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Pro Spotlight: Josh Twelker

March 26, 2015
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Josh Twelker | Carrying the Torch

The modern purveyor of west coast style

The connection between the West Coast and legit, stylish riding has gone hand in hand for more than two decades. Through the years guys like Randall Harris, Greg Nelson, Colin Wright and countless others have pushed wakeboarding to become where it is today with a superunique outlook on the sport. The West Coast has become synonymous with doing things properly: grabbing the right ways, wrapping up to grab longer (not make spins easier), and riding fast and long line lengths. Every rider from the West Coast has had the added responsibility of keeping his riding up to the standards set by the legends before them. Every few years, when it might seem like the well of West Coast talent has gone dry, a new rider or crew emerges with the same fire that their predecessors carried.

More recently, northern California has had a surge of fresh faces coming out of the Delta, which includes Josh Twelker — a top modern purveyor of the West Coast style, and a guy who has played a huge hand in the West Coast revival. Josh is the epitome of what wakeboarding should look like, and his ability to tweak tricks, grab things differently, and cultivate his smooth riding style has solidified his name as one of the most legit guys out there. Off the water, he’s a bit on the quiet side, but his riding never really leaves much else to say. He’s constantly thinking of how he can improve his style, how to take tricks and make them look better, or other ways he can highlight the craft that he spends his life trying to perfect. While being isolated from the busy Florida scene can leave him searching for anyone to give him a pull, he’s also in a place where he has no distractions so he can hone the rider he has become.

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How’s your off-season been? What do you usually do in the winter? 

****This off-season has been rad. It’s nice being able to take some time off and be able to relax after such a heavy season. I enjoy this time of year, but I do still ride quite a bit. Depending on the weather during my off-season, I will ride three or four times a week. It gets pretty cold, so I usually take late December and early January off. I also ride some cable and wakesurf a bit just for fun.

That’s a good amount of riding.

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Yeah, I stay busy riding in the fall and winter because it’s my favorite time to ride. There’s no pressure, I can just stick to my roots and ride however I want. If I want to have a cruiser set and just do grabs the whole time, I don’t feel bad about it, and I can just mess around.

Is the weather good in the winter?

**** It does get pretty cold, but since there isn’t much wind for most of the fall and winter, I can just grab a wetsuit and ride. It’s definitely not Florida conditions out here though.

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Looking back, did you have a fun 2014?

2014 was a superfun year for me. I would say it was one of the best years I’ve ever had competing, and that definitely means a lot to me. Getting picked up by Nautique was a big deal too; now being able to ride the G23 every day completely changed my wakeboarding. That wake is so big that all these new tricks are opening up for me, and it’s so much fun. It’s a different mindset riding behind that thing.

So this is your first full off-season having a G?

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Yeah it is, and it has been sick. This boat is a beast, I have so much more time in the air, and I’ve been figuring out new ways to grab tricks. It has just opened up my mind to a bunch of new ideas.

I can speak for a lot of people when I say I’m looking forward to that. Any other highlights from this year?

Whenever I think of having the most fun, it’s really just being back on the Delta with the crew. We have the best time just riding and pushing each other and hanging out on the water. When I look back on a year, that’s the stuff I remember the most. Traveling for contests and photo shoots is fun and whatnot, but the most memorable moments are definitely just kicking it with the crew.

What keeps you hyped throughout the long wakeboard season?

The season can feel never-ending at times, but the way I stay hyped is just spending time at home and free riding. When I go out on the Delta and have a really sick set, then I know why I’m here and why I’m doing this. It helps me to remember that I’m just here to have fun. It’s not really worth getting yourself stressed out or pissed off about everything, and I definitely can get pissed off when I’m not riding well and there’s a contest coming up the following week. But when I go have a fun set on the Delta with all the homies, it helps me reflect back on why I wakeboard.

Do you get mad or frustrated? You’ve never seemed like that type to me.

I definitely can get frustrated before a contest if I’m not riding well. I’m paying a lot of money to travel to all these events, and when it feels like my riding isn’t making it worthwhile, it can really make me angry with myself. I try not to stay upset though. I try to just focus and get over it so I can have some good sets.

Tell us a bit about designing your first board.

