Alliance Is 20
By: Bill McCaffray
In the summer of 2000 the internet was just beginning to be a reasonable source of information, email was the primary digital communication platform and smartphones and social media did not exist, nor did YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc. It may seem a little hard to either believe or understand, but humans did thrive without smartphones and social media a short 20 years ago. Wakeboarding did exist though, and it was relatively just as fun as it is today but in a significantly underdeveloped form that was tied closely to waterskiing or worse yet trick skiing. The media at the time was all about magazines and DVD’s. Magazines fed the growing sport month to month and annual long form action videos releases were greatly anticipated and were the only real video content available. Hard to believe that video releases were only once a year. Happy to say that Alliance has helped both wakeboarding and media grow up over the last 20 years.
From long before our first official day, the team at Alliance was a bit opinionated about what wakeboarding should be. We were willing to go out on a limb and say some things that were accurate but oftentimes unpopular. We needed an outlet for that leadership, actually the sport needed us to have our own outlet to help build and guide the community. So we did, we launched Alliance and published whatever we thought was important. Our articles and opinions were always published in the interest of inciting some change, which more often than not was the actual result, as painful for some as it may have been. Through our history, Alliance has been responsible for a number of groundbreaking ideas, events, videos and articles which not only helped to grow the sport in the right direction, but created a lot of opportunity for our favorite partners in crime, the athletes and the brands.
Times change, even the athletes change (except for Murray) but fun and style never grow old. And though the actual people have changed over the past 20 years, their replacements are all here for the same reason; to perpetuate ripping out on the water. That is a significant oversimplification as it is the subtle nuances of how and what deserves to be put on a pedestal that Alliance has always excelled at.
The following nuggets are a selection of our favorite moments and media creations in the past 20 years. Thanks for the fun and the support!
Our mission, at the launch of Alliance was to do something different and show the world the sport the way that we saw it, as a board sport akin to snowboarding and surfing. Growing up in Seattle in the mountains and on the lake it was clear to me that wakeboarding was the summer extension of snowboarding. Fortunately Tony Smith saw it the same way. Chase & Chris Heavener and Matt Staker saw it as anything but what the waterskiers were doing and Corey Marotta simply saw it as the extension of surfing and skating. Our team had a clear vision; represent the sport properly. The last 20 years represents that.
Today it is seemingly obvious that wakeboarding/wakesurfing/wakeskating is as much of a lifestyle as it is a sport. Days hanging out with friends on the water centered around your favorite boat or cable dock to both socialize and push your ability in the water. What an amazing way to spend your day? Well the lifestyle of wakeboarding didn’t really exist 20 years ago. But man did we help develop it. Tony Smith and Garrett Cortese led the charge to document and define the sport and it’s leading cast in and around Orlando. By 2007 the scene was as big as it could be and went crazy for a number of years. Every pro, semi-pro, wanna-be-pro and a community of groupies lived in or visited Orlando to be a part of it. In 2007 Orange Ave. in downtown on any given night would have a dozen wakeboarders mixing it up. A quick visit to the regular spots and you would stumble upon the clan. Video premieres at the Sapphire Supper Club were a regular occurrence with the bar sold out and a line of hopefuls that ran down the block and around the corner.
Though the digitization of content and the immediate access to the trick some kid landed in Australia 20 minutes ago has eroded the physical gathering of the local flock. It is easy to argue that technology has globalized that local community and connected every wakeboarding enthusiast in the world through social media. That being said, we are also believers that gathering as a crew will make a comeback. Alliance will certainly be a catalyst to bring the community to a centering point both on and off water.
It is amazing what a few margaritas and a few good friends can come up with while eating quality Mexican food. In Encinitas, just a block from the Liquid Force office and 4 minutes from Alliance sat a funky Mexican food restaurant named El Callejon. I would argue if you visited Liquid force or Alliance you likely know what we are talking about. Today El Callejon is no longer there, run out by high rent and the evolution of the town of Encinitas, not entirely dissimilar to the demise of BROstock itself. When first launched, BROstock was a bit of a throwback to festival type parties that were cleverly cloaked as events, photoshoots and cultural events. BROstock was nothing if not a cultural experience. Though it started in Lake Powell, BROstock was really the opposite of a Native American sweat lodge cleansing ceremony. It is truly a miracle that no one ever died, especially Aaron Reed and Danny Hampson who one year managed to stay in Cowboy (Danny) and Indian (Aaron) costumes and character for the entire week. Chasing each other around the campfire with 12 before 12 as a daily challenge. Just one example of how bat shit crazy these events got over the years. As much as we all miss them, I’m not sure our sensitive society today could handle the party/orgy/best week of the year disguised as a wakeboarding event that we used to call BROstock.
Action Sports Industry
One of our big goals was to show that wakeboarding was more than sport, there is a lifestyle that surrounds it and feeds it. When we launched Alliance the sport and industry had no real connection with the action sports industry. But I did, and so did Tony and Corey. So that was our mission, put wakeboarding on a pedestal right next to its true brethren. Alliance was able to bridge that gap and connect with the brands of the time, bring them athletes and broaden the reach of the sport. Alliance helped bring in brands like Billabong, Quicksilver, Vans, Pro-Tec, and Nike. This benefited the riders and the endemic brands as much bigger players were now pushing out the message and content.
