When we started this magazine in 1993, Darin Shapiro was by far the best wakeboarder in the world. On many days and in many people's view, he still is. Then why, you may wonder, does Darin not top our list? Two words: Shaun Murray. While Darin is everything you could ever want in a wakeboarder, right now Shaun Murray might be more. You see, Shaun has an overabundance of that elusive, un-quantifiable quality called style. Darin has skills, no doubt. Darin goes bigger, no doubt. But when Shaun hits the water you get that relaxed feeling of sitting back into a cushy La-Z-Boy chair. Ahhhhhhh. He makes it look sooooo easy. As for the other member in the top three - Parks - I like his ability to pull off the impossible. While that isn't only what makes him a great wakeboarder, it puts him in the rarefied air that only Darin, Shaun and Scott Byerly had breathed until now.
I took into account the following items to rank my riders: how much the rider impresses me, how much the rider impresses other riders, how innovative the rider is, how well the rider can put it together in a pressure situation (contests), how many tricks he has in his bag, how big he can take moves, how well he can pull out of critical situations and, finally, if the rider has any natural style.
That said, I believe certain riders need a little justification. It seems almost sacrilegious to have Scott Byerly, the most innovative rider the sport has ever seen, hovering in the middle of the pack with new riders like Rob Struharik. It isn't that he's not capable of being in the top three, it's just that right now he isn't putting forth the effort. Scott might be the most naturally talented wakeboarder, but he just isn't riding enough to be consistent enough to be there in my mind. By the time this comes out, who knows - Scott may have taken a break from wakeskating, surfing and motocross so that he can devote himself to being a wakeboarder again. If that's the case, there's no question he could move up, but the other guys are putting forth more effort right now, and it's showing.
Similarly, Gator not being on the list at all could turn out to be a big mistake - Gator goes as big as anyone and has as much, if not more, natural talent. It's just that between constant injuries and other business interests (he's starting his own board company), he isn't spending the time on the water necessary to keep up.
I also have to wonder if we are making a mistake by not including Steve Wahlman. He certainly fits all the criteria to make my list, but so do the guys already there. Others worth mentioning? I really like to watch Thomas Horrell and Mike Weddington ride. Thomas can do a lot of hard stuff with an incredible style, and Mike is probably my favorite free-rider to watch, but once again there are so many great riders right now, a lot of good guys have to get burned.
On the women's side, things aren't quite as competitive. Tara, Andrea and Dana are a notch above the rest. Clearly the top rider is Tara Hamilton purely by her competitive record and gutsy riding style. Andrea has tons of style, and Dana is a great free-rider . The other girls show flashes of greatness, but they all still have some catching up to do.