The Bru Abides
From African Farmland to the Central Florida Swamps
When it comes to life stories, you won’t find many that compare to the story of Dieter Humpsch. At age 30, Dieter has had the experiences of someone far beyond his years. When hearing the saga of his family’s past, battling a dictator and a communist regime, it’s hard to believe that such huge success came out of that turbulence. If just one thing had gone a little differently along the way, Dieter most likely wouldn’t be around our industry to tell us about it. But luckily for us, Dieter Humpsch is a huge part of our sport and is now living the good life outside Orlando, Florida. He is one of the most dynamic wakeskaters out there; he’s versatile, explosive and has one of the best styles in the game. On top of that, Dieter has a contagious passion for aerial videography and portraying the sport in the best way possible. He motivates riders everywhere to get out and ride, film and shape the sport together. Dieter’s life is a testament to working hard toward achieving a goal and sticking to it no matter what. After all, at 30 he hasn’t even come close to peaking. With his new movie, Noisia Vision, coming out this year, Dieter is having one of the busiest years in his already busy life. How many people do you know who have filmed and released a full-length movie and ridden at a top level in the same year? This bru abides. Words: Shawn Perry Photos: Jason Lee
The first thing I’d like to talk about is your father. You have a pretty cool family story starting with him back in Germany, right?
Yeah, my dad has a pretty crazy story. He grew up in East Germany and he was there when the wall was still up. When he was around 20 years old he decided to leave because of the poverty and the whole situation there. He tried to escape the first time — he was a stowaway and jumped aboard someone’s ship. The Germans caught him, put him in jail for a year, and when he got out he tried again. This time he swam across an entire harbor at night, met up with some friends and got into a little dinghy and went out to sea. The Germans caught him then too and they put him in jail for another year.
And while he was in jail the second time he met this other guy who said his buddy could take them on his boat to West Germany. So he did. Third time lucky, right? He ended up staying in West Germany for three years and then emigrated to South Africa.
Unreal. How old was he when he finally made it to South Africa?
He was in his late 20s, I think.
You were born in South Africa, right?
Yeah, and my mom and grandparents are from Zimbabwe. It used to be Rhodesia back in the day. They moved to South Africa and my mom and her brothers were raised in Durban. I was born in Durbs and grew up there. I started skateboarding when I was about 7 and then started surfing around 9. Ever since then I just skated to the beach, surfed till dark and skated home. We had a whole crew that would just live and breathe to surf. Then I ended up moving back up to Zimbabwe with my mom and my new stepdad, Pete, when I was 16. I had a buddy back in Durban, Bobby Cherry, who used to wakeboard tons. So Bobs hooked me up with a Wake Tech Byerly 69 and off I went. I was bummed I wasn’t gonna be surfing anymore but super stoked to get into wakeboarding. That’s when I started wakeboarding pretty much. We had a farm with zebra, giraffe, blesbok, baboons and a bunch of other cool animals. We had small lake and that’s where I started.
Did you have a boat at that lake?
Yeah, Pete had a catamaran fishing-boat type thing that he could pull me behind, but I ended up meeting these guys there who had an outboard ski boat: Rob Harris, Sheldon Dreyer and Rolfe Pike. Rob would come pick me up every Friday and we would ride all weekend. Some of my best memories are from back then. They taught me so much when it came to wakeboarding.
So when you started wakeboarding, you already knew how to ride a board.
Yeah, the other board sports helped for sure.
I heard you ended up losing the farm in Zimbabwe.
As far as the whole Zimbabwe thing goes, you probably have never heard of Robert Mugabe, eh?
Bru, he’s the president of Zimbabwe and has been for years. Very dodgy guy. There’s actually a movie you should watch called Mugabe and the White African. It’s about Mugabe’s promise to all the people in Zimbabwe that he would get all the white people’s land and give it back to them. He was saying that it wasn’t our land or whatever. Meanwhile, our family had been in Zimbabwe for over 100 years. So they started kicking white people off their farms. People would just walk up and kick you off your land. We had lots of family lose their farms, their dogs were shot, it was crazy. It got so out of hand they were beating up people who didn’t leave. We had more family a few hours away who got it worse —their dogs were shot and they even got locked up.
