The Director: Danny Harf Pro Spotlight

Danny Harf | Photo: Jason Lee

Danny Harf loves wakeboarding videos. Not the three-minute-or-less, one-rider-goes-for-a-single-session Web videos, necessarily. No, Harf loves the kind of feature-length passion projects that have all but disappeared from wakeboarding these days — the Hit It!_s, _Sprays and MayDays that originally inspired him to go ride. So it wasn't a huge surprise when Harf and longtime wake producer Sean Kilgus unveiled the trailer for just such a film at TransWorld WAKEBOARDING's 2009 Wake Awards. The footage from that first trailer for Defy, including Harf's soaring wrapped nose grab backside 900 in stunning high definition and super slow motion, told us two things: First, Harf would use Defy as a platform to push not only his own riding but wakeboarding as a whole in new and inventive directions. Second, Harf and Kilgus planned to make people excited about wakeboarding videos again. Almost two years later, both expectations have proven true. Harf organized a handful of projects, from a seemingly endless line of double-ups to sprawling kicker-to-pool setups, that allowed him and his teammates from Monster, Ronix, Fox and Nautique to redefine what we think is possible on a wakeboard. All the while, Kilgus faithfully chronicled their endeavors, training as many as six cameras on progression in the making. With Defy just months from release, we talked to Harf about his hopes for the movie, where his riding is headed and why making videos is his favorite part about riding for a living. Words: Luke Woodling Photos: Jason Lee

Where did the concept for Defy come from?

Sean Kilgus and I decided to make a movie that centers on me and some of the guys I ride with. We wanted to come up with some unique ideas and hit on all the different aspects of wakeboarding. Nothing in the movie is standard wakeboarding behind the boat — everything is unique in some fashion. In each section, we’re going to bring different guys together and focus on the stuff that group of guys excels at. We want to push wakeboarding and show people how cool the sport is.

Has the movie gone according to the original script, or has it evolved as you went along?

When we first started talking about the movie, there were two things that instantly came to mind that I wanted to do. Some of it was stuff I’d dreamed up or imagined and some of it was stuff I’d already talked about with some of the other riders. Some of it evolved as we started shooting. Our original idea has definitely morphed into something bigger and, I think, better.

What do you hope to accomplish with Defy?

Ultimately, I just want to make a rad movie that gets everyone excited to go wakeboarding and push their own riding. Hopefully, it inspires everyone to go out and learn a new trick.

Has your name ever been so attached to a project before? After all, we've been referring to it as Danny Harf's Defy all along.

Definitely not. I’ve never had my name attached to a wakeboard film before, although I’ve done a lot of them. Sean’s also made a bunch of movies too, but we’ve never taken on anything like this. It’s definitely a huge project for me, and it’s what I enjoy most about being a pro rider — going out and filming and doing something cool and new. I just really enjoy making movies, and I think it helps grow the sport too.

Anticipation is high for the movie. Does that add pressure to go out and blow minds?

That’s really the goal of the movie: to go out and land big, heavy wakeboard tricks — really big and really unique. We let people know about the project so long ago that there’s been a lot of anticipation. We’re definitely working hard to make a movie that lives up to expectations.

What's it like working with Kilgus versus other guys you've worked with in the past?

I think Sean’s one of the most passionate people about wakeboarding in general and he’s one of the most committed. He’s one of the only guys who is still making movies in this sport. Sean’s definitely a hard worker, and he puts everything into his movies.

What's been your favorite part about filming Defy?

Really getting to focus on filming. I didn’t do many contests this year, so I really got to focus on creativity and progressing my riding. Filming videos has always been what I enjoy most about being a pro wakeboarder, so this has been perfect for me, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

What is it about videos that you like so much?

I think it’s the ability to push yourself and try new tricks and just be creative. I like being competitive and riding in contests too, but I really like the relaxed atmosphere of filming. You can push yourself and fall and it’s not the end of the world. When you’re filming, you’re not just trying to stick the trick — you’re trying to do it perfectly and make it look the best you can.

Does having the camera on you motivate you?

It depends on the camera. When we have a big shoot set up and they’re shooting film and we’re flying helicopters, you definitely want to be on your game. There are definitely times when there’s more pressure.

Danny Harf | Photo: Joey Meddock

Do you think we'll see a Move of the Year come out of Defy?

There are a lot of heavy tricks going down in the movie, so I definitely think there will be a lot of entries from Defy. I can't promise that one's going to win, but from what I've seen go down, yeah, we're going to have a lot of solid entries from a lot of different aspects of the sport.

Do you think videos are the best way to push wakeboarding?

I think it's important to have both contests and videos. When I was a kid growing up wakeboarding, what got me most inspired was watching videos. Watching Hit It! and Spray and MayDay and all those movies are what inspired me to become a pro wakeboarder. I think videos showcase wakeboarding to the world and get people inspired to ride, so that's why I like doing this. Unfortunately, there haven't been too many wakeboarding videos out in the past year or so, so hopefully this will remind people how cool these videos are and we can keep doing them.

Your riding has led the way in a lot of different aspects over the years, especially with double-ups. Where do you want to take your riding next?

I think the double-up is such a huge catalyst for progression in wakeboarding. You get that extra time in the air, and it’s one of the coolest aspects of wakeboarding because you have to really read the double-up and be able to adjust. I like that it’s a little different every time. In my own riding, I’ve been focusing on a lot of different double flips and really dialing in some big spins. I’m trying to figure out how to do some double-corked maneuvers where it’s almost like a corked double flip. I’m just really trying to keep pushing the sport. I think that as much as we’ve been pushing the spin side of things, the double flip and the double cork kind of maneuvers are what’s coming next. I really just want to keep trying to do stuff that’s new and exciting.

