with his board, he is not scared to do whatever he wants with his board.”
— Reed Hansen, ROTY 2011
“Watching Raph Derome this year has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. Seeing the industry rally around a rider encompassing all that is cool and right in this world is even better. The impact that Raph has made this year can only be compared to the likes of Danny Harf or Parks Bonifay. It makes sense that these are the only guys to be recognized by both magazines as a Rider of the Year. The exciting part for me is to see what he does next because when you watch one of his web clips you get the feeling that he is just getting warmed up. He is a rider that isn’t in a rush to show the world what he has in his head. By taking the time to properly execute, whether it be a certain trick, particular feature, or a photo he is looking to get, Raph has set himself apart and commands the position of trendsetter.”
— Ben Greenwood, ROTY 2005
“Raph Derome has done a lot this year. He’s definitely one of the hardest working wakeboarders we’ve ever seen because he’s doing contests and doing freeride stuff and kicking ass in both, which is really crazy. He goes and wins all the contests he enters and then on top of that he’ll come up with new ideas and make insane web edits. I don’t think we’ve ever really seen something to that level before. Hats off to him for having the motivation and drive. I think what he’s doing for the sport as a rider is huge. His riding is legit and so on point, he definitely deserves to be this year’s Rider of the Year.”
-Chris O’Shea, ROTY 2009
A: Do you think air tricks are good for the future of cable riding?
RD: I just want to say first that air tricks are hard and props to all the air trick guys for being able to do them. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I truly think most of those kinds of tricks look bad. Some glides can look cool, and half loads too. If people want to do them because they forgot to do their abs workout that morning (laughs) or if it’s because they have fun doing them, then it’s alright, but to make it a competition is too much to me. It is not showcasing the sport in its best form. I would personally be shy to show my friends and others that this is what I do and that it is wakeboarding. Wakeboarding won’t get respect as a boardsport from air tricks. I’m not into them. I think air trick guys should adapt and focus on obstacles, they would kill it because all these guys are already very talented. I think they should be open-minded about the situation. Money would not be split in two, wakeboarding would look better and we would all be doing the same sport.
A: How do you feel about the current state of board technologies and its affect on your riding?
RD: I am one of those riders who believe that we should have a different board for whatever we do. I ride the Watson Classic behind the boat and I ride my FLX in the park. When I ride rails I feel like my board is as flexy as I need it to be, and when I ride my Watson it is as stiff as I need it to be. I mean I kind of see it like snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing where you have a different board for every terrain you get on. I don’t see why we should be different. It is very smart to have one board that does it all when you want to save money and have fun for the average customer. That is a smart choice. But I think to have the most efficiency you need two different boards. I might change my mind on this in the future, but so far I don’t think companies have designed a board that has enough technology to maximize the efficiency for both boat and rails. I have not really explored boat riding with a hybrid technology board yet though, so as I said my opinions could change.