I suppose Shane and Parks Bonifay aren’t much different than any other pair of 12- and 15-year-old brothers. They fight, they argue, and they fight some more until someone calls for “Maaa.” Just your typical brothers … except perhaps that Parks is arguably the best wakeboarder in the world, on television nearly every week, getting boxes of free clothes sporting labels his peers pay dearly for, making more cash than most guys’ dads do, and traveling around the world on a sponsor’s dollar.
Then there’s 12-year-old Shane, who is to wakeboarding what Tiger Woods is to golf. Shane’s future is so bright (to borrow from the cliche) he has to wear shades … which, fortunately, Oakley provides him with quite handsomely. For his feet, Shane points out the eight pairs of nearly new Reef shoes in his closet: “One for each day of the week – plus another.” Shane’s future is so promising that sponsors are throwing product and money at him faster than most 12-year-olds throw papers at front doors.
Oh, yeah, one last thing: Parks and Shane live in a house on a lake where up to 18 teenage girls come and stay each week to learn swivel skiing at their mom’s ski school. Other than that, their lives are completely normal.
So, with the new Suicide Machines CD in the background on Parks’ 400-watt surround-sound stereo, we began to talk. You’d think riders so hot, so popular, so in demand would be big talkers. Hardly. Parks is shy, but fortunately Shane has a lot to say.
Shane, say something.
Uhh. … Hey.
What makes you fight?
Shane: Not getting out of each other’s room.
How is it having your mom always around on the tour?
Shane: Without her we wouldn’t be able to do much, so it’s cool.
Do you guys get nervous before a run?
Shane: I haven’t qualified yet so I don’t.
What about at the Worlds?
Parks: I saw his pants after his run, and it looked like he got nervous.
Shane: Shut up, Parks! Just shut up! (Shane throws a surprise punch into Parks’ stomach.)
Oooo. Does that hurt?
Parks: No, you can’t hurt steel.
Shane, can you hurt him?
Shane: Oh, easily.
What’s it like having different sponsors now? Is it better than last year when you both were on the same team?
Shane: I like it better because I have more opportunities for ads and getting to go places.
Parks: You got to go places before.
Shane: I wouldn’t get to go to Italy.
Parks: You got a girlfriend over there – old Franjessica, Fransessica, Franzessisesca.
Do you see a time when you’d like to reunite on the same team?
Shane: Not really.
Shane, is there anyone you really want to beat on tour this year?
Shane: Yeah. Parks.
Do you ever get in the full-blown, long fights?
Parks: Yeah, he got knocked out.
Shane: No I didn’t. Liar.
Parks: Then talk
about it and see if
you can remember.
Shane: It never did happen. He has to make it up.
Parks: (wrestling Shane into submission) Do you want to cry in front of the tape recorder?
Shane: You can’t make anybody cry. (Shane lands another punch.)
Parks: Mom! (Shane is firing rabbit punches into Parks’ gut, but Parks has had enough and he twists little Shane into the bed post).
“Mom” is Betty Bonifay. She is anything but typical. She’s responsible for controlling the sparring partners, running the ski school, running the boys’ business careers, coordinating school and homework schedules, and dealing all the other things that happen with “normal” teenage boys (i.e. girls, phone, food). Betty is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Every night she cooks a mega-meal for the hoards of hungry skiers staying at the school. Most weeks she has over a dozen people sleeping in her lakeside ski school house. Some weeks she has 15 students staying Sunday to Sunday, with 15 coming in just hours after the previous ones leave. Betty has just enough time to do the wash. But all this doesn’t keep her from teaching groups of young girls the balletic art of swivel skiing, making scrapbooks for both boys filled with every newspaper article ever written about a Bonifay, and editing video footage to help her students learn.
Betty’s known around the tour stops as an overprotective mom, but you can’t blame her? “He’s a 15-year-old living a 21-year-old’s lifestyle,” she says.
We know Parks is making tons of money now. Parks knows he makes a ton of money now. Do you let him head off on Friday night with a big wad of cash in his pocket?
Betty: Parks gets the same allowance every month regardless of how much he makes.
Do you ever hope Parks stops winning so he could be more “normal”?
Betty: No, because Parks never wore it on his shoulder. Even though he had a really good year, the riders always treated him the same.
What about Shane? He’s got to be feeling the pressure of filling Parks’ shoes -especially with all hype surrounding Parks’ tour victory.
Betty: Shane’s really got it tough. He’s not just Parks’ brother Shane – he’s a world champion and people need to remember that. Parks is older, but Shane is just as talented and he’s proven himself as much, if not more, than Parks, especially at this age. When Parks was 12 he was just getting into the sport. Shane’s already established, but nobody seems to remember that. It’s pretty frustrating for him as rider and for me as a mom.
(The distinct sound of fist on flesh continues coming out of the boy’s study room. Occasionally someone is thrown into the wall. Probably just some of that frustration coming through.)
Do you really think they are studying?
Betty: No, but they’re having a good time.