While Americans were suffering through the off-season blues, Daniel Watkins was charging it during the summer months in his homeland, Australia. His hard work is now paying off, starting with a victory at the Asian X Games and a current fourth-place ranking on the Pro Tour after the first two events. Big-time riding, fueled by a sheer desire for the sport, has helped to escalate his career at the age of 23.
Daniel is gifted with the ability to ride well in contests. He pulled some tall moves at the season opener in Fort Lauderdale including a Pete Rose, crow mobe, off-axis 5, S-bend and a whirlybird. His run was highlighted by a bold combo move: a Raley straight into a big spin off the launch ramp. I don’t think the on-site paramedics found it too amusing, but the rest of the crowd sure did. Daniel said, “Yeah, I scared the hell out of myself. I had no idea if I was going to hit the water before the ramp or hit the ramp on the full. It was fun. I don’t think I will be getting that close again. Maybe I will?”
I wanted to see what goes on in his daily underworld, so I cruised over to his lakefront pad in Orlando to ride and hang out. Daniel and his roommate/O’Brien teammate, Josh Sanders, had just built a 20-foot flatbar slider requiring a good waist-high ollie. The boat they were using was a frickin’ hoopty but pumped the fattest wake on this side of the Mississippi. The stage was set, and it wasn’t long before a spectacle of prime-time wakeboarding was in session. Daniel’s courageous free-riding consisted of some sick moves such as a frontside 720 (landing blind) and a huge double back roll.
He was stoked because their house just got stockpiled with groceries. Daniel said, “I don’t think I’m going to go anywhere for a week!” Well, an exception was made that night as we ventured over to a particularly seedy dog track to place some wagers. Daniel cashed in big, betting on the winning dog three races in a row. With Daniel’s pocket full of fun tickets, we then slid enthusiastically over to Roxy, one of Orlando’s most “exclusive” clubs. I think it’s more of a “conducive” club. Conducive to drinking, that is. It continued to be one of those nights where everything goes your way. This came clear to me as we got bumped to the front of the endless line at the door and were allowed to break the dress code by sporting our skate shoes (yeah, like anyone really notices your shoes in a club). Anyway, if you’ve ever partied with an Aussie – you can imagine the rest of the story. Somewhere in the mix, I managed to conjure up an interview.
How many years have you been on a wakeboard? “Five years. That is when the first board came into Oz. I got on it right away. Then, I went to the first Australian titles in 1997.”
Has your recent success paid off yet? “Yeah. I am super stoked with the way the first two stops went. Two-fifths. Since having such a great start, I’ve managed to score a sponsorship deal with Tige boats. I am stoked to be part of the team. I guess a new 21V Riders Edition is in the mail as we speak. This is a really weird experience for me. When I started wakeboarding and got my first sponsor, I was stoked to get a free board.. Then, as things move on, you get clothes, sunglasses – all this stuff for free. Then, all of a sudden, I turn around and we are talking boats. I can’t believe it.”
Where’s your favorite place to ride? “On the border of New South Wales and Victoria in Oz. It’s a place called Yarrawonga.”
What’s the difference between the wakeboarding scenes in Australia and the U.S.? “Wakeboarding in Oz is getting bigger. It is nowhere near the size that it is in the U.S. That is purely due to the population. It looks like this year we will have some sort of an Oz tour, which is really exciting. That may influence a few people to do what I do and follow the sun for a while by competing on the Oz tour during the U.S. winter.”
What riders do you like to watch? “Parks is amazing. I love watching him ride as he does every trick ever invented and switch. I also like the power of Darin’s riding.”
What else are you into besides wakeboarding? “When I am not riding, I like to hang out with friends and relax. I also enjoy motocross, surfing and partying a little when I can. Lawn bowls is another past time of mine. I pulled my lats in my back the other week. Then I was challenging, so I guess the bowls are out for a few weeks.”
Any good stories from the road? “Thailand earlier this year was one of my favorite events. It was the first time my brother had been out of Oz. We got on the plane and started drinking. Then, after a while, Josh , Greg and myself started talking about how much fun it would be to pool all our prize money and just have a fun trip for 10 days. I guess we stuck to the deal. We had fun. Definitely! The contest went really well. I won, which was good. On the other hand, it sucked, as I had to give the other two guys half my prize money. I guess it’s all good. It was a good time over there, and I will make it up in San Fran’ – I hope!”
How much longer will you be riding at this level, and where is this sport headed in your mind? “I have now way out done any goals I have ever set for myself in wakeboarding. I guess now I just want to stay where I am in the sport for as long as I can. I wake up every morning in amazement. I still can’t believe I am making a living from something I love so much. I would wakeboard every day no matter what. But, being able to travel the world and having the experience I’ve had from wakeboarding – I reckon’ I must be the luckiest person ever. Just living the dream.”
— WBM Online assumes no responsibility for keyboard malfunctions due to our visitors shedding tears on them after reading this interview. Also, check out www.prowakeboardtour.com for Daniel’s results at the first leg of the Vans Triple Crown, The Ford Ranger Pro, in Pensacola, Florida, starting with nightly updates on Friday, April 28.