Collin Harrington: Mr. Everything
To say that Collin Harrington is a well-rounded guy would be an understatement. If you asked anyone who knew Collin “Who would you want to be with if you were trapped in a jungle?” his name would pop up in almost every answer. You would no doubt be five times more likely to survive, with his uncanny ability to do everything. Add the fact that he would not talk your ear off, but on choosing to speak, he’d most likely say something important. Collin doesn’t waste his time telling stories that are trivial or uninteresting. Name a random place on Earth and Collin most likely has been there or has a cool story about it, but he won’t express that in a condescending or cocky way. Quiet confidence, on the other hand, is not something Collin lacks. It would ooze out of you if you had done half the things he has done. He has many contradicting qualities, but that just adds to his mystique. He is a techy videographer geek, yet a guitar-jamming hippie. He is a multisport jock, yet he fully embraces the free-ride attitude. Catch Collin on any day of the year and you know exactly what you are going to get. He’s a jack-of-all trades, master-of-most who, if you ask him, is “just trying to pay the bills.” Having known Collin for more than 10 years, I find his way of paying the bills among the most enviable.
Ben Greenwood: I think everyone is confused about where you’re from.
Collin: Well, we’ll go way back. I was born in Lewes, Delaware, which is the first town in the first state in America. I just learned that this year.
Do you have a sense of patriotism from that?
Collin: I do. I’m kind of proud now. You know, first of the first.
So where do the Keys come into play, and then all the boating stuff?
Collin: My dad lived and worked on fishing boats since he was 14 years old and ended up becoming a commercial fisherman, catching swordfish, tuna and whatever else you can think of. Basically, he didn’t like the cold weather. When I was 5 months old we moved to Maryland and spent summertime in Ocean City, Maryland, and wintertime in the Florida Keys. Basically my dad just chased the fish back and forth with the weather and that was that.
When did you end up in Orlando?
Collin: I moved to Orlando in 2000. In Maryland I’d surf and inline skate all summer, and I wanted to pursue either of those as a career. Then I’d go to the Keys and there are no waves so I would just wakeboard all summer. I graduated from high school in the Keys, so I was like, all right, I’m pumped on wakeboarding at the moment, so I think I’ll go to Orlando and go to college there and then try to do the Pro Tour. So I graduated high school in 2000 and instead I actually moved to New with a buddy that I wakeboarded with in the Keys. He had a one-bedroom apartment and I slept on the couch for like three or four months and would surf every day and then drive to OWC pretty much every other day from New Smyrna, which is about an hour and 20 minutes.
Right, I remember your being pretty heavily into OWC when I first started coming around.
Collin: Yeah, I was an absolute cable rat when I was younger. I didn’t know anybody here, so I would just go to the cable. I’d do work and teach random lessons for Mike Ferraro and he would pull me for a free set here and there instead of paying me. That’s when I first met Brian Grubb. He was a cable rat and we used to ride together. Brandon Thomas was there too. He was a little younger and we would just do laps all day.
So your rise to success in wakeboarding was not the typical path, agreed?
Collin: Yeah, not really. I mean, I didn’t know anything about wakeboarding as a career. I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I’d never even met a pro until I moved to Orlando. So it was like I simply had an idea and just kind of went with it.
So you never actually had a wakeboard boat?
Collin: Hell no! I pretty much learned behind a 10-foot McKee Craft with a 30-horse Johnson on it and that was what we rode, you know? Living in the Keys there was nothing to do but go on the boat all day, and we would just tube and wakeboard and that was that. I remember learning a backside 180 behind a Jet Ski.
Like wake-to-wake behind a Jet Ski?
Collin: Yeah! I was stoked!
Did you do any flips behind those things?
Collin: No. My dad ended up getting a 23-foot inboard. I don’t even know what the hell it was. It was just fully open except for the center console that he rebuilt. We would literally put in two 50-gallon drums filled up with the hose and we would tie a pole 10 feet up in the air with like very springy stretchy rope. You would edge out to one side and just fully lean, and then it would just spring you back into the wake, but it had a better wake than anything else.
And that’s where you learned your first flip?
Collin: Yeah. First flip was a tantrum.
Makes sense considering you have one of the best tantrum-to-blinds of all time. Would you say that you could still school Shane in an inline skating contest?
Collin: Absolutely. Bring it on, Shane!
So how could you have been into such cool stuff as surfing and yet stumbled into wakeboarding, when you were so good at skating as well? Was that like kind of a closet thing?
