Introducing the 1997 Readers’ Poll Top 10. Compiled from over 1,000 reader lists we have come up with your favorite 10 riders. None of them really needs an introduction; we all know them. Representing a wide variety of styles, ages, images and years in the sport, the 1997 top 10 are a diverse bunch. So diverse that this is possibly the only time you will find all these riders lumped together. Despite their differences, the one consistent element is the level of skill each of these riders possesses.
That said, let’s introduce the unconditional winner and most popular rider in the world – Scott Byerly.
Scott Byerly is hands down the most influential and respected wakeboarder of the past three years. People claim that they have come up with new tricks or ride with a new style, but looking back at old footage, Scott did most of those in 1995. There are some who have followed Scott and can do many of his
signature moves, but no one with his touch. When he stomps a trick, the lake and boat are silent for a moment while the rest of the world tries to catch up.
Shaun Murray is stoked about how his life has accelerated in the past two years – from being a wakeboard enthusiast to one of the most consistent competitors and progressive free-riders to date. Shaun is two-time tour expression session champ and 1996 world expression session champ. But with all this recognition, exposure and travel, Shaun Murray is still just the kid from across the street. You are just as likely to see him messing around riding a cushion as you are to see him wakeboarding.
This year Parks Bonifay claimed the last thing that the rest of the professional wakeboarders could hold over his head – a driver’s license. At age sixteen, Parks Bonifay has matured in all ways as a rider. Pushed by Darin’s double front, Parks busted out with a double tantrum. He ended up solidly in third overall and was the WWA national expression session champ. Still young enough to know how to have fun wherever he is, Parks is entertaining on or off the water.
When he missed last season due to injury, Darin Shapiro knew that he
needed to come back in 1997 and make a huge impression. He did. The speedball grabbed people’s attention at the first event of the year, and Darin’s aggression and air retained it. That pure power and talent made him the highest money earner of the season. He’s been seen doing a bunch of new moves including a switch 720, and you can bet he’ll be gunning for the world title.
1997 was the season of cross-training for Mike Weddington. Motocross and surfing have taken up any time not spent behind the boat and have helped him appreciate and enjoy wakeboarding more than ever. It shows in his riding – he is bigger, better and smoother then ever before. With new moves like a method crow mobe and the fruit loop, Mike’s ability and reputation are established enough that he can compete when and where he chooses.
The 1996 world champ loves the opportunity to promote the sport (he is one of the few riders actively involved in the WWA and the PWA) and ride for a big crowd. In fact, Dean Lavelle loves to ride so much that you have to tell him when his turn is up, or no one else will get a chance! Dean reached another even greater milestone in his life this year with the announcement of his engagement to fellow rider Sonja Scheffler.
Only slightly opinionated and controversial at times, Thomas Horrell always makes a statement whether it’s with his hair, his mouth or his riding. Thomas supports the core of the sport, those who ride and understand what it’s all about. He has a fiery resentment for the selling of his sport to outsiders who just want to cash in on the flavor-of-the-month boardsport. Fortunately, Thomas has the skill to back up these opinions.
Sitting out for a season with a knee injury could easily end a rider’s career. Last year many doubted how well Gator was rehabbing his ACL and if he would be able to ride at the same level again. Well, Gator silenced all of those doubts. He’s riding as well as anyone on the planet and doing tricks bigger off an ordinary wake than most people do off the double-up. Welcome to the next level.
The only true West Coast rider in the Top 10, Cobe Mikacich has paid his dues. Cobe has been around long enough to be jaded about the sport and its younger participants, but he isn’t. He still loves to ride every day and manages to learn tricks as if he’s just started. In the field and on the phone, Cobe is a true ambassador for the sport of wakeboarding. Call him on the Pit Line.
Jeremy Kovak is an Athlete, with a capital A. He’s also a smart competitor. With a background in distance jumping and slalom skiing, Jeremy knows how to win. He also knows how to ride – well. Smooth, calm and consistent, Jeremy is always a podium contender and a crowd favorite.