The 18 Editors Picks

  • You picked your heroes in the Reader's Poll, but are they really the best, or just the most popular? Regardless, we wanted our chance. The guys who probably see more pros ride on average than anyone else in the world have a go at choosing the best of the best. Ten men, three women - with rankings and a whole lot of explaining to do.

  • Tom James
    Editor
    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.

  • Tony Smith
    Managing Editor
    The deepeI got into trying to rank the top men and women in our sport, the more I began to wish that we'd undertaken something a little bit easier - like those superlative awards they give out in high school yearbooks. That would have been a breeze. Funniest Guy in Wakeboarding: Staker. Most Surprisingly Intelligent Guy In Wakeboarding: Staker. Least Likely to be Steaming Up the Windows of His Crappy Little Car on a Saturday Night: Staker. Most Likely to Be Peeking in the Windows and Giggling in the Event: Staker Actually Did Get Lucky: Chase. Etc., etc.
    But maybe we'd do that in a future issue. Right now, the task at hand was proving to be more than we bargained for. Our lists were being shuttled through the E-mail system with an urgency usually reserved for really good Internet smut. For the first time, Tom, Billy and I actually conducted a conference call. You heard me, a conference call! The three of us actually figuring out how to do that without some kind of assistance from NASA is a pretty good indicator of how important, and difficult, this article was turning out to be.
    Of course, despite that difficulty, there was one guy whom we all agreed on from the get-go - Shaun Murray. Shaun ranked number one on all of our preliminary lists, just like he did on many of your ballots in this year's Reader's Poll. Why? Shaun is certainly not a better competitive wakeboarder than Darin or Parks right now. He can't even pull off many of the moves that those two can. And his claim to fame, spinning, has been tainted a bit by the ease with which I saw Darin do a frontside 900 a few days ago. But here's the X factor: spirit. I challenge anyone to sit in the boat while Shaun Murray rides and not sense that you're watching the best wakeboarder in the world right now. In fact, even though this sounds corny, when you watch Shaun ride you really do feel like you're out there enjoying it with him. That was my litmus test for ranking the other 12 riders on this list, including the three women who sit alone at the top of their profession. Hey, don't bring up that Christy Smith mobe stuff either. One move does not a rider make. Let's wait and see if Christy can consistently impress like Tara, Andrea and Dana do.
    But no matter whether you agree or disagree with who we have picked here, and in what order, the following pages hold at least one redeeming quality - they'll make you think about what you like in the sport of wakeboarding, just like they did the three of us. And if that makes you do anything from go bigger to try a dock slide to work on your spins and grabs, then you've already started to do what these 13 do so well: render their own style each and every time they ride. And that's the first step in your journey toward the top of this list.
    Oh, by the way, Guy I Want to Play the Guitar and Sing at My Funeral: Mark McNamara. Believe me, everyone would forget I was dead.

  • Bill McCaffray
    West Coast Editor
    The best riders in the world right now? Is that the top competitors? Is that who goes the biggest? Is that the most stylish rider? Is that the best spinner? Flipper? Most technical? I know what I consider to be good or even great wakeboarding may not fit into the traditional mind-set of who is the best. Sure, my personal list contains at least half of our combined list, but what I view as good riding is based as much on how a rider does a trick as to what the trick is. A million guys can do big scarecrows, but I would rather watch Randy do one melan scarecrow than watch most riders do every trick they know.
    What about considering how a rider interprets the sport? The hardest thing any rider can do is go out and truly interpret this sport on his or her own. Someone who puts all preconceived notions of wakeboarding aside and focuses on what aspects of the sport they like the most, instead of trying to do an orbital-to-blind like Darin, a Pete Rose like Scott, or a crow-mobe 5 like Shaun. Riders who go out and take the sport in a direction that has not been charted. This is where guys like Colin Wright and Marshal Harrington deserve some respect as elite riders. They may not have made this list, but Colin and Marshal show a mastery for the sport that has put them in the ruling class.
    Those who have reached this elite level are in a class that stands

  • alone. It is an association that maybe 20 guys in the world have qualified for. You know it when you see it; you can almost feel it. When you watch them ride they are a perfect example of how the mind, body, rope, board and water can interact together. However clichid it sounds, it can be really inspiring to watch this league ride. They go beyond simple comprehension into a realm where each move is interpreted, twisted and stylized in their own personal way. They show not only a mastery for the sport, but a level of comfort that affords them the opportunity to add a personal touch to everything they do.
    Membership in this club of the enlightened was the base of our list selections. Within this group, attitude played a part in final positioning. With this in mind, Shaun was the unanimous No. 1. Beyond Shaun it was not easy, though. There are a hundred different ways to classify riders, with a different rider in the No. 2 slot on each list. Riders like Steve Wahlman, Matt Staker and Ryan Wolfe missed our list but were mentioned in our discussions every day. The 10 men and three women on this list are undoubtedly leaders in the sport today, but with the influx of talented new riders this list will continually evolve.reconceived notions of wakeboarding aside and focuses on what aspects of the sport they like the most, instead of trying to do an orbital-to-blind like Darin, a Pete Rose like Scott, or a crow-mobe 5 like Shaun. Riders who go out and take the sport in a direction that has not been charted. This is where guys like Colin Wright and Marshal Harrington deserve some respect as elite riders. They may not have made this list, but Colin and Marshal show a mastery for the sport that has put them in the ruling class.
    Those who have reached this elite level are in a class that stands alone. It is an association that maybe 20 guys in the world have qualified for. You know it when you see it; you can almost feel it. When you watch them ride they are a perfect example of how the mind, body, rope, board and water can interact together. However clichid it sounds, it can be really inspiring to watch this league ride. They go beyond simple comprehension into a realm where each move is interpreted, twisted and stylized in their own personal way. They show not only a mastery for the sport, but a level of comfort that affords them the opportunity to add a personal touch to everything they do.
    Membership in this club of the enlightened was the base of our list selections. Within this group, attitude played a part in final positioning. With this in mind, Shaun was the unanimous No. 1. Beyond Shaun it was not easy, though. There are a hundred different ways to classify riders, with a different rider in the No. 2 slot on each list. Riders like Steve Wahlman, Matt Staker and Ryan Wolfe missed our list but were mentioned in our discussions every day. The 10 men and three women on this list are undoubtedly leaders in the sport today, but with the influx of talented new riders this list will continually evolve.