Collin: Well, my dad grew up surfing and my mom grew up at the beach and she used to surf when she was younger. My dad would go surfing, so when I was about 6 or 7 he taught me how to surf. My brother was already surfing at that point. He’s four years older and I was like, yeah, I want to surf. I was actually always kind of scared of the water, but he would bring me out there and put me on the board with him.
Really? At what age were you scared of the water?
Collin: Dude, I was seriously scared of the water till I was probably 14 or so. Like I would go in, but I was always looking around, just thinking something was there.
And then fast forward to what? Two years ago and you’re hired to film sharks for National Geographic, was it?
Collin: Filming with tiger sharks. It was still nerve-racking, but I was a little more calmed down than I used to be.
Yeah, that’s insane.
Collin: It’s funny, because growing up, when I was like 8 years old, I would go out on a commercial fishing trip with my dad for a week at a time. Like 60 to 80 miles offshore and he’s pulling in 100-pound tunas and swordfish that are like 300 or 400 pounds and occasionally pulling up almost 1,000-pound sharks and stuff. So I don’t know if that had something to do with it. I actually saw what the hell was in the ocean and I grew up riding on saltwater my entire life until I moved to Orlando. It was always in the back of my mind.
Since you and Aaron Rathy were doing it some years back, we haven’t really seen a legit run at a dual wakeboard and wakeskate career, until now with Daniel Grant. So my question is, were you actively trying to master everything, or did it just turn out that way?
Collin: For some reason my whole life I’ve been able to pick things up really quickly and get good at them. I don’t mean that in a cocky way at all. My friends used to give me shit when I was young because we would all try to learn something together and I would pick it up really fast. So I guess I don’t like to suck at things. I’ve never really been focused like, oh, here’s my goal in surfing, here’s my goal in wakeboarding or wakeskating. It was like I just enjoyed doing it and wanted to get better at it and that was it.
Right, so it just happened to turn into a pro career?
Collin: Yeah. I literally moved out and said, “Mom, I’m going to go try to do the Pro Tour,” because I thought that’s how you did it in professional wakeboarding.
Well, you were good enough to hang with some of these guys and make some noise on the Pro Tour.
Collin: I guess it just came to a point where I would watch videos and I could do pretty much everything they’re doing. I kind of realized that maybe I can make a career out of it.
Do you think that helped you or hurt you?
Collin: Like not having a focus?
Collin: I don’t know. I mean, I’m happy with where I am. The first guy I ever met in Orlando was Darin Shapiro, and you know he’s kind of a guru, and I rode with him every day for a couple years when I first moved here. He would go out and train and tell me how to train for contests and I would try to put together a run. Never to this day have I done a full run of what I would want to do in a contest. I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t me.
You’re a pretty opinionated person, I’d say, but you keep to yourself a lot unless you’re asked. So here I am asking, what pisses you off about our sport?
Collin: Politics, I guess. A lot of times things are portrayed as they aren’t and I guess I’m a very realistic kind of person. You know, like people who deserve things should get things.
So even if you feel strongly about something you never say anything about it. Do you do that on purpose? Is that calculated?
Collin: I’m definitely a very opinionated person. At the same time I’m one of the most easygoing people, just down with whatever, whenever. But yeah, around close friends I’ll open up and state opinions and things that I feel strongly about. I’ve just seen it happen that if you open up to the wrong person, it gets into the media somehow, or the wrong person hears something and it can be taken in a really wrong direction and portrayed really badly. Then it comes back on you.
I would say in your case it has more to do with respect. I mean, I’ve never heard a bad word said about you. That’s extremely rare except for someone like Danny Harf — no one can say a bad thing about the dude.
Collin: Love that guy.
Yeah, rightfully so, but with almost every other person there has been some sort of controversy or issue. With you it’s like people are rooting for you. So even with your strong opinions about what is cool on a board and what isn’t, you’ve kept yourself out of the trash-talking scene. Would you say that’s more or less how you approached it?
Collin: Yeah, I never really tried to hide my opinions or anything. I guess it’s just kind of the way I am. I really respect everything that everybody does. Everybody has their own deal going on, and I guess it comes down to respect.
So you’re saying whatever you put out, you will get back.
Collin: Yeah, I don’t realize that I’m doing it, which I guess is a good thing.
That’s probably why it works for you.
Collin: Yeah. Sweet! Keep rooting for me!
Are there times you wish you had gone the surfing route and competed more in surfing and chased that down?
