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the Shaun Murray profile

April 2, 2000
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Under the kaleidoscopic cover of a central Florida twilight, after an afternoon of vintage highlights, Shaun Murray finally began to act his age. Murray, team Hyperlite’s 20-year-old sensation, had just produced one of the more energetic performances of his extraordinary 15-month professional career in capturing the 1996 Sea-Doo World Wakeboard Expression Session Championships all the while wearing a silver-lame leisure suit with encased road flares as “rockets.” Raley, tantrum, indy tantrum off the double-up, scarecrow, tantrum-to-fakie, bel air, whirly bird, FS Raley, eggroll (air scarecrow), tweety-bird (air whirlybird) and double-up oriental. He hadn’t even finished his run before the crowd was on its feet and the announcer was proclaiming him the winner.
Once on the dock, the flares extinguished and the crowd of autograph seekers dissipating, Shaun trudged up the hill. “I’m really tired,” he said. “I kind of feel old.” Then he flashed that toothy grin – the most cherubic smile in all of wakeboarding – and left me to wonder about the relative degrees of seriousness and sarcasm contained in that statement. For as he puts the finishing touches on a rookie career that will land him in the top 10 riders of all time on the first try, the self-proclaimed “tired” guy strips off his lame suit and rushes to find someone in tour ops who will let him and Parks Bonifay go for one last set. Act his age indeed.

Things you may, or may not, know about
Shaun Murray:
* He rebuilt, from ground up, a disaster of a VW in two
years. His only regret – he didn’t think of sliding it first.
* He is an Eagle Scout.
* He was elected homecoming king in his senior
year in high school.
* He sang with the school’s a cappela choir and
men’s quartet for three years.
* His first appearance on the pro tour came in
1993 when he barefooted behind a Sea-Doo in
front of the crowd as an exhibition.
The thing about Shaun Murray is that he’s like a kid in a candy store. You know, the one who’s been hanging around for hours sampling the goods unapproved and is in the midst of a sugar high when his parents catch him. Well, that’s Shaun Murray all the time. Rarely is the kid ever down. In fact, it was one of the traits that first attracted Guy Filip, marketing director and scout for Hyperlite, to him. Shaun was one rider among many that Filip would land the spring of 1995, just another wisp of potential in Hyperlite’s grass-roots program. The thing about recruiting is that even at the moment you do sign someone, you seldom appreciate how important it might be, how much it might mean down the road.
Nearly two years later, we all know. It has led to turning a frail recruit into a top-five candidate and a world champ prospect. To the rebirth of a program. To the elevation of a top-notch career and to the sweetest, most improbable story of this wakeboarding season.
And it has happened virtually overnight. WBM first saw Shaun at the 1995 Wakeboard Open. He took second there and went on to place fifth at the Portland pro tour stop and second at Nationals. He placed in the top five in the only three wakeboarding events he had competed in. Not a bad start. Then in 1996 his career took off. Six firsts, one second, two thirds, two fourths, five fifths and only one eighth. As far as we know, Shaun never placed worse than 10th place in any tournament he’s ever competed in. The only one with a similar (not necessarily better) record is Parks Bonifay, but, well … that’s because he’s one of Shaun’s best friends.
A rare few riders have about them this indefinable magic. It doesn’t mean they will win the world title (some do, some don’t) or become pro stars (ditto), only that they will make memories and sometimes create victories from dust. Scott Byerly was such a player in 1994. So were Mike Weddington in 1995 and Darin Shapiro in, well, the early ’90s. Murray has that magic. At 5’6″, 137 pounds, he is neither a powerhouse nor a stylemaster. His gifts are subtle: litheness, quick wit, the capability to launch effortlessly off any size wake and the incessant charm to create fun in a competition for money and fame.
All of this adoration, all of this esteem, all this success leaves Murray uncharacteristically flat-footed. “I’m just pretty much going full speed – every event, every pass, every photo shoot, every trip. There isn’t any time to think about it.”
While that may be true (Shaun hasn’t spent more than 10 days at home this entire year), it’s hard to believe. When pressed further (“Come on – the autographs, the videos, the worldwide trips. It has to have affected you,” I say), Murray says, “It’s mostly been weird. Basically, I’m just the kid across the street. I look at it this way. I went wakeboarding with Tony Hawk the other day in San Diego. He was just the coolest guy. No head trips, nothing – and if anyone should have one it should be Tony. But you begin to realize that he’s just another guy and that’s all I can hope to be.”