Yeah, it was heavy, man. A lot of people were dying and getting hurt. So they eventually got to our farm. I was overseas in Europe busy riding when it happened. My mom called and told me my family had been kicked off our farm; they didn’t do anything violent but we had to get out. So my family took all their stuff and left. They didn’t get any compensation for the land or anything. They killed all the giraffe and other game for meat and moved into the house.
What did your mom and Pete do?
Well, that was like their dream, you know? They had a whole farm and were just living the good life and then all of it was gone. They decided to start doing yacht charters. They moved to Spain and then eventually settled in the British Virgin Islands doing yacht charters, while I carried on with my wakeboarding. So that’s the story of both of my parents.
Incredible, man. You’ve had your share hardships too with knee injuries huh?
Yeah, I blew my knee out wakeboarding when I was about 20. I was doing a Pete Rose and I landed with my front leg super heavy and my knee was completely dislocated. My left leg was a couple of inches shorter than my right because the bones were overlapping. It popped out of joint and it stayed out. I could feel that something was wrong, and I could feel the bottom part of my leg had something bulging out and my leg was swaying side to side in the water.
Yeah. So they cut me out of the bindings and took me to the hospital with my knee still dislocated and all over the place. I could feel my tibia bone rubbing against the wooden stretcher. It was horrible. They put a balloon down there just so it wouldn’t rub, gave me morphine and after about two hours they put it back in place at the hospital. I ended up having to stay in the hospital for a week because the blood wasn’t flowing right in my leg.
Then what did you do?
After the knee deal I couldn’t ride like I wanted to and it was really depressing. But this guy had started a wake magazine back home in South Africa called Wake Zone, and he offered me a job doing the graphic design for it. So that kept me busy for a while. But I ended up starting to ride too soon and messed up my knee even more. Ended up having three surgeries on it in the end. So, the whole time my knee was bothering me I started wakeskating more and more. I always had wakeskated, but it was just for fun. I got frustrated with wakeboarding because I couldn’t do the stuff I used to be able to do. I always loved that you could go so big wakeboarding but I couldn’t go as big as I wanted to without my knee hurting. So I started wakeskating more and it just took over.
What made you move to the States?
Well, I ended up staying at home for another two years. Then, at 25, I had a fork in the road and was either going to get a job and be a responsible human being, or try to go for it and ride and do what I’ve always wanted to do. I had broken up with my chick at the time and was in a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I just decided to do it. I gave myself two years. I told myself that if I could just stay in the U.S. for two years that would be enough time for me to know if I could make it. If I didn’t then at least I’d know I tried and that’s all I really needed.
Did you know anyone in the U.S.?
I met Matt Staker during a Wakestock event when I was in Wales. He said I could come and crash on his couch whenever, and I fully took him up on that. So when I came over I was sleeping on his couch in Orlando for the first two weeks. One of his roommates moved out so he offered me the room. I landed with my ass in the butter for sure. It was perfect. I grew up watching Stakes in videos and he was one of my favorite riders. I was stoked. I got to hang out with Stakes a bunch and meet everyone else in the scene. I had been to the States a couple of times before, staying with family. My buddy Nick Burton Moore came over and we rented a house together on Lake Howell in Orlando. We didn’t have a car but Tony Smith gave me a bicycle he had. At that point we had a Jet Ski but we didn’t have a car yet. Nick eventually bought a van. Then more Saffas came over and we rented a bigger place on the Butler chain of lakes. It was an old run-down house on Pocket Lake; it was perfect.
Who all lived there?
Nick Burty, Clay Krause, Brian Loggenberg, Nick Bensch and Marc Rossiter lived there for a bit. People were constantly coming in and out.
A lot of South Africans?
Yeah, mostly Saffas, and English too. I wanted to have a place over here where friends could come stay and ride. I was always the one over at friends’ places staying the night and riding all day. It’s really hard when you don’t know anyone out here. So hopefully by having a little SA base camp we can grow wakeskating and wakeboarding a little more back home.
Do you go back often?
I haven’t been home in five years, eh?
Yeah. Well, here’s the story there. My mom won a green card in the lottery. This was when I was 15, so we decided to give it a go and move to the U.S.
Where did you move?
We had family in Vegas. So we all moved out to Vegas; she bought a house there. We lived there for about six or seven months. I went to school there for a couple of months.
Did you like it?
Kind of. I didn’t like the school. It was crazy. I just felt like everyone had something to prove. I nearly got into fights all the time over nothing. We ended up just going home after a few months. It was a big culture shock for us.
