Words: Shawn Perry Photos: Ian Reid
Any effort to nail down Danny Hampson’s approach to wakeskating — and life in general — inevitably leads to the Florida Keys. The island life pours through his bloodline as deep and steadfast as the Gulf Stream up the coast of Florida. And while Hampson has seen the world up and over in the course of his decade-long pro career, his love for life on the water as a citizen of the Conch Republic will always define him.
From the first time I met him, I could tell Hampson’s passion levels for life were completely out of his control. That passion has led him to the peak of wakeskating. At times, it’s also threatened to consume him. Hampson’s almost preternatural talent on a wakeskate earned him a spot on the Cassette team during a pivotal era, casting him into the limelight in one of the most compelling movements in wake’s history. Ever since, Hampson has lived a life of controlled chaos, creating some of wakeskating’s high-water moments but also weathering his fair share of setbacks.
With an old soul and a new wave haircut, Hampson, at 23, has the life experience of a much older individual. And while his insatiable passion has sometimes lent him the impression of a guy looking over the edge, it’s also given him a perspective that few of his peers possess. His dreamer’s outlook is tempered by a pragmatic commitment to reinvigorating wakeskating.
Keep an eye on old Hampson — it might get crunchy.
Do you want to do this job-interview-style? Whatever way you think is best for your journalistic integrity, Shawn.
What three words best describe you? Oh, God: fast, hard and strong. Wait, not that. I guess in a perfect world: nice, loving and friendly. Nice, loving and loyal. But I don’t know what other people think of me. I’m sure a lot of people think I’m a jerk, but strong, for sure.
OK, so what is your biggest strength? In wakeskating or in life?
Life. My biggest strength would be my loyalty to my friends and my family.
Weakness? Feeling guilty all the time about not being nice enough. Probably feeling guilty about my loyalty too.
All right, those are all the job interview questions. Tell me about growing up in the Keys. Growing up in the Keys, for me, was the best thing ever. I couldn’t imagine growing up in any other way. Yeah, for some people it’s just a place to go on vacation, and it even feels like a vacation living there. Every day you’re on the water. There are no malls; they’re all small towns. Being on the ocean is just what you do. I loved it. We got to do what we wanted to do: fishing, spear fishing, riding and skateboarding.
That sounds like paradise. Yeah, I mean there’s not calypso music constantly playing, and Jimmy Buffet doesn’t come over all the time, but it’s still really awesome and different and unique.
How do you think constantly being surrounded by the water played a part in your upbringing? Well, both my parents are from the Keys. I was born there, and the water was my life. When I was a little boy, my dad made me kneeboard before I could even swim. My dad and I would always go kneeboarding together. We would ride doubles and I’d jump over to him and stand behind his back and clap. Some real Keys show-skiing shit. We had nothing on the people from the Midwest, but the people around us thought it was cool. My dad was really good. He could do flips, he had a mullet and he would barefoot. He was the best water-sports dude around.
At what point did you start wakeboarding? When I was like 6, my Dad had this Skurfer and he pushed me really hard to ride it. I think I got up on it once and was over it. But later on we went on this trip to North Carolina, and he bought me an issue of WAKEBOARDING magazine with Scott Harwood riding a wave on the cover. The whole time on vacation, I constantly read it. We drove up there, so I never put it down. We got an O’Brien Buzz from Boaters World when we got back.
You were 13? No, I must have been like 11. I sucked when I first started. I was having trouble getting up, all my friends were getting air and much better than me. On the weekends, our dads would pull us but would only let us fall three times and make us get back in the boat.
At what point did you pick up a wakeskate? That’s the funny thing, because we started wakeskating at the same time. Even then we were skateboarding but not skateboarding well. Down there, you have to understand, we had no idea what was going on at all. Kids in Orlando could go to the skate park and see guys killing it or read magazines and watch videos. We didn’t know what was good or bad. We were just trying to figure it out. That was before the Internet, and there were no places to buy skateboarding magazines or videos. One day it was really rough and we put surf wax on a wakeboard and wore athletic sandals because that’s what we thought would be best to get wet. It’s funny we thought that when it was rough it would be better for wakeskating too. Like, you could get “air” or something. I remember it like it was yesterday.
When did you start taking yourself more seriously? I guess when I was like 13. I got a Liquid Force Mini Squirt and we started building rails. We all started ordering videos and getting them for Christmas, like 12 Honkeys and stuff. My friend Topher’s older brother Chuck, by pure coincidence, was really good at wakeboarding. He was like a Masters champion and could do 7s and stuff. So we saw all his videos too and started building these floating rails and ramps. Then the summer of sixth grade, I got my own boat — an old 16-foot Sea Ray with a rotten hull my dad got for nothing. It had this 120 you needed a screwdriver to start. We got really serious after that.
Were you hitting them on a wakeskate? I think somehow I saw Wide Awake and saw Thomas Horrell’s part. Right after that, I took the bindings off my Mini Squirt and put on grip tape.
And athletic sandals? (Laughs) No, I wore shoes. The first time I rode that setup, though, I jumped the wake behind my neighbor’s boat and was like, “Oh my God.” For the next couple years after that I was 50-50 wakeboarding and wakeskating. I got a Cassette 41 — the orange flat deck.