Pull on FUEL TV
In 2004 Alliance launched PULL, by Alliance Wakeboard Magazine on FUEL TV. A magazine style television show that introduced the sport, lifestyle and personalities of wakeboarding to millions of people outside of the endemic circle. Clearly this was the first television show dedicated to the sport and it highlighted the sport with lifestyles and personalities presented in a way that made sense to the viewers of FUEL TV,. Alliance’s focus was always the key personalities, the lifestyle and legitimate riding. We had budgets to take riders from every brand on epic destination trips across the globe to help show the sport, athletes and the brands in the way they deserved.
We were so deep in supporting and building wakeskating that we actually had a dedicated digital publication just for wakeskating lead by snowboarder Brooke Geery, long before anyone had a digital magazine. As progressive as wakeboarding was, from 2000 until about 2012 wakeskating was more progressive. Lead by Thomas Horrell, Nick Taylor, Brian Grubb, Danny Hampson, Aaron Reed, Scott Byerly, Silas Thurman, Reed Hansen and 20 more that truly deserve recognition here. Silas brought Nike to the table, Thomas got DVS involved, these brands essentially supported all of the athletes and the progression of the sport for a decade or more. It is still (or should be) the most technical and most respected version of riding on the water while being pulled by a handle.
In 2000 the media in watersports was stale and corporate. Alliance broke ground for a new direction in media and created the platform for crews to flourish by giving them a voice and an outlet to show the world their vision of the future of wakeboarding. Alliance worked closely with Pointless and the New Crew in the early days to amplify the voice of the riders that were progressing the sport and taking it in new directions. Shred Town was next and with their cover shots and inclusion in Real Wake. Today Space Mob, Zuupack and a handful of others around the globe. These are the clans that are now defining both the sport and the lifestyle.
X Games Real Wake
It was a dark moment in the sport and industry when X Games moved on without wakeboarding as a sport. There were all kinds of rumors as to why, but the real reason was based on the expense to have another set of production trucks and teams at a remote location (wakeboarding venue).. With our connections and our friends connections we were able to get an audience with X Games and pitch them Real Wake. 12 months later with the support from MasterCraft it came to fruition and benefited the industry for a solid 4 year. Unfortunately, MasterCraft pulled out a few years later and we were left with a number of riders ready to help push the sport further than anyone ever had and the platform did not exist anymore.
In 2000 cable wakeboarding hardly existed in the US. Of the few cables at the time, there were still some that didn’t even have features, it was still all about air tricks. Think of that, a cable park without features. The parks were so few and far between that very few people in the US had even ridden on a cable. Thankfully a few key players by the likes of Mike Olson and Pat Panakos saw the future for cable in the US and began developing parks across the county. At about the same moment, Alliance in partnership with Monster Energy (Aaron Grace) launched the Monster Energy Wake Park Triple Crown and helped to put the parks and wake park riding on the map in the United States.
Alliance Rider of the Year
If there is one idea that we launched with 20 years ago that has stood the test of time and consistently been one of the most legitimate and valuable pieces we create year after year, it’s the Alliance Wake Rider of the Year. There were years when we picked a rider that was well ahead of their time and even received calls about why we would pick that person. In every instance those questions were muted in a few months when the less informed realized the impact that rider was making on the sport. Each of the past ROTY’s are now vested in the selection process and get to weigh in and help select the new inductee to this elite club. When you look at the list, it’s pretty hard to deny that this is the most credible list of athletes and the most coveted award an athlete can earn as a wakeboarder.
The team at Alliance has spent 20 years telling thousands of stores focused on building wake sports. With the toughest year behind us we are still able to look back at all the great people we got to work with while smiling and being motivated to continue to help the sports and brands of wakeboarding, wakesurfing and wakeskating grow in the right direction. In the past 20 years, literally almost everything in media and the sport has changed. The one constant is the people that make up the sport; the riders, the industry, the retailers. Though many of the faces may have changed, the passion for the sport and industry remain as they were in 2000, stoked on wakeboarding and that is why we are here. Bring on 2021 and the years ahead, Alliance is almost old enough to buy beer now.
“We needed a vehicle. It was obvious that wakeboarding was pulling so hard at its own leash that the stake was about to come ripping out of the ground. And so we made a simple promise: Alliance. That promise, along with the blood, sweat and beers of the most amazing and eclectic group of professionals, enthusiasts, fans, groupies, writers, artists, photographers, and (literal) hangers-on became the last 20 years of this publication and media company. Years that still continue to pulse with an uncomplicated idea: to do something different, with passion and principles, and to have fun doing it. Isn’t that what wakeboarding and all the good things that have sprouted up around it in the last decade are all about? We think so, and we think you do too. The fact that so many of you have followed Alliance’s growth and journey, not only in these pages but on-line, in front of your TVs and via social media is proof that maybe our original idea isn’t quite as dated as the 20 years would let on. And in fact, that it may be the one small thing that will never change, no matter how old any of us get. We are proud to have made it through the first 20 years, and proud that you’ve been the catalyst for all the innuendo-laden, sometimes comic, often risky and always passionate coverage of the sport that we all know and love. We’re even more flattered that you GOT IT from the beginning, and have carried it through with us. Ten years was just a start; you’ll see us tomorrow, next month, next year and in another 10 or 20 years. Thank you, and until then, have fun out there.”
– Tony Smith