Mental Breaking
By Danny Hampson

Over the past winter I had a mental breakdown that forced me to take a vacation from the world of wake, as well as the atmosphere of social media that has become its own subculture within our subculture. While the breakdown was a bit unfortunate in the sense that no one really wants to go “climbing mountains” for a few months, it was a nice vacation from the bombardment of all things wake related that usually circulate around me in both a physical and subconscious merry-go-round. It allowed me to gain perspective that I haven’t had in sometime. Perspective into the world that we all inhabit; whether as fans, athletes, industry veterans, or even first time riders. Getting myself to break free of the bubble allowed me to be able to see back into it with an objective gaze that caused me a great deal of worry.

Breaking through to the other side caused me to realize just how small our cherished world is and how, despite all the advancements in riding, technology, and proper media coverage wakesports has gained over the past few years; it seems the industry has fallen into a rut. I know that everyone blames this on the wakesurf epidemic or revolution, depending on what side you’re on, but I think the root of the problem goes even deeper then that. Has wakesurfing diverted attention away from wakeboarding and wakeskating? Of course it has, but at the same time it brought more people into the boats to have fun on the water. And having fun on the water is the point of what we do right? I think this very question is where we run into problems as an industry that supports professional athletes, competitions and media coverage. People are having fun on the water now, but in a recreational way that is more about the pursuit and less about the culture surrounding it.

This is really where I see the problems happening for the wakesports industry. Is the idea of professional riders and companies built around these athletes becoming dated? The world of wake right now from a consumer standpoint seems more about performance and less about personality. While in a sense this is the purest form of connection on the water because people are focused solely on the enjoyment of riding, doesn’t it leave a giant void to the culture we have all grown to love? When I was younger I wanted a Shane Bonifay 128 Trip because that’s what Shane Bonifay rode. That was the only reason. I connected with the personality he portrayed in his coverage, as well as his riding style in videos, and I wanted that board because I wanted to be Shane. When I first saw Thomas Horrell wakeskating as a kid all I could do was emulate him. I wanted his board, his haircut, and more than anything his style on the water. These guys were pros and I was a fan in awe of what they could do and who they were. Even as I grew in my own career I never stopped feeling starstruck when I was around guys like Parks Bonifay or Scott Byerly. These guys were my heroes and I was blown away to be in the presence of guys that, for me, were larger than life on and off the water. I worry that in today’s culture people are growing away from this fanfare that is the cornerstone our industry is built on. Without this connection from consumer to athlete/brand the whole concept of a wake industry will be mute. The boards could be sold the same as tubes at Walmart.

Looking back into our wake bubble though, it has never been a better time to be a fan of wakeboarding and wakeskating. Yet for some reason it seems like the general public has lost some of its passion for embracing the culture of the sports. Contests are better than ever, but from what I have seen attendance is dwindling. Web videos are constantly being put out, but I see very few comments underneath them. Maybe the problem is me… maybe I am a bit dated when it comes to the new age of media. Maybe I could just be nostalgic for a simpler time where I perceived more passion in our sports. But I really do miss feeling the excitement I used to feel from everyone surrounding the world of wake. Social media has brought a tidal wave of change and now fans can connect directly to the riders in ways that never existed when I was growing up. Maybe this connection is more intimate than I realize. But maybe it is also diminishing the roles of pro riders. They are more visible and accessible than ever before, so therefore not as heroic. I feel like the false intimacy of social media can allow a rider or brand’s impact to be taken for granted.

Once again I may be seeing this from the wrong point of view. I don’t want anyone thinking that I am writing this looking for fans; after all I am a wakeskater of all things, in the twilight of my time on the water. I just worry that unless we revitalize the culture surrounding what we do we may lose a part of what makes wakesports great. In this election year I feel like we can borrow a phrase my friend P.Diddy used to use to get people to vote: “Rock the Vote”. Well, we can “Rock the Wake”. If you’re reading this (first of all, thanks) you are a fan of wake and being a fan I ask you to show your pride. Go to a contest that is in your area, buy a wake video (LF’n Awesome), comment on your favorite riders’ web videos, try a wakeskate instead of surfer, teach your friend to ride, go to all the cable parks within an eight hour drive of you, go to a demo, meet your favorite pro, go to a wake camp, cut out a picture from the magazine and put it on your wall… do any of these things and do it because you love the sport and lifestyle that is wakesports. We have come so far in everything over the years: from cable parks, to boat technology, to the Wakeskate Tour, to Real Wake, to contests where riders are doing double flips and 1080’s. Lets all enjoy it and be fans of it! Lets “Rock The Wake”!

Hands on the handle, hearts in the sky!