I designed my board last winter, and I talked with CWB about what I really wanted in a board. I wanted a simple shape that rode fast and smooth, and popped hard. After I described it all to the designer at CWB, he came out to my house for a week and brought some shapes with him. I rode them all, but one of the shapes pretty much nailed what I wanted. We made some final tweaks on it, and I got to ride it a bunch and make changes to this and that. Now, I couldn’t be happier with my first pro model. The whole way we went about designing it was super fun, and I couldn’t be more stoked. I think the board really reflects my riding style. Check out “The Standard” from CWB; it’s a great board that anyone can ride.

What does it mean to you, getting your own board?

Getting a pro model definitely means more than just having my name on a board. It shows the respect a rider has earned in his career. It justifies being known as a professional, and that’s a really rad thing for me to have happen.

You’re obviously an incredibly photogenic rider. Is getting good photos something you think about when you’re riding, or are you just riding the way you’d want to anyway?

**** It’s always thought out. The way I ride really depends on what kind of shot we’re going for. When I’m just out free riding it’s a lot different than when I’m shooting photos. When I’m out shooting photos, I have a picture in my mind of exactly how I want that trick to look. I shoot with Rodrigo a lot, and we talk about what looks good from what angle, and then we try to go out and get the shot. Rod has a great eye, and he will make adjustments in the middle of a shoot to get the best possible view of whatever we are trying to get. When I’m out free riding, it’s way different; I’m out cruising and doing what feels good, and maybe trying to land new and different tricks. When I’m doing a photo shoot and it’s just for that one still shot, it’s definitely very planned out.

You have your own style, something that can’t be replicated, original. Is it something you try to perfect, something you think about, or is it completely natural?

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I want my riding to be portrayed. It’s not something that just came overnight that allowed me ride the way I do. It’s been a lifelong journey of perfecting how I want my wakeboarding to look. It can be difficult to have this idea in my head of how I want something to look, and go out and actually make it happen. It’s my goal when I go out and ride to match up what I actually do to what I want to achieve.

Are you ever surprised by things you wouldn’t think look cool but do?

**** Oh yeah, definitely. I’ll have ideas of things that I think will look super rad, and then I get out and they’re just ugly, and then I’ll do a little trick where I tweak slightly different, and it can turn out so good. So you never really quite know. Usually if it felt good, it looked good.

What about new tricks; is there a process for you?

Depending on the trick, yeah. If I just want to get a new grab on something, I really have to think about it for a while, like what particular grab on what trick will look good for photos and stuff. I’ll run that kind of stuff through my head a hundred times. If it’s a gnarly trick, then I don’t think about it as much. I just have to do it or else it will get in my head.

So contest tricks or more-technical stuff you don’t spend as much time on?

Actually, more than you might think. I work hard on technical stuff. Usually during the competition season, the first 10 tricks of my set are competition tricks. Progression comes from learning more-technical tricks, and in order to push myself and the sport, I need to do the technical tricks too.

What’s the best part about being a rider from California?

The best part for me is just that — being in California. I’m a California boy, and I love it here. Being a West Coast rider has helped set me apart, but there’s no questioning the whole scene is in Florida. For me though, being out here with Trever , Randall and Derek Cook, we’re the only guys getting exposure. There are others as well, of course, but in our general area it’s just us. That’s hard because I end up riding by myself a lot since we all travel and aren’t always in town at the same times. I’m not there with all the guys in Florida who are pushing it and killing it, and I don’t see what tricks they’re doing.

It’s a double-edged sword.

Yeah — it’s good in one sense because we’re kind of isolated and can do our thing, but sometimes we don’t always know what’s going on in the bigger scene.

I think that’s healthy. Getting caught in the stream of wake trends in Florida can be a bad thing. You’ve been part of a huge revival for the West Coast; do you ever feel like you need to keep up any West Coast standards?

It’s always in the back of my mind. I know I want to keep up a certain standard being a West Coast rider, but in reality, it’s not any different than the standards I hold myself to. I’m very hard on my wakeboarding, and if I feel like I’m failing at what I expect from my riding, then I get really frustrated. I want my riding to be a certain way, and I just want to live up to that standard. I’ve grown up with West Coast riders, and we have pushed to make our wakeboarding look a certain way, and I guess that’s where the West Coast thing fits in.

Who were you riding with and influenced by?

A lot by Mike Schwenne. Trever Maur and I would go ride with Mike, along with Derek Cook ,and we started doing photo shoots with Rod. When that happened, Mike really took us in and showed us the way to shoot with a photographer, and how to get in with the wakeboard community the right way. He showed us how to make our riding look good and stand out. Also, before all of that, Chris Dykmans had a huge influence in my riding. He coached me when I was younger and really showed me what I was capable of.

