Words: Shawn Perry Photos:Bryan Soderlind
Jeff McKee just wants to have fun. Now, that may seem like a real carefree ethos to live by, but believe it or not, McKee has an extensive, strategic plan to ensure he has fun for the rest of his life. Sound ridiculous? Well, in some ways it is, but if you think about it, he’s actually spot on. After all, every goal-driven person sets his sights on something. For some, it’s monetary success. For others, family is their focus. Regardless of their motivation, they all have a plan. So why shouldn’t a free-loving, enjoy-life’s-little-pleasures guy like McKee have a game plan for a lifetime of good times? Taking it as it comes is one thing, but McKee’s mantra is a little more vigilant. He’s working hard for his fun. In order to keep up a lifestyle as good as a pro wakeboarder residing in Winter Park, Florida, McKee must remain one step ahead of the pack, constantly staying at the forefront of what’s cool. As a result, sitting down with a guy like McKee can be a real eye-opener. His outlook on the sport is different from most, but his approach to life in general is even more original.
For this interview, how about we skip the “how you got into riding” and all that. For sure. I’m saving that for my autobiography anyway.
That said, your professional career has been pretty unique. How have you approached it? Well, the fun part for me is that it has always been more than just wakeboarding. I was always doing articles for the magazines and being involved with companies like Slingshot a bunch too. They are almost like distractions in a sense, and that keeps my riding fresh. When it’s time for me to actually hit the water, I can finally clear my head of deadlines and genius marketing ideas and just focus on the moves.
There are a lot of facets to wakeboarding for you beyond riding, then. Yeah, I’ve always tried to think beyond being just a rider. I mean, there are a million wakeboarders, and they can all do every single trick, so if you don’t have something to offer off the water, you become very disposable. It’s almost not even about the tricks as much as it is about the personality or being some sort of standout character in wakeboarding. Personally, I’m not going to be the technical guy who does every spin and flip, but I want to be known for the things I do and be the best at doing them.
Do you take it less seriously? I don’t know. I like to make fun of wakeboarding a lot. In the grand scheme of things, we’re still a really small sport, and if we take ourselves too seriously people will think we’re a bunch of clowns. But if we can joke about things in our sport and laugh at ourselves, we stand a way better chance of really “making it” in the mainstream.
So just have more fun? Exactly. Then people on the outside will understand it and think, “These guys are just as goofy as us — they just happen to live in the middle of the state so they wakeboard instead of surf or snowboard or whatever else.” It’s awesome to look at other sports and try to get inspiration. I would rather go out and do some sort of different variation of a 180 or something new on that level than be the 12th guy to land an un-grabbed 1080 that just looks hectic.
Well, from the outside looking in, it’s easy to make fun of someone who takes something too seriously, but nobody hates on someone for having fun. Exactly. I’ve never wanted to be that guy who is just a hard ass and takes everything way too seriously. Obviously, there are times when I probably should have taken things more seriously just to keep up. But I’d rather film and make video parts where I can try different things and do whatever I want as opposed to making a trick list to win a contest and not be able to express myself and do the things I think make wakeboarding look most attractive. That’s not what it’s about to me.
What made you decide to live in Winter Park? Well, originally I moved here to go to school at Rollins College. It’s right on the lake with a beach out back, and I met my wife Katy there as well.
You actually rode for its club team too, right? Yeah, there was a wakeboard club that I was a part of, but it was sort of a disaster at the time trying to find funding, organize events, etc. I moved over here for school originally, and I guess I just became a huge snob for nice beer, nice restaurants and nice lakes. There are no gators over here because all the rich housewives have them removed, and for the most part the lakes are empty because everyone’s out working trying to pay for their lakefront mortgages. And then there’s me who lives a mile away from the water and am out every day, loving their beautiful backyards as backdrops. I can escape from the scene when I need to as well, which is great. I don’t have to talk and think about wakeboarding all day, every day if I don’t want to, which helps keep me from feeling burnt out.