Back to Murray. How did your relationship progress, and how did you get hired at The Boarding School?
I think Murray put a lot of things on the back burner for me because he didn’t want to put pressure on me to quit school. He and Travis Moye had me out a couple more times while I was still in school to ride and get to know me a little better. They let me coach a little bit to see what the extent of my knowledge was on the technical side of wakeboarding. When I finished school, they slowly brought me in. I was obviously all about it.
How has being a coach there affected your riding?
I can’t even qualify how much Murray, Travis and Kyle Rattray have helped my riding. I had my best year on the Pro Wakeboard Tour last year and finished in the top 10 on the King of Wake. Last year probably wouldn’t have happened as soon as it did had I not been working with those guys. Last summer, Murray took some time off because he just had his second kid, and I worked nonstop. Working and training at The Projects, where the conditions are super-consistent and you can really focus, was one of the biggest contributors to my success last year.
You do a lot of traveling clinics too. How does that fit in with your work at The Boarding School?
Some of the clinics happen through The Boarding School. For instance, we had some campers from South Africa recently, and I ended up flying over there in January to train their family and friends for a month. It provides me with some great travel opportunities, and I think it’s a cool way to grow the sport. It can be tough to balance sometimes, though.
I bet, especially with your other coaching and sponsor commitments. Speaking of which, MasterCraft just signed you to its pro team. What was that like?
They started reaching out to me in 2006 and have helped me out in different ways ever since. Back then, they told me, “This is what we can do for you now, and this is what we want to help you do in the next couple of years.” In 2008-2009, they said: “This is what’s going well. This is where we want you to focus, and this is where we hope to see you in two more years.” Honestly, within three to six months of everything they’ve ever told me they would do, it has happened. When I heard that was looming, it was kind of surreal because when you look at the team, it’s full of legends. Joining that group of riders is one of the biggest honors I’ve ever had. It was like the fireworks at the end of my best contest year. I got to do stunt double work on the movie Shark Night 3D, and then signing with MasterCraft was the conclusion.
Shark Night 3D! How did that happen?
Right before Worlds, I got a call from someone Zane Schwenk knew. He told Zane he needed a wakeboarder to do some stunts and he needed the rider to be really dark-skinned or black. So Zane’s like, “Well, you have one option.” He got me in touch with a stunt coordinator here in Florida and he got me in touch with the stunt coordinator of Shark Night 3D, I’ve done little stuff like this before, and I figured it would be a one-week gig, max. But I ended up doubling one of the male leads in the film and had a lot of different work to do. The only time I came home was for Surf Expo. I was on set for like eight weeks.
How much of the work was riding, and what else did you do?
I did a good bit of riding, and I had to do some intentional falls. I also did some PWC riding and falls and some underwater fighting with animatronic sharks. They were these big remote-control sharks that we shot in a big wave pool. When I got to the set and saw everything that went into some of the underwater shots, it was shocking. I’ll never watch a movie or TV show the same again.
Fighting the sharks — did you lose?
I took some hard crashes doing the intentional falls wakeboarding. I was catching edges doing 25 to 30 mph. But the day I did some of the fights and struggles with this hammerhead shark was one of the toughest days. The thing was 300 or 400 pounds, and it looked real. It had real teeth in it. Basically, they could put different sharks on this metal structure, so the thing was super-hard. It was like this big metal hammer right in front of me. I was beat up for a good week after that.
So you did the grabbing-its-jaws, punching-it-in-the-face thing?
Yeah, the fish would be on a track, and it would charge into me and then I would be basically fending it off. Its action was super real. It would open its mouth, thrash and flick its head up and down and side to side. When I did the stuff in the pool where it was clear and I saw that thing coming at me, I was pretty freaked out the first few takes!
How much influence did you have on the riding portion?
The goal wasn’t to do anything too crazy but to just look solid on the board, go big and ride clean. It was up to me a lot, which was cool. Normally, when you’re shooting, you try to make sure you face the camera, your face is clear and the bottom of your board is really legible. In this case, they said, “If you can land with your back to us, that would be better.” That was kinda weird, but it ended up working out because I’m really comfortable riding either way. Depending on what they needed me to do, I would do tricks either switch or regular to make sure I hit my mark and I wasn’t facing the camera.
Josh Palma’s Top 3 Ways to Defend Yourself Against a Shark
1. Go for the eyes.
2. Avoid wearing red. Sharks tend to attack more aggressively when shades of red are present.
3. Try to punch it in the gills, which is the most sensitive area after the eyes. Punching the nose is a myth and is only effective on rare occasions.