Who’s your favorite rider right now?

Um, I don’t know. I have to say overall probably Raph Derome. He’s just a well-rounded wakeboarder who is good, really good, at everything. He has all my respect; he’s insane.

For you, why do you think boat riding still matters? If a kid can go ride a park for less money and longer time, what would you say to keep him riding behind the boat?

Wakeboarding started behind the boat, if you ride only at the park, you’re losing a huge part of what wakeboarding is. Riding behind the boat will teach you a lot of fundamentals that riding only at a park just can’t. To me being a wakeboarder is being able to not only ride at a park, but also having control behind the boat. Cable parks are sick, but you can’t beat an afternoon in the boat.

That’s really the question: What do you get out of boat riding that you can’t do in the park?

I guess I just get a feeling hitting a wake that’s impossible to get at the park. Every rider should experience that, whether you love riding the park more or whatever. You have to respect where wakeboarding came from.

You enjoy hitting the park, right?

I love it. Now with Velocity Island Park right here in Sac (Sacramento), it’s pretty rad. I’ll be there a couple of times a week, and the guys there are so awesome. Park riding is something I plan to continue to do more because I see it pushing wakeboarding where boat riding can’t. To me, it’s so fun and a good change of pace from riding behind the boat. I have such a blast riding all day with my friends, and I have a smile on my face the entire time. After doing both, you can really have respect for guys like Raph who are so good at both.

Although you don’t seem to me like a contest rider, you do fairly well in them. Do you like riding in contests?

A lot of people wouldn’t think this, but I actually enjoy riding in contests a lot. For me, being a West Coast rider, riding in contests keeps me connected to the overall scene. I’m a very competitive person, and coming back from a contest and seeing all the guys shred actually pushes me more than anything else. I want to make an impact in contests in my own way. I want to be the best wakeboarder I can be, and contests push me to learn bigger and better tricks. I come home from contests with a fire if I’m unhappy with my results, or even sometimes when I’m happy with them.

Do you ever feel like your riding style doesn’t translate in contests or that judges don’t appreciate it?

Actually, the past few years I’ve seen a lot more respect given to stylish riding in contests. It’s been really cool, because it seems like the judging is going in that direction, and it’s making riders focus more on making their tricks look good rather than going out there and doing the hardest trick they can think of. When you get respect for a trick that really looks good over something that was really hard but hucked and barely landed, to me that means wakeboarding is going in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of guys on tour who do really hard tricks and make them look pretty damn good. We’re not just kooks doing gymnastic tricks on the water.

Do you ever get discouraged if things don’t go the way of your style of riding?

It’s rough because sometimes I do have to respect how hard a trick was, and there is a fine line. You don’t know what was really harder: the supergnarly trick or the unique way someone did something. Sometimes doing a trick and making it look effortless and perfect or grabbing it a certain way is just as hard as doing a more technical trick. At the same time, you have to respect both. I don’t know; that’s what I leave up to the judges to decide.

That’s the hardest part. I’ve been in that seat, and it’s the worst! I’ve always seen your dad at the events; was there or is there any pressure from him?

I never really expected to be a professional wakeboarder or anything like that, but my dad has been nothing but supportive. When I started getting good, he said he’d pay for me to ride the junior tour if I wanted to, and I said, “Yep, let’s do it.” I was always a shy kid, so I guess people could think, “Oh, Josh’s dad just wants him to do all these contests,” but I’ve always wanted to be there, and it’s definitely been a good road for me. Contests have been a great way to sort of build my name and get respect from more people in the industry.

Any new Delta up-and-comers to carry the torch?

**** There is one kid I’ve been sort of mentoring. His name is Tyler Higham, and you should definitely keep an eye out for him. He lives in Bend, Oregon, but comes down and rides a lot. He gets it. He’s riding the junior tour now, and he’s one of those kids you can teach how to do a trick, and he goes out and lands it in a few tries, and then has it consistent that day. He has rad style. He snowboards in the off-season and has a lot of good influences.

Who was your biggest influence as a rider if you look back, say, five years?

**** I guess it was a number of people. I remember I went on a West Coast trip with Schwenne, Ben Greenwood, Bob Sichel and Trever Maur. Big Spence was taking photos. I got a cover on that trip, and I think I was 16. They were all super hyped on my riding, especially Ben, and that meant so much to me. I used to watch his video parts over and over again. That trip was huge for me because it was the first time I got respect from people who I respected, and it was then that I realized I was maybe doing something right (laughs).