Just another guy who…
* Dresses up in costumes for
tournaments (Superman,
Welcome Back, Kotter,
Rocket Man).
* Knocked out his front tooth
on a quest to become the
next Wayne Gretsky.
* Used to be a big collector of
“Iggys.”
* Has been arrested (accused
falsely of stealing a paddle
boat).
* Thinks watching Billy Madison and eating
Peanut Butter Cap’N Crunch qualifies as
dinner and a movie.

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They would laugh at all this in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, where Shaun Belmont Murray grew up – the second of Roma and Lloyd Murray’s three sons. They would laugh because for so many years Shaun was just a scrawny tagalong, the kid who wouldn’t eat – whose famous dinner time quote to his Italian grandmother was, “But Nonnie – I ate yesterday!” The kid who physically stopped growing for a whole year and was taken to a specialist who said not to worry, that he would be 5’10” (just 4 inches off, Doc). These days eating is not a problem Shaun has to worry about, and his height (or lack thereof) works to his advantage.
Growing up in Lake St. Louis forged in all the Murray boys an independence that grew into athletic competitiveness. Chris and Shaun were (and are) constantly at each other’s throats, and when Paul came along it just made things worse. Yet Shaun possessed something extra. Not just the nimble gymnast’s body that would make him such an adept rider, but also a passion for playing. Playing being the operative word.
With Shaun it’s always about having fun. Whether it’s watching Billy Madison for the millionth time, (ask him, he can quote the whole movie) screwing around on the trampoline or at a photo shoot, Shaun makes the best of it. That’s where the idea for riding with costumes came from.
“Expression Session is supposed to be something different. It’s supposed to be a chance for us to ride like we do in practice, except for scores, but everyone was getting all bent out of shape. So I tried to be different – add some fun back into it. At the Nationals (’95) I took my mom’s apron and make it into a cape and rode like that. Thomas (Horrell) wore a shower cap during his run too. Neither of us won, but hey! It was a good time. For the Worlds last year, I actually had time to think about it. I used to watch all these Welcome Back, Kotter reruns, and so that’s where that idea came from. Big afro. Leisure suit. Glasses. It was probably the most fun I had at a contest.”
These days the only costume Shaun’s wearing is that of a jet-lagged wakeboarder and snowboarder. Last I heard he was flying to Australia to do some wakeboarding, taking a snowboarding break in Tahoe with his family and then off to the winter boat shows. But while you can’t actually tie Shaun down long enough to d

o an interview, or write out bills, or solicit sponsors, you can get a sense of how and why he rides by watching him perform. Amid the smooth airs, huge tantrums and any number of air tricks he’s patented (bel air, eggroll, tweety-bird), he laughs. He waves. He does stupid tricks like fashion airs and butt slides, not for points but for fun. Someday he may grow weary of these gigs for real. For now, however, making trans-Atlantic trips and signing autographs is still a novelty for the kid across the street. supposed to be something different. It’s supposed to be a chance for us to ride like we do in practice, except for scores, but everyone was getting all bent out of shape. So I tried to be different – add some fun back into it. At the Nationals (’95) I took my mom’s apron and make it into a cape and rode like that. Thomas (Horrell) wore a shower cap during his run too. Neither of us won, but hey! It was a good time. For the Worlds last year, I actually had time to think about it. I used to watch all these Welcome Back, Kotter reruns, and so that’s where that idea came from. Big afro. Leisure suit. Glasses. It was probably the most fun I had at a contest.”
These days the only costume Shaun’s wearing is that of a jet-lagged wakeboarder and snowboarder. Last I heard he was flying to Australia to do some wakeboarding, taking a snowboarding break in Tahoe with his family and then off to the winter boat shows. But while you can’t actually tie Shaun down long enough to do an interview, or write out bills, or solicit sponsors, you can get a sense of how and why he rides by watching him perform. Amid the smooth airs, huge tantrums and any number of air tricks he’s patented (bel air, eggroll, tweety-bird), he laughs. He waves. He does stupid tricks like fashion airs and butt slides, not for points but for fun. Someday he may grow weary of these gigs for real. For now, however, making trans-Atlantic trips and signing autographs is still a novelty for the kid across the street.

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