the Greg Nelson experience

"Where are we going?"
"Show N' Tail!" Greg Nelson belts out as the rest of the crew flails out the window serenading groups of young girls with "Show us your ...." Well, you can fill in the blank.
What happens next is, well, easier described then explained. Nelly's manning the wheel; Bisch, Scotty Roberts, Weddington and the Mikker - apparently certain they're safe in Greg's hands - continue their revelry in the back. He races insanely through a series of changing lights, gunning full-bore through four-lane, two-way downtown Panama City Beach Spring Break traffic, barely glancing at this mirrors. (Please understand that this is a 30-foot deluxe Cruise America Chevy Flyer trailing a 22-foot Tigi.)
There is plenty of cross traffic, yet no one inside the RV says a word until we hammer past the desired location and Nelly pulls a U-ey from the far right-hand lane to the far left-hand lane and gets stuck. He's driven for a total of three minutes on this whole 5-day adventure, yet he's managed to stop traffic for miles in both directions and get us in the worst predicament of the trip. Nelly throws the vehicle in park, gets out of the captain's chair and grins.
"I'm done. Scotty, you're up." Interesting way to begin, but it seems fitting, at least for this place - Panama City Beach. Yeah, Spring Break. I figure, what better way to get to know someone than amid 10,000 other lewd, lascivious, drunk men trying to meet girls. So, I follow along politely as Nelly and the boys slam their beverages and load up the RV for an after-hours jaunt to the Show N' Tail lounge.
By the time we all filter into the place (after a brief Hail Mary and power shot of tequila ... you know, for courage), Nelly and company are standing by the stage. Huddling with the guys is a lovely young woman in a get-up that resembles a few strands of twine wrapped around flesh-colored core.
Nelly motions me over. We choose a small cocktail table stage-side and order two waters. Hey! It is 4 a.m. and this is official business.
"What's up?" he says, and the first thing you notice about Greg Nelson is that unlike most of the top riders, he clears 6 feet. He's dressed for the sun and the sand - white and blue SMP shirt, cord shorts, Pure Juice sandals, stubble, bed head - a little out of place among this rowdy group of Wrangler-wearing, alligator boot-stomping men, but not overtly conspicuous either. The second thing you discern is that you are instantly at ease. Nelson is low-key, free of attitude (really) and positive. Talk to folks who know him and they will say he reminds them of someone - somebody they went to school with, a friend, their brother. Sounds like a nice enough guy, right?
What I know of Greg consists of two years of telephone conversations and gossip, and let's just say that that wasn't an accurate depiction of the guy. In fact, I'll be honest. I thought Greg Nelson was a cocky, self-absorbed, anti-establishment punk. But, in the summer of 1996, when Nelson traded in his O'Brien even-up for a start-up longshot project called DoubleUP, people started to rethink the guy. That and the fact that after being on the circuit for the past six years, he's as popular as ever. So, that's how I got here, into this warehouse of choreographed sleaze. A little baffled about where to begin, but since we're looking intently at naked girls, I figure we could start with his recent break-up.
"So, you're a free man. How's it feel?"
"Pretty good." He grins mischievously. "Really good actually. I didn't realize how much I missed out on."
"It couldn't have been all that bad. You were hooked for three years."
"Nah. Having girlfriend is OK," he shrugs. "But this is rad. I'm ready to just have fun for a while, you know? What about you?"
"Me, what?"
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No."
"Reeeaaaaalllllyyyyyyyyyy ....." Nelly leans in.
I lean closer. "Yeah, really. Why? You have someone in mind?" I like where this is going.
Of course at that moment, the lights dim, music pumps up, and the announcer introduces yet another in a string a jack-booted babes. Nelly sits up in his chair, eyes glued to the stage. Obviously the naked chick wrapping herself around the pole like red stripe on a candy cane is more interesting than anything yours truly could currently offer. Oh well. I decide to continue this "interview" later.