What other people’s parts or photos in the mag were you hyped on?

**** I didn’t own a lot of videos, but I definitely watched a lot Ben Greenwood and Randall sections, for sure. But I knew I could never really ride like Randall or I might die. Nobody can ride like Randall Harris except Randall Harris. He’s one-of-a-kind. Randall’s riding has always been insane to me. I’ve been watching his sections for years, and then to see him ride in person is so intense.

Who’s around these days that you don’t ride with but like watching?

**** Chris O’Shea is one; I’ve always respected his style. He’s a taller dude who looks good. Being a tall guy, you can either use it to your advantage or look really goofy when you ride, and he definitely uses it to his advantage. There are so many guys killing it these days, and I pretty much watch every Web video that ever comes out.

Damn — so you keep up with it all?

Definitely. All of it. I watch wakeboarding every day to see what people are doing. I’m not in the mix with all the Floridians down there, and I’m not riding with them, so I like watching Web videos and keeping up with the whole scene.

Are you a commenter?

No way! Definitely not (laughs).

Being a guy who gets tons of video coverage — including on the Web and three appearances in full-lengths last year — what’s your take on the current video situation in wakeboarding?

**** It’s awesome to see how many Web videos are out there, and they’re fun to watch. When you’re a professional or a well-known rider and you’re putting out Web edits every week or something, that’s a little excessive. I think if you’re a pro, then you should be working toward something bigger, whether that be a season edit or a part in a full-length movie or whatever. Pro riders need to stand apart from the world of Web videos and do something special to really separate themselves from everyone else. For groms or people trying to get into the sport, Web edits are the raddest thing ever — they can get their name out there and show people what they can do. I think pros just need to keep the quality high and only put out edits that they’re going to be really happy with in the end.

That’s a really good way to look at it.

That’s why full-lengths have their plus. They’re alive and always will be; it’s good to see how much effort people are putting into them and making sure they are up to snuff. Things are getting pretty gnarly with what people are doing, so it’s rad to see it.

In your opinion, what makes a good part these days?

I think what makes an interesting part is doing what you don’t normally do or what people don’t see, you know? Having all aspects of the sport in one section is awesome. That’s something I haven’t even done but I really want to see more of. Maybe next time I work on a full-length video I can show that side. That’s why Raph’s video was so cool to me; he not only killed it in the park and with the things he built, but then he got behind the boat, and it was some of the best riding you’ve ever seen. That to me shows you are a well-rounded rider, and it’s fun to watch. Some people have a different perspective, like the Shredtown guys did a totally different thing. I guess whatever makes it entertaining. What those guys did was so gnarly; I respected that a lot. They’re doing something that nobody else is.

Do you ever have a problem getting motivated?

I would say I’m a pretty motivated person. I don’t really get a chance to ride regularly with anyone who is pushing the technical side of the sport. When I get a chance to ride with a group of riders who all kill it, I get motivated for sure.

So who drives for you?

Usually my brother would, but he’s gone off to school, so I’ve been teaching Tyler Higham how to drive, and he’s been pulling me a bit. Other than that, if no one is around my dad will pull me too. The hardest part is finding thirds, because in California you need to have a third person to watch, but when it’s freezing out, it’s a little harder to find a person who wants to go for a boat ride.

Any trends you like?

I’ve been seeing a lot more people do wrapped tricks, which is pretty cool, especially if the rider uses the wrap to get a different or longer held grab. The trend in the sport toward a bigger focus on style and correct grabs is something I like. Also I’m happy to see more West Coast cable parks opening up.

Dislike?

I guess I’m not too much of a fan of grabbing on rails or short line lengths behind the boat. Nuke grabs, I guess? That’s about it.

What are your plans or goals for 2015?

**** I just really want to do well in contests and push my riding in the direction I want it to go. Every year I want to learn new tricks and keep progressing. It’s my favorite way to stay stoked on wakeboarding. It doesn’t matter where you are — behind the boat or in the park — progression is the best way to stay motivated for me. I also want to land on the podium this year, that’s a big goal of mine. Hopefully I can achieve those things and work toward a new video project at the same time. I also want to shout out to my sponsors. Without them I couldn’t be doing this. So thanks to CWB, Nautique, Fox, Body Glove, and boardco.com.

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