One thing is glaringly obvious to me. All wakeboarders are really "closet" Darin Shapiro supporters.
Everyone in the world knows that Darin Shapiro is the best wakeboarder ever and has been since the day he first strapped on a board, yet no one wants to admit it. Think about it. He didn't win the 1998 Readers' Poll, he didn't win the Editor's Picks, hell, he didn't even win the Tour this year. Yet when push comes to shove - when it's contract time - Darin Shapiro pulls down more than twice as much money from his board company than any other rider. It just doesn't make sense on the surface. Why would some company want to pay Darin so much when other guys are winning awards out from under him?
In an interview we conducted with Darin, he talks about his O'brien contract and says it should open doors for other riders. It's true. Other riders are going to want their sponsors to step up to the table and start throwing down the kind of money Darin will be pulling. After all, they could say, "I beat Darin in the Readers' Poll" or "I beat Darin on the Tour." But regardless of the "results," no one is worth anything close to what Darin is worth.
Year in and year out, Shapiro has been the Michael Jordan of wakeboarding. And just as Jordan makes three times more than the next closest basketball player, Darin should make that much more than the nearest rider. Sure, some years you got guys like Shaq or Karl Malone challenging Jordan for the MVP, or maybe one year Penny Hardaway gets more Nike ads on TV, but no one really believes those guys are anything close to the player Jordan is; people just get tired of Jordan winning everything so they want to hype someone new.
That's what I think is happening to Shapiro. Since 1993 we've been talking about Shapiro so heavily that even he admits people probably want to see someone new get some glory. In retrospect, I have to admit being guilty of that when I was doing my Editor's Picks. I'm sure the judges at the contests would admit to it as well.
And Shapiro's realization of this is what makes the current Shapiro a kinder, gentler Shapiro. In his interview he didn't go off on the judges for not judging him better or the readers for not picking him as their favorite. He finally realizes that he wins a bigger victory if he loses once in a while.
Yes, we all have our favorite riders, and Darin may or may not be mine, but if I had to put money down on any one guy for any one contest or any one free-riding session you can bet I'd put it on Darin. Some guys can beat him now and then and some guys innovate moves that Darin hasn't done and others still have a style that may be better than Darin's. But all things considered, Shapiro is still the man.
The fact is, no rider is doing a move that he honestly thinks Shapiro couldn't do, yet Darin has been doing speedballs for two years and no one else even wants to try them. Until some other rider gets the skill or the balls to do a move that matches the speedball or the toeside 900 or the Orbital 5 or the ..., Darin will still be the man.
So until someone can match Darin on the water - not in the polls or in the picks or even at a judged contest - no one should worry about matching him at the bank.