Words: Shawn Perry | Photos: Joey Meddock
If there’s a recipe for going pro in wakeboarding, Clay Fletcher didn’t read the directions. In fact, he missed the main ingredient: He’s never owned a boat in his life. Clay took a completely different path to his current spot as one of wakeboarding’s top riders. To get there, the country boy from Georgia did what his family did before him – worked hard at something he loves. Since moving to Florida in search of a pro riding career, Clay has done whatever he had to in order to ride a wakeboard – from mowing grass in exchange for free laps at Orlando Watersports Complex to towing students at The Projects. That commitment landed Clay smack dab in the middle of the Hood, an area in Orlando with a huge concentration of the best riders in wakeboarding.
Clay Fletcher’s hardworking roots define his personality on and off the water. He’s humble, easygoing, creative and fun to be around. His unorthodox approach makes him one of the most diverse riders in our sport. Clay rides cable, hits rails and winch spots and rides behind the boat – all with his own unique style. He’s one of the true riders out there who makes his mark by doing it all; it’s a trend we’re starting to see in pro wakeboarding. If you want to succeed, you need to have the complete package. Clay has it, and if he represents the future, we’re happy to watch how it pans out.
State your name and where you’re from.
Clay Fletcher. Carrollton, Georgia.
So you have some pretty Southern roots?
Yeah, my granddad was a farmer. He owned a bunch of land and did a lot of developing. That’s my Mom’s side of the family. As a kid, that’s what I did — ride around the farm, feed cows, move hay, crap like that.
At what point did you get into wakeboarding?
Let’s see, when I was about 15 years old. We would all go down to my friend’s parents’ lake house in Alabama. It was just like a trailer on a lake, but they had a little outboard boat and a wakeboard. I had snowboarded, but this kid taught me how to wakeboard. I just always liked being in the water. I was always trying to swim and jump off diving boards and stuff like that. So as soon as I got up, man, I remember cruising around and thinking how sick it was, just to carve through water and spray it. That’s about all the water sports background I have — family-vacation-style.
What led you to make the move to Orlando?
My Mom and sister came down on a trip, and my Mom called me and said: “They have this wakeboarding place, the Orlando Watersports Complex, down here. You gotta come check it out.” I had the next three days off work, so I was down. I remember getting in the car the next morning and just driving down for the weekend. I checked it out and rode the entire time I was there. Because my Dad was a pilot, he shared a place in Orlando with a bunch of other airplane pilots. They called it the Crash Pad. Like seven pilots would alternate out of this apartment near the airport. My Dad let me stay there. Rent was like $100 or something. I jumped on that. One day I was riding at OWC, and they were trying to lay sod. I worked at a sod farm back home and told them they were doing it wrong. I helped them lay it down. After that, Rene [Hoffman, OWC’s owner] told me if I wanted to cut the grass, that would be awesome. Of course I wanted to cut the grass. Plus, he paid me and let me ride for free. It was perfect. So that’s what I did: cut grass and rode. Then I moved up to operating the cable, and, eventually, I started hanging out with Mike Ferarro. Mike started teaching me about coaching, and I got into that too. There was one point when I was coaching on the boat lake, operating the cable and cutting the grass.
Was that fresh out of high school?
Yeah, I remember graduating and working at a restaurant. It sucked. That’s why I decided to move to Orlando. I tried college out for like a semester, and, I don’t know, couldn’t hack it.
Was that a turning point?
A big one. I remember one day I said to one of my friends back home: “I’m gonna go for it, man. I’m gonna try and go for this and be serious about it.” That was a crucial time. It was never like “Oh man, I’m die-hard,” but “I’m going to try to get really good at this and see what happens.”
Who did you ride with at that point?
When I first came down, it was mostly cable operators, like Zak Stone — instantly just a fun guy to be around. He’s super-positive all the time. Chad Brown over on the boat lake and some other operators like Mike Connors, Josh Kiffer and Chris Law. Once I started hanging out with Adam Errington, that was when it was on. Adam and I fed off each other a lot. He had just started coming up and getting really good. He was riding with Ferraro a lot, and we would just goof off together.
Was that all boat or cable?
It was a little of both. We mixed it up, you know. We’d ride on the boat side, then jump over to the cable — just having fun riding together, man.
I know you play the guitar and the banjo. Has that always played a big part in your life?
My dad always had guitars. He was really into Willie Nelson. He took me to a Willie Nelson show when I was 6. I always tried to make sounds on his guitar. When I was 13, I saw an electric guitar for sale in this dude’s front yard for like $20. I got that thing and I just made noise for years, man, just horrible noise. Then some dude in junior high said: “Check this out man; this is Pantera.” And boom! It was awesome. Instantly, Southern rock roots and metal out of the gates is what I always wanted to listen to.