What’s up with you being naked a bunch recently? You know, I did that ad for Slingshot and I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal and so many people were just like, “What are you thinking?” I got texts from different riders wondering if I’d lost it. I thought it was funny because it’s obviously a joke. I’ve always had a lighthearted attitude toward the sport, so when we were coming up with that graphic for the Response I thought it would be fun to have tasks that people should do just to make their summer more fun. The ad was just one of those put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is-type deals.
So the graphic is like a scavenger hunt? Yeah, and riding naked is the ultimate goal. I think it was Scotty Roberts who people always talked about barefooting naked and all those old-school dudes partying too hard and then riding naked back in the day. I thought to myself how I’ve never wakeboarded naked and just felt like it should definitely be on the bucket list. I mean, it takes some serious guts to do it, especially during the daytime like I did. And after putting it on the graphic there was no way I could stand on top of the board without doing it myself. When we were doing that shoot for the ad, I knew it was a joke, but the rest of the people on the lake were not in on it. There were a couple fishing boats on the water, and as the boat was turning around I’m just covering my junk with my hands thinking to myself, “I don’t ever want to come to this lake again.”
Aaron Katen’s story from that shoot was pretty funny. Well, I didn’t tell him what he was going to be shooting, and he invited Jack Blodgett’s sister-in-law to come out on the shoot. She was shadowing Katen to become a photographer or whatever. I didn’t want to freak him out and tell him I’d be naked at first because he probably wouldn’t have come to the shoot. Then she showed up to assist and it was super awkward. I had to explain that this isn’t normal and she probably doesn’t want to hang around. It was hilarious.
It wasn’t in Winter Park, huh? No, I went to the other side of town so no one would recognize me. Plus, I didn’t want to taint my own waters. But, I don’t know, I guess it was just a way to portray my attitude toward the sport. Some people land a new trick and give the “I’m the king of the world” look to the camera. Some people are just way too focused on being the shit. You see it in videos a lot, and it’s just annoying when people think they’re such badasses. When people watch me wakeboard, I’d rather them be entertained and feel that I had a good time. Maybe I won’t do every trick, but what I do and the way I react to doing it will hopefully make them want to wakeboard too.
That’s the difference. I think people are less inclined to get into a sport if they think they’re never going to be able to do something, so why even try? If it just looks like fun, they’ll want to do it. I don’t want people to look at wakeboarding and think, “These guys think they’re way too cool and they do crazy shit and I don’t even want to try it.”
I think the majority of riders are more self-conscious about their peers and the industry. It seems like you are more self-conscious about the outsiders looking at the sport. Well, for me the only thing our sport is is fun. If you take it too seriously then what’s the point? Then it’s just your job. Like when someone has good style and makes riding look easy it makes you want to ride, versus some guy hucking something that looks strenuous and straining.
All right, let’s get a little uncomfortable. Do you see the fact that you work for a wake publication and you’re also a pro rider as a conflict of interest? I mean, yes, I get paid by a wake publication, but beyond me submitting my own articles and trying to do things to entertain the industry, I’m pretty minimally involved. Put it this way: The big decisions don’t come from me.
So just because you’re on the masthead doesn’t mean you’re at the helm? Exactly. It’s not like I’m at the office. To be honest, it’s me at home sitting at my computer thinking of funny stuff we can do with wakeboarders. What would be something to entertain and bring everyone together in a fun way? Let the riders interact without it being a “cool” competition and just have fun being wakeboarders. I don’t know, maybe in the public eye it seems like I get more love because of my relationship with the magazine, but the whole sport is based on relationships. I will be completely honest; I was a little surprised when you wanted to do this interview because I thought my ties were too strong [with the competition] for TransWorld to want to support me. At the end of the day, I’m just a wakeboarder trying to make it work and keep doing what I love. It’s a small sport, and there isn’t a ton of money, so if I can make some freelance cash and have fun with it I’m going to do it. You do what you have to do.
Let’s talk about your relationship with your brother, Billy McKee. He’s not wakeboarding as a career now. He got out fairly young. He was like 21 or so. It’s funny because, yeah, my brother is definitely the reason I got into wakeboarding. He was doing it with his friends, and he is the one who pushed me originally. He was getting good and I landed a few inverts, but I used to get scared of some things. He would be in the boat saying stuff like, “If you don’t try a whirly bird today, I’ll make you swim in from the middle of the lake.”
Really? Yeah, he put a lot of pressure on me because he knew I had potential to be good and in typical older brother style, he would make me sack up and try things. He was always a real business-type guy. At the time he got out of wakeboarding, it wasn’t anything like it is now. It was really small, and it was hard to make it work. I think he just got sick of chasing sponsors to try to get money and continue to try to be a pro. Then he went to Utah for a semester to snowboard for a bit, met his wife and that was it. He snowboards and wakeboards still and has a really good business out there. He’s always been motivated by success.
What made you stick with it after he left? I don’t know, the fact that I was getting better than him; I was pretty excited about that (laughs). And then, once the Slingshot opportunity came along for me it was a little different.
Was that about the same time? Well, there were a few years in between that I stuck with it and then the opportunity arose with Slingshot around the time I graduated and got to the point where it was like, “Get a real job or make this your real job.”
If you get hurt too much or there’s not enough magazine or contest success, you can become really disposable in this sport. There are certain guys out there who are on top of the tour, but if they were to get injured two years in a row they could go from being heroes to sitting on the curb. So, yeah, I stayed in it because I saw the thing with Slingshot as a career move that was beyond me just being an athlete. I see it as somewhere I can be when I’m done riding and use all my experience and knowledge to help their brand.
It seems like you work that way with Body Glove too. Yeah, Body Glove has been amazing. I think I’ve been with them for something like 12 years now.
Holy crap. Yeah, I think when I was like 14 was when they first started sending me stuff and talking to us. It’s been a long-ass time. We have a close and great relationship, and I think they realize I’ve seen wakeboarding grow and change for a lot longer than most people who are in it now, which is funny because I like to think I’m still young. People think I’m old because I’ve been a wakeboarder for so long, but I’m only 26. I’m not that old, but in wakeboarding knowledge and experience, I’m pretty old, I guess.