You had to cut your dreads for the movie. How tough was that?
I was a little nervous because for the last couple of years, it’s how some of my sponsors have marketed me and it’s kind of been my niche. It’s a big deal to me. The stunt contracts were weekly, so my fear was that I’d cut my hair and finish my stuff in a week or two weeks. But they guaranteed me I’d work at least six weeks, and I ended up working a good bit more. Pretty much, when I heard that, I was good to go. They were super cool about it. They even entertained the idea of putting dreads on the actor, but that’s so against the way you do things, making the actor look like the stunt double.
Hell, they considered it. That’s a win in itself. That still had to be pretty painful, even though you were compensated.
It was pretty painful, but it was getting to the point where I was going to have to trim them or do something. I could barely put on a helmet. It was getting a little ridiculous.
How long had you been growing them?
Four years. It was funny, my brother said, “So not only have you not paid for a haircut in four years, but you got paid for not getting a haircut in four years.”
Are you bringing them back?
Yeah, but a little more under control, I think. I’m getting a little bit more mature, so I figure I can still have a little edge but keep things a little bit cleaner. I don’t know; we’ll see. They’ll probably just end up getting really long again, that’s my guess.
Do you have plans to do more stunt work in the future?
I just submitted all my stuff for the Screen Actors Guild, so I’ll be a SAG member. The stunt coordinator and I worked really closely with some of the other stunt personnel. They all reached out to me and put my name in for several other gigs, so, yeah, I want to try to continue to pursue that. Especially if I can get involved with more stuff that involves wakeboarding, just to get the sport some exposure on that level. It’s nice not only to have our sport at that level but for me to be able to kind of dictate what that exposure looks like. Just having wakeboarding in a movie, sure, it’s great, but to have it look the way a lot of us riders would like to have it look is cool.
Does your character die?
It’s kind of open-ended. It’s pretty likely that he dies, but you don’t know for sure.
He’s not around anymore, anyway.
Right, he’s not around. But it happens pretty late in the film. That’s what’s funny about the trailer. You see him get attacked in the trailer, so everyone on YouTube is like “Of course, the black guy dies first.” Then somebody said, “Oh, a black guy wakeboarding. This really is a horror movie.”
Speaking of which, has that ever affected your career — being a black guy in a sport that’s 99 percent white dudes?
I think it definitely has. Everyone who’s successful in our sport has found some kind of niche, and I think my niche has a lot to do with the way I look. I like to think that’s just one of the things that makes me different from another rider, but obviously it is an important part. It’s pretty cool, too, because there is that stereotype that you don’t see black people wakeboarding. It’s cool if I can encourage someone who would normally say, “That’s not something I’m into” to say, “Hey, maybe it could be.”
Signing with CWB is another big thing that happened to you this year. How’s that working out?
It’s been awesome. I’ve been able to get involved right away and work with our product engineers and product manager extensively. I can suggest some changes to a board and have a prototype at my house two days later. They really want to work with me to not only give me the best product to ride but the consumers too, which is the way it should be. It’s been a great fit so far, and I’m eager to get even more involved over the next several years.
We’ve talked about a ton of stuff that you do to make it as a pro rider. How hard is it?
I think it’s one thing if you get started when you’re 10 or 12 years old and you don’t have a bunch of financial worries or constraints. Obviously, because I decided to pursue this in college, that wasn’t really a luxury I had. Even last year and the year before, I was really scraping, trying to find ways to generate income. It’s not like just because you ride your wakeboard well your sponsors are going to give the world to you. There’s a lot more to it, and I think that’s what up-and-coming kids need to realize. If you can’t find a way to make it really concrete that your sponsors will benefit from working with you, you might get some help, but it’s going to be pretty short-lived. Not only is it a lot of work to get there, but it’s a lot of work to stay relevant.
How do you plan to stay relevant in wakeboarding?
I’m starting to work on bringing companies into wakeboarding quite a bit. I look at a guy like Ben Greenwood, who basically set up Quiksilver’s entire program for wake. I want to help brands that are successful in other sports get involved in our industry. It’s something I find really interesting, and it’s cool because it kind of combines what I did in college in terms of pysch, marketing and business. For instance, I just signed a deal with Alpinestars and I’m putting a whole program together for Electric as well. I collaborate with the brands to help them generate more sales, which eventually turns into more support for our sport and its athletes. That’s really what I enjoy doing and it’s rewarding because it’s a situation where the rider, the company and the industry all win.
Josh Palma’s Top 3 Ways to Grow a Bitching Crop of Dreads
1. Have a Jamaican muddah.
2. If you have to put beeswax, honey or farm products in your hair to start dreads, you probably shouldn’t be growing them in the first place.
3. Be willing to push through the awkward stages it takes to get there. I’m currently in the mini-afro stage, and I’m fully embracing it.