How about the 12? Have you landed it a second time, and is that a direction you're interested in going again?

I’ve been trying some 12s recently. I made the one 12 that was documented, and I’d like to make another one, so that’s definitely something I’ve been trying as well as some other big spins. But I’m really always more focused on doing stuff that I’ve never done before. I’m definitely still trying 12s, and I want to try to get a really big clean 12 for the movie, but I’ve been focusing a lot more on double flips where you can grab the whole rotation.

Where do you get inspiration for stuff like that?

I think the way snowboarders are hucking right now is definitely inspiration for wakeboarders because they have so much time in the air and so much freedom to go everywhere they want to go. I definitely watch a lot of snowboard videos for inspiration. I watch a lot surfing too. I get inspiration from a lot of different sports. Wakeboarding is its own thing though, so you can get inspiration from other places, but it’s a totally different ballgame when you’re getting towed behind the boat.

Within wakeboarding, which riders inspire you?

There are a bunch of guys. All the young kids coming up are riding insane. Guys like Harley Clifford, Steel Lafferty, Bob Soven, Adam Errington and all of these guys coming up are definitely pushing the envelope and doing stuff I never thought was possible. It’s inspiring to see the next generation really going full-bore. Then there are guys like Erik Ruck, who has been coming out and filming with me. Parks Bonifay and all these guys are still doing stuff that is totally unique, and that’s really inspiring to see as well. Ben Greenwood is another guy I look to. He can make wakeboarding look legit, and everything he does is focused on the style factor. Dean Smith has definitely been inspiring me lately.

On the flip side of that, do you see a lot of guys looking to your for inspiration?

Yeah, I think so. A lot of stuff I’ve done over the years, people have either done similar tricks or taken that and added even more to it. So yeah, I definitely think I’ve been able to influence some of the other pros.

How about while filming Defy? Did those guys look to you for motivation?

I’m basically saying, “Hey guys, come make a movie with me where we’re going to be pushing the envelope.” So when we get there, people are definitely looking to me to give the green light. A perfect example is Radar Lake . We got there and everyone was psyched just being there, but then it came time to actually hit what we had built. I went first and guinea-pigged the setup. Once everyone saw that it wasn’t as gnarly as it looked at first, everyone got super-pumped. Then they started doing things I hadn’t done, so I wanted to get back out there and step it up again and we ended up building bigger kickers and getting pretty gnarly by the end of it. I was definitely inspired by those guys, and I think I inspired them too.

Do you think we're going to see anything in Defy that's going to take the sport in a new direction?

I think people have seen some of the stuff we did at Radar with that pool step-up, and I think people are going to see that and get even crazier with different elevated pools. I think people are going to see some of the double flips and other things we’ve been trying and people are going to start trying some things they hadn’t thought of previously.

Where do you see wakeboarding going?

It’s hard to say. It’s been a big year of progression with some of the contest runs that are going down and some of the rails guys are hitting. I think the System 2.0 is really changing the future of the sport. In Defy, I think we’re going to be just scratching the surface of the direction the sport is heading, but that’s kind of what we want to do with wakeboarding. Hit all of the different aspects of wakeboarding and do some unique stuff that gets people’s wheels turning and keeps the sport progressing.

What are your post-Defy plans?

I’m probably just going to keep filming and get back on the Pro Tour next year and do more contests again. We’ve also had some talks about doing a Ronix team movie. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m definitely going to continue to push my own riding and push the sport as much as I can.

What do you want to do when you're done riding?

No matter what, I think I’ll always be involved in wakeboarding somehow, especially with Ronix. I would always like to work with Ronix and be a part of the brand. I definitely love wakeboarding, so I don’t ever think I’ll disappear from the sport all together.

Danny Harf | Photo: Jason Lee

The Storyboard

A behind-the-scenes look at Defy with producer Sean Kilgus.

Ronix at Radar

The goal was to take Parks Bonifay, Chad Sharpe, Adam Errington, Erik Ruck and Dean Smith to the friendly confines of Radar Lake in Washington and push their limits. It took a while for the guys to feel out the setup, which was a kicker to step-up pool to C-rail, but by the third night all the guys were booting huge and landing crazy tricks. Some of the moves were travelling 70- and 80-foot distances. It was one of the most creative and progressive things I’ve ever seen filming wakeboarding.

Monster Energy Rail

Rather than constantly trying technically harder tricks, it's more Danny Harf's style to invent new things or take things that have already been done further. That's what happened with the Monster Energy Rail. Danny and Kevin Henshaw took Henshaw's C-rail concept from Out of the Pond a few steps further. It proved to be one of the most difficult rail stunts I've ever seen, but experimenting with new stuff is what brings out the best in the sport.

Monster Energy Australia Trip

This was your classic team trip. Danny, Henshaw, Shawn Watson, Shane Bonifay and Daniel Watkins travelled around the coast of Australia. At some point, we just threw out the script and started adapting to the surroundings. The boys were doing everything from jibbing ledges and bonking sailboats to whipping into barrels and booting out huge flips.

Fox Double-ups

With Danny, Parks, Adam, Rusty Malinoski, Jimmy LaRiche, Bob Soven and Shaun Murray, the Fox team has some of the world’s best double-up riders. The entire team just attacked double-ups for almost a week, trying to push their riding as far as they could go. You’re going to see some heavy, heavy stuff.