Words Justine Griffin Photo **Spencer Smith
Rusty Malinoski rode through the toughest semifinals heat of his professional career and a separated rib to win his second straight Air Nautique Wake Games title. Now, he’ll attempt to hold off one of the most talented packs of riders ever in the race for the 2009 King of Wake crown. We talked to Malinoski about how he overcame his Wake Games adversity and how he plans to stay on top.
In the semifinals, you had Harley Clifford and Phillip Soven in your heat. Was that one of the toughest draws you’ve ever faced? That was 100 percent the hardest semi-final heat I’ve ever had to go through to the get to the finals. Once the results came out, I was kind of relieved. It could have easily been one or both of those guys in the finals. I felt more pressure going into the semifinals than in the finals, definitely.
Walk us through the finals and your finals run. There are so many good riders out there every year, and this year is no different. It was a standard five-round final, and everyone in the finals had the potential to win. Being last off of the dock, I had the advantage of seeing everyone’s run. After pretty much everyone else fell, I knew I just had to stand up and land a good double up to be okay. That’s what I did and it all worked out.
It was an all-Fox Pro Men’s podium with you, Jimmy LaRiche, and Adam Errington. What was it like to have those guys up there with you? What do you expect from Jimmy and Adam on tour this season? It felt awesome. It was great to see Jimmy up on the podium for his first pro event. Adam is always one of the guys you expect to see in the finals, too. They both rode well. It was just a good feeling to have us all up there. I imagine Phillip is going to be pretty fired up for the next event, and I’m sure it’s going to be a tough, long year. There’s a bunch of really good riders out there, and I’m sure this isn’t going to be the only semifinal round that will be that hard.
Do you enjoy the Wake Games’ team format? What was your strategy in picking your team? Who came up biggest for you? The team aspect was really cool. I really enjoyed it. I was able to get second pick and had always had a good chance to pick up some of the best riders. It all really worked out. The whole event and team was awesome all week. I think we had about seven or eight riders on the podium from the team. Everyone did a great job.
It seems like there are more legitimate contenders than ever before. Is this the toughest competition you’ve ever faced on tour? I don’t know. With Jimmy, JD, Adam, Harley and Rathy all ready to throw down, it’s getting harder for sure.
There are also more members of the 1080 club than ever before on Tour. Is this the year that move goes down in competition? I’d say it’s this tour for sure. Someone has to do it this year. Personally, I’d love to do it for sure, but Rathy has a pretty good chance too. A number of guys could do it this year.
How’s the rib? How did you hurt it and how much did it bother you throughout Wake Games? I’m not sure how it happened, but it really started hurting in the semifinals. I just remember something feeling really weird. By the time I got to the second pass in the finals, I was riding with the most pain I think I’ve ever had to deal with on a wakeboard. I just remember digging real deep and having to hold my breath and flex my stomach. I especially remember hoping I could make it to that double up. I had a separated rib, and I’m taking some time off now, but I’m definitely still hurting.
So what are you doing next? We’re in California now for a Hyperlite video shoot. We’re here all week, and then I’ll have a couple of weeks off before the Masters. I’ll be ready. I hope to stay on track, stay in the mix and be on the podium every weekend for sure. I feel confident in my riding and if I do what I’ve been doing at home, training and stuff, I’ll be fine. I really look forward to a great year. I’ve had the perfect start so far.