February 26. Winter Park, Florida: A group of about twenty of the top riders gather together around a conference table to discuss the state of the sports’ competitions. The obvious leader is Billy McCaffray. From rider, to style innovator, to board designer, to leader of riders, McCaffray usually has something to say.
Why did you feel you needed to step in and lead the riders’ movement. Do you want something to change?
Yeah, I want the riders to control their sport and really no one has done anything about it. Everyone likes to bitch a lot about how formats suck, how contests suck but everyone still goes. No one’s going to not go to a contest and turn down an opportunity to win money. I don’t really even compete but I would compete a lot more if I believed the formats represented the sport a lot better. We riders need to control our own destiny.
You guys have had a pretty good ride, though. If the riders controlled their own destiny do you think you’d be on ESPN every week?
No. I’m not saying it hasn’t been good for everyone. A lot of the riders have an ideal life. I mean what does a professional wakeboarder do? You get up in the morning, go to 7-11, come back and spend your whole day out on the water. You spend your whole day playing. It’s like being 12-year old, living on the lake on summer vacation. Except this is better because someone pays you to use their boat, someone pays you to use their wakeboard, and pays for your travel and sends you as much clothing and sunglasses as you need. It’s a dream life … and you get to travel around the world. Professional wakeboarding is ideal. But we still need to organize as a group.
Well what needs to be done in competitive riding?
It needs to be more like a surf or skate contest. It needs to be judged subjectively. Point lists and trick sheets are a joke. Look at any other board sport out there. There are no point lists and trick sheets and restrictive formats. The format right now is like ice skating compulsories.
Is changing things a mission for you?
There are a few guys who are super motivated to make some changes. We want what’s best for the riders. I’m going to be part of wakeboarding for a long time and I hope to see this through to where the riders are happy, and where they are competing in a format that makes sense for the kind of sport that it is.
Do you think the guys who have been winning wakeboarding contests have been the best riders?
Yes and no, because the best riders in the world whether its Parks or Darin or Scott or Thomas – those guys can win in any format.
Other than this problem you are having with competitions, your situation seems pretty ideal from an outsider’s standpoint. You are the main team rider at a top company and you’ve worked yourself into a solid “office” job with them as well. How’d you pull that off?
I just started riding for Neptune because I’m in Seattle and really close to the factory. Then I began working with the product manager telling him what we should be doing, where we should be going. I just basically had a lot of ideas and opinions plus I had the best reference point … being out on the water every day. They ended up saying to me, “We know you are a rider but we’d like you to help out.” So now I’m rider, product manager and I oversee a lot of the marketing.
Are your priorities still in riding?
Yeah, but it’s definittely taken a step back. I don’t have the time to spend on the water like I should. I ride every day but I don’t have the luxury of getting up and waiting for good water or waiting for it to get warm. I get up and ride in the morning then I go to the office, or else I’m traveling. But I am riding every day.
Do you ever consider moving to where you can ride year round?
I love to spend time in Florida in the winter, but I couldn’t just wakeboard year round. Plus, I couldn’t give up snowboarding – it’s way too valuable to me in terms of sanity and lifestyle. It keeps me fresh for wakeboarding and wakeboarding keeps me fresh for snowboarding. There are perfect days in both sports. You get out wakeboarding and it’s hot, glassy, no one on a big lake – it’s just like a powder day in snowboarding. For me there are about five or six days a year in each sport that I just reflect on – I think, “This is why I do this sport.”
I don’t wakeboard to compete. I wakeboard for days when it’s warm, you are with your friends and everything is just perfect. The wake’s perfect, the water is perfect, you’re riding good and everyone’s stoked. That’s the same with snowboarding. You get up early-even if it’s snowing, and you are the first on the lift, no one is on the hill, it’s a weekday and you are riding fresh tracks back country all day. Unfortunately there are some people who don’t wakeboard for that feeling – they wakeboard because they can compete and win and make money. They don’t love wakeboarding. But the majority of guys ride because they love it, and that’s the way it should be.
Aren’t you a better wakeboarder than snowboarder?
No question about it.
If you could only choose one, wakeboarding or snowboarding – which would it be?
I’d have to say snowboarding. But I couldn’t say a good day on the snow is better than a good day on the water. There are days when you go out and it’s sunny and you’re in the powder and you just stop because you can’t breathe because you are laughing so hard because you are having so much fun. Then there are days on the water when everything just works. It’s warm and glassy, and you end up not even noticing the boat – it’s almost the same. It’s like a powder day with a perfect hit in front of you all the time. It’s rad.