Collin: Yeah, pretty much every knee surgery! I’ve had six.
I would have guessed three.
Collin: I did right knee ACL and meniscus in 2002. Left knee meniscus in 2004 and then redid it after like five months. Did ACL and meniscus again after filming for The Truth on that big rail at Watson’s. And then I did just meniscus in 2008 on my right knee and did just ACL in 2010 on my left knee.
Have you gone to the same doctor for all of those?
Collin: First doctor, I went back home and stayed with my parents. But the rest were with Dr. Randy Schwartzberg here in Orlando.
You think you’ve bought him a new Ferrari?
Collin: I’ve definitely bought him a new car or two. We’ve bonded and it’s not good when your knee doctor knows you. For a little while after each surgery I always go, man, I should have gone surfing! But I love wakeboarding and I love surfing just as much. I’ve grown up doing everything and just love it all. I don’t wish I had done anything different. Sure, it makes me curious sometimes where it would have led if I had gone the surfing route, but either way I’m really happy with all the friends I’ve made and opportunities I’ve had. I’ve gotten to travel the world and I’m not even 30 yet.
I’ve traveled many places with you, been to many contests, seen many things and there are times when you seem bored. Does something have to stand out for you to get really excited, or is that just kind of how you are?
Collin: I guess I’m just quiet and stay to myself. Usually when I’m on the road I’m never bored, nor at home either, because I’m editing every second that I’m home now. I’m always busy.
You seem more focused and driven now than ever. Do you feel that staying at home and editing rather than going downtown and partying is where your head is at?
Collin: Absolutely. You know, I’ll be 30 this summer, and it’s time for our whole generation to start looking at the future. I never really did filming as a backup plan. I just did it because I loved it. It caught my interest and I wanted to get good at it. Now it has turned into a full career. I earn half of my living just from filming.
Is that a tough pill to swallow, or do you look at it like it’s a better investment of your time?
Collin: It’s definitely an absolute investment of my time. At first I wasn’t looking at it like that, but I saw myself making just as much money off filming as I was off wakeboarding, and was like holy cow. Just recently I realized that it’s kind of my future. I do it because I love it and it has turned into a career. So I’m going to continue to go with that path and keep wakeboarding for as long as possible. There are so many times that my break from editing is when I go on a trip. I literally go on a trip and relax and have fun and just film, but as soon as I get home it’s like I edit seven days a week. I can’t tell you the last time I haven’t sat at the computer seven days a week. A lot of times I’m working till 11 or 12 at night. It’s pretty insane. I can’t count the number of times friends have asked me, “Hey, let’s go ride.” And I’m going, “I’m on a deadline. I can’t.” I love it. It sucks sometimes, but I still love it.
Who is the best rail rider in the world right now? For many years people would have considered you to be the best rail rider in the world, and probably still do.
Collin: I always wanted that award so bad and never won it. That was the one thing in wakeboarding that I wanted forever. Never got it.
I know you were nominated for it like four or five years in a row.
Collin: Yeah. I was always number two. Like wakesurfing. I was number two in the world in wakesurfing for like three years in a row.
Damn you, Drew Daniello! So right now, who is the best?
Collin: Raph Derome. I think everybody will agree. Kevin Henshaw is very good. The stuff he does, and what he does for rail riding is awesome. He was a young kid and he moved in with me and Shane. He was looking up to us and we kind of helped him on his way. It was cool to see him go and take his path in what he loved to do.
I think I even heard Henshaw say Raph Derome.
Collin: Yeah. A lot of us can do the rail hits that he does, but he does them every time really easily. I just filmed him not too long ago, and he’s pretty damn good. It’s insane. It’s awesome to have a rail park in your backyard. It helps.
How many days a year are you home?
Collin: I think last year I was on the road right around 100 days.
Would you say that’s less or more or about the same as the average rider who does the Tour and goes to all the WWA and one-off events?
Collin: Pretty much the same. I don’t know, it’s tough. With all the filming now, I tag along on a lot of trips just because I’m filming as well. I spend a lot of time traveling. I guess it’s about normal.
Are you planning on trying not to travel as much? Or more? What’s next for Collin Harrington?
Collin: My problem is I absolutely love traveling. The second I get a call with an opportunity to go somewhere, especially out of the country to somewhere I haven’t been, I say yes without even asking details. I’ve told myself I’m never going to miss an opportunity. I love the road. You get burned out after a while, but still, you come home and you are ready to go on the next trip.