The next day, battling a hangover that feels like e bola looks, we tackle the local Subway for a sandwich cure. Turkey and cheese with all the fixings for me and a ham and cheese with lettuce and mayonnaise for Nelly. Lots of mayo. Obviously, this guy's not a health nut. Anyhow, during the walk I have some more time to mull over what I know of Greg Nelson.
At 23 years old, he had, by all accounts, a happy childhood growing up in Seattle, Washington. Didn't get into too much trouble, or at least didn't get caught. His parents are still together and he is the oldest of two children. He graduated with a bachelor's in geography at the University of Washington in 1995. He was also a Sigma Chi man, although he asked me not to write that, joining the likes of Tom Selleck and Brad Pitt. Seems appropriate since, like those two icons, his presence in the marketplace seems infinitely large. If he wanted to, Nelson could sail the seas of stardom forever. He could crank out occasional starring roles in FLF features for the next 10 years and folks would still be lining up in autograph lines, clamoring for more. In an industry where stars come and go, it's really a unique trait and it's partly due to the fact that Nelson just rides for Nelson. He rides for his own wakeboard company, DoubleUP, as well as O'Neill, SMP, Pure Juice, Arnette, Correct Craft and Across, but when he's on the water, none of that is on his mind. It's not about a paycheck, or a win, or a ranking. It's about him, and that pattern has transitioned into his career choices. He's ranged from a cocky, self-invested, Seattle-style proponent to a self-assured, multidimensional rider/businessman in the six years he's been riding. He's only occasionally ventured into conventional rider wisdom - competing by choice rather than any perceived need - and he's never seemed to play by anyone's rules. Now he doesn't have to: With the inception of DoubleUP, he's really his own boss.
"That's got to be a great feeling, not having to answer to anyone?"
"Yeah, in a way, but it's really not all that true. Everyone that works for DoubleUP is a team and I wouldn't do anything that would suck for them or my other sponsors. In fact, I probably think a lot more about what I do and how it might look than I ever did before. DoubleUP's forced me to deal with shit I never thought I would. For lack of a better word, I find myself being more politically correct." He pauses. For a brief moment he looks amazingly similar to Jim Carey's pre-puke face in Dumb and Dumber. It could be the mayo.
"Ugh. Scratch that. It's more like, I can see more of what goes on on both sides. I don't necessarily like it, but I'm so stoked on what I'm doing - on riding, on our product, on our company - that it's worth it."
Whew. With my own stomach churning, the thought of dodging chunks wasn't appealing.
"Still, it's got to be hard competing against guys like Hyperlite and O'Brien, the ones that have super-deep pockets. How are you making it work?"
"I don't look at it like we're competing against those companies. We're totally different. DoubleUP is a rider-owned company. Our only focus is wakeboarding and everyone on our team - from the president to the reps - rides. That's so rad. We're also small, and that's a good thing. Most of our decisions get made on the boat, not in the office. It's really what every company should be, so the people and shops that we're selling to recognize and respect that."
Realizing that he's sounding a little corporate-y, Nelly

goes on to say, "No matter what, I'm still a just a rider. That's what I'm in it for. I hate being in the office, or at least feeling like I need to be in the office. I'm so stoked to be in Florida now, training."
"That's got to suck, being in a Tahoe deep-freeze when you want to be out riding. Have you ever thought of moving to Florida?"
"Oh yeah. Artie and I are looking into some property out here. But I still love the West Coast. I always will. Ideally, I'll have a place in Florida to train whenever I want and one in Tahoe 'cause I love to snowboard; it makes me appreciate wakeboarding more."
At this point a board-sports documentary on MTV Sports starts and the conversation falls off. Drawn to the TV with the thumping in our heads starting to ease, we kind of just sit there and watch some of the best riding footage - albeit snowboarding and skateboarding - we've ever seen.
Speaking of riding, if you really want to get an idea of what Nelson is all about, make sure you watch him ride. In person. He doesn't have that choppy, freestyle-pass, all-about-how-many-points-this-trick-is style. He's smooth (like that's never been said before) He's floaty (ditto.) He's ..... fluid. His bag of tricks, from big airs, to stylie grabs, to high-scoring inverts, seems to just flow together in one smooth motion. It's really rather impressive. In fact, I have to admit, everything about this guy is impressive. His demeanor. His attitude. His skills. His desire. His drive. I'm almost disappointed. I had conditioned myself not to like Greg Nelson and it almost pisses me off, but how can you not like a guy who thanks his parents every chance he gets? ("Without them, none of this would be possible.") And how can you not like a guy who's got his head hanging out a motorhome going 65 mph screaming "Spring Break '97!!!!!" as we head down the interstate?o be hard competing against guys like Hyperlite and O'Brien, the ones that have super-deep pockets. How are you making it work?"
"I don't look at it like we're competing against those companies. We're totally different. DoubleUP is a rider-owned company. Our only focus is wakeboarding and everyone on our team - from the president to the reps - rides. That's so rad. We're also small, and that's a good thing. Most of our decisions get made on the boat, not in the office. It's really what every company should be, so the people and shops that we're selling to recognize and respect that."
Realizing that he's sounding a little corporate-y, Nelly goes on to say, "No matter what, I'm still a just a rider. That's what I'm in it for. I hate being in the office, or at least feeling like I need to be in the office. I'm so stoked to be in Florida now, training."
"That's got to suck, being in a Tahoe deep-freeze when you want to be out riding. Have you ever thought of moving to Florida?"
"Oh yeah. Artie and I are looking into some property out here. But I still love the West Coast. I always will. Ideally, I'll have a place in Florida to train whenever I want and one in Tahoe 'cause I love to snowboard; it makes me appreciate wakeboarding more."
At this point a board-sports documentary on MTV Sports starts and the conversation falls off. Drawn to the TV with the thumping in our heads starting to ease, we kind of just sit there and watch some of the best riding footage - albeit snowboarding and skateboarding - we've ever seen.
Speaking of riding, if you really want to get an idea of what Nelson is all about, make sure you watch him ride. In person. He doesn't have that choppy, freestyle-pass, all-about-how-many-points-this-trick-is style. He's smooth (like that's never been said before) He's floaty (ditto.) He's ..... fluid. His bag of tricks, from big airs, to stylie grabs, to high-scoring inverts, seems to just flow together in one smooth motion. It's really rather impressive. In fact, I have to admit, everything about this guy is impressive. His demeanor. His attitude. His skills. His desire. His drive. I'm almost disappointed. I had conditioned myself not to like Greg Nelson and it almost pisses me off, but how can you not like a guy who thanks his parents every chance he gets? ("Without them, none of this would be possible.") And how can you not like a guy who's got his head hanging out a motorhome going 65 mph screaming "Spring Break '97!!!!!" as we head down the interstate?