It was kind of like a mini version of Dangerous Minds to me .
Why haven’t you gone back in five years?
I had to come back to the U.S. every year to keep my green card. I did it for a couple of years. I stayed in Los Angeles with my uncle for nine months when I was around 19. I was going to come over just to renew my green card, but I ended up staying. Kinda like my first trip to get closer to wakeboarding better. I rode with some guys from 118 Boardshop every now and again but I was getting homesick again and decided to head back to Zimbabwe. Where was I going with this?
You haven’t been home in five years.
Oh, right, way off track there. So I didn’t come back to the U.S. one year to renew my card, and if you don’t come back to do it they just cut you off. I was fairly happy living back home and thought that if I ever did come to the U.S. it would just be for contests or something, not to live. So when I decided I did actually want to try to live here I did it with just my German passport and a visa.
Do you have a German passport?
Yep. I’ve got both, German and South African. At one point I had a German passport, South African nationality, Zimbabwean residency and a U.S. green card .
Did you ever get your green card back?
I was going to try to get a sports visa here when I first got here, but I could never get all the things together, not enough sponsors, etc. It’s also really expensive, like five grand.
Was this when you were living with Staker?
Yeah, I decided I was going to see how long I could stay. I’ve done that for five years now. But recently I got my drivers license, and my green card back after lots of lawyers and letters.
Yeah, the only ID that I had was my passport, which had been in the wash and was really mangled.
Wait. So you actually functioned in society, bought cars, rented houses, all without a license, and you were fine?
Yeah. I can’t remember how I bought my first car. I had an Astro van that I bought privately and just didn’t put plates on it or anything for a while. I was riding dirty for a while; maybe don’t put this in the interview .
Well, you’re all good now.
Yup. I nearly went home a bunch of times. I had no money, no food, no income really. The only thing I could do was work freelance for companies back home doing Web design and graphic design. So that saved me, having a laptop and being able to work. It slowly got better and I found a couple of jobs here and there too.
When did you start filming?
My friend had a little video camera back home and I always used to mess around on it and make little vids. I always wanted to film. Then I finally bought one when I was here, a little Canon. That’s what I made the first little video of Kyle Hyams on. I loved it and that’s all I wanted to do. I’ve always been into videos growing up, because videos would always get me so amped, from my surfing days especially. I would watch surf videos before school, get out of school and go surf, then go home and watch more surf videos, then the same thing for wakeboarding with Hit It and High Wake Drifters. I was always so fascinated by the videos and how they could get you so amped.
How has it been shooting for Noisia Vision****?
I’ve always wanted to make a full-length proper video. That’s always been a dream of mine. I knew that now is the time and I had people around me to do it, and that’s the hardest part. There are so many people who have the skills to create these types of videos, but they don’t have the people to film, especially when it comes to sports stuff. But then, even when you are in the scene it’s hard to get people to film. So it has been tough but fun!
How did you get into flying remote-control helicopters for filming?
I’ve always been fascinated by aerial shots and trying to get that aerial view without the high budget of renting a helicopter. I just messed around for a few years flying RCs and eventually got one that would hold a GoPro. Then I got the wireless video feed so I can actually see where I’m going and what I’m filming. Then I bought a bigger helicopter and kept on crashing and learning.
Ha-ha, with a GoPro on it?
Yeah, a couple of times, mostly into the lakes. But you’ll be surprised how well a bag of rice and an oven fixes wet electronics.
Was all the RC heli footage in the Noisia Vision teaser from a GoPro?
Yeah, and with all that hype I was able to start building my new hexacopter from Quadrocopter, which is what I film with now. I ordered the kit and built it all myself because it was much cheaper that way. I had to teach myself how to solder and figure out a bunch of other stuff. I’m not that kind of guy either; I’m not good with that clever stuff. But somehow I broke it down and figured it out. So I did it, it worked and carried on working.
That’s awesome. What are some of your influences in wakeskating?
Well I always enjoyed watching Gregg Necrason, Matt Staker, Gator and Byerly — those were who I looked up to. When Keith Lyman came out and his style was just going huge and being solid, that was awesome. But I would have to say my favorite wakeskaters are Yan Lecomte, Reed Hansen, the Pasturas and Nick Taylor.
And outside of the sport?
I would say just general board riding. Skateboarding is always fun to watch, and now to be able to go do it on water is so much fun. I see such a bright future for wakeskating. But one thing that really grinds me is that it seems like so many kids are trying to push wakeboarding completely out of wakeskating. I mean, it’s all the same thing. I think people just need to bitch about something and feel cool doing it. It’s that whole skateboard “legit” cool factor. Just relax and go ride a board.
Do you ever strap on a wakeboard anymore?
I haven’t in a while but every now and again I’ll have a boat set or hit the cable up. I just have to try to hold myself back a lot in case I do something to my knee and ruin my wakeskating. That’s always something in the back of my head.
You ride and hang with Reed Hansen quite a bit, huh?
Yeah, Reed is one of my best friends down here. I was always a fan of Reed’s and then getting on Fox. We hung out a lot more and became good friends. Reed is a crazy human being. So much talent and drive. The whole Hansen family are such good people and it really shows through Reed. So I try to surround myself with good people and not hang out with the downers. One of the hardest things about moving away from home is not hanging with your friends and finding new solids.
You used to ride for Fox back home before you moved here.
Yeah, I rode for Fox back home and then John Fox saw a picture of me doing one of those glide things I do off the kicker and found out who I was. A couple of months later Todd Hicks called me and I got on the international team. That was a huge milestone in my life. It was my first proper paid sponsor. I was actually a pro wakeskater then, and that was my goal. I wanted to be a pro surfer when I was younger, then a wakeboarder, and it ended up at wakeskating in the end.
Yeah, so ever since then having Fox be the first ones to believe in me and sponsor me has opened up so many doors. Ever since that, it’s just been a dream come true, it’s been awesome.
Is there a hobby or something else you’re interested in that you would like to pursue?
Lately I’ve been wanting to fly. Anything really, skydiving, planes, helicopters. I see little planes go past and I just want to be up there.
You think the RC thing has something to do with that?
Definitely, yeah. It’s like I started flying those and now I actually want to be up there. My dad used to tell me he always wanted to be a pilot. I enjoy it but I’m scared of heights. I really want to become a pilot, or a helicopter pilot. It’s a bit far-fetched but we’ll see. I’d love to start skydiving too; I really want to do that wing-suit thing. I’m just so scared of heights. I don’t know how that is going to work .
What are you going to do with all your free time after the movie drops?
First, I think I’m going to go home. I can’t wait! I haven’t seen some friends and family in a long time. And surf, I’m gonna surf my face off.
Will you go home to visit or to live?
Just to visit. It will always be my home but I’m just going to relax and catch up with everyone and soak it all in. I need to get back here and finish planning the wedding. My fiancée, Victoria, and I get married in November, so that’s first.
This coming November? Wow, man. Congratulations.
Yep. Thanks, man. I’m stoked. Victoria has been a big part of my success out here. She has been so supportive, helpful and a great friend.
Where do you plan to live the rest of your life? Do you think you’ll end up back in South Africa?
I always wanted to live summer here and summer back home, just bounce back and forth. I want to somehow be able to do that and take Victoria and the dogs. I just want to carry on riding as long as I can, my knee feels great, and I look at my situation and I have everything I’ve ever wanted. A house on a lake, a boat, a winch, a PWC, a pool gap in my backyard and all my friends and family. I just want to keep it going.
Do you have long-term goals in the sport?
I want to enjoy it for as long as I can, you know? I want to make an impact and have that responsibility of pushing wakeskating every year in whichever way I can. I would like to try to get another 10 years out of wakeskating while I’m trying to put as much into it as I can.
Any shameless sponsor plugs?
Yes! Absolutely. Everyone who has helped me get where I am today. So many people have helped me! All my friends: Bobby, Ross, Mike, The Josef’s, Francios, Ronnie, Doogs, Bern, Stu, Rob, Sheldon, Rolphe. Also everyone here who has helped me: Matt Staker, Jordy Klein, Chase Heavener, Josh McWilliams, Garret, Bear, J Lee, The Hansens, Steve C, Chase G. Todd Hicks, and John Fox especially for believing in me back in the day. My whole family, Mom, Dad, Pete, Gogs, Sean and Jackie; the Giles and my fiancée, Victoria! I’m so blessed to have so many people and companies backing me now. Tige, Electric, Teva, Fox, CTI, Ronix, Mystic. Thanks to you all, and thank you, Shawn and TransWorld Wake for giving me this opportunity.