Massi Piffaretti - Pro Spotlight

Massi Piffaretti
PRO SPOTLIGHT: Massi PiffarettiGustafson

By Shawn Perry
Photographs by Thomas Gustafson

When most of us think of Italy, wakeboarding usually doesn’t enter the equation. It’s known for a lot of things, but wakeboarding isn’t top of mind when you think of that beautiful boot surrounded by the Mediterranean. To pave the way for a country in a particular sport takes a lot more effort than it does for someone coming up in a place where the sport is already established. While there have been a handful of really solid Italian wakeboarders in the past, none of them has reached the level that Massimiliano Piffaretti has.

Hailing from one of the most beautiful places to wakeboard on earth, Massi spent his childhood on Lake Como in northern Italy. In the foothills of the Alps, the dramatic landscape of the lake looks like something out of a James Bond movie, and it’s a hotbed for celebrities like George Clooney, Madonna and Richard Branson. The lake buzzes in the summertime with restaurants and villas lining the shoreline, but sleeps in the offseason, making it the perfect site for spring and fall riding. Growing up on the lake but close to some of the best snow conditions, Massi split his time between snowboarding and wakeboarding, honing the unprecedented style and ability he has on any board.

Massi hopped on the scene in the past few years with his unorthodox way of tweaking grabs and doing things in a way no one else truly can. It culminated in an insane video part this year, and he’s on his way to stomping out his mark as the best Italian wakeboarder to date. We got the opportunity to catch up and chat with Massi right after the New Year to get a little background on the ripe 20-year-old phenom, and to see exactly what it was like to grow up an Italian wakeboarder.

Massi Piffaretti
PRO SPOTLIGHT: Massi PiffarettiThomas Gustafson

What's up, Massi?
Oh, perfect timing. I just laid down from snowboarding all day.

Good day?
Yeah, man, it's been good. I've just been riding all day, and ­tonight I'm going to catch up with some Red Bull guys in town for a snowboard event for rookies and young kids from all over the world.

Where are you right now?
I'm in Livigno, right by the Swiss Alps, in Italy.

How far is that from where you grew up?
I grew up on Lake Como. [Livigno is] about two and a half to three hours from my house, but this is where I grew up snowboarding. I've been here for a few weeks.

Tell us a little about Italy. It's not known for wakeboarding necessarily. How did you get into it over there?
Well, I started snowboarding at first. I've got a lot of ­cousins out here, and we're a pretty close family. I looked up to them and wanted to be like them and do whatever they did, so I started snowboarding when I was young.

How young?
Like 6 years old. Since we snowboarded and lived on a lake, when the summers came we didn't want to do what all the other kids did and just swim and that's it. One of my cousins started going across the lake to ride, and I went with him.

How old were you then?
Probably around 7 or 8. He started to get really good. ­Giuli was his name. He was the best in Italy, and I always wanted to be like him. He went to America and trained and stuff. He was really good.

How much older is he than you?
Six years older. I looked up to him my whole life. I just remember when I was in sixth or seventh grade, I wondered if I could travel the world like he does, wakeboarding. Eventually, as I was riding more with him and in the summers at home, the Italian team called me up in 2006 to go to worlds.

Were you riding in events before that?
That was my first big event. Then the Europeans a year later, and I was riding in the boys division and qualified first. In the finals I didn't do too good. The year after that I won the Europeans, though.

Is this when you started going for it and taking it seriously?
I actually started to really take it seriously when I got ­injured snowboarding pretty bad at like age 14. I used to do both [wakeboarding and snowboarding] all the time, but my dream was always to be a pro snowboarder. All growing up, my dad would send me up to where I am now, Livigno, and I would spend almost every weekend snowboarding. He had a friend with a hotel, and I would get rooms cheap, and that's how I spent my time.

Massi Piffaretti
PRO SPOTLIGHT: Massi PiffarettiThomas Gustafson

So what happened with the injury?
I was here training. I had a coach and stuff, and I was filming in this early-morning private session and got hurt on the biggest jump in the park. It was really fast, and I did a 7 and thought I was going to stomp it, and landed with my back leg a little soft and I broke my leg. It was almost the end of the season, and I'd had such a good season, too.

So how did that affect your wakeboarding?
After I got injured snowboarding, I didn't think I'd be OK for the wakeboarding season. Wanting to wakeboard just motivated me to get my leg better so I could get back and start riding. I did and wound up winning Europeans again, and I learned a lot of tricks that year. It really started to make me think about wakeboarding more, and I wanted to go to America and see how it was. My dad contacted Mike Ferraro because we didn't know anybody in America. Mike said he'd love to train me, so I came for one month. I loved it but I didn't really learn any tricks. I was riding Harley's board at that time. I rode it and was learning heel 7s, but that board didn't really ride well for me. I went home right before the holidays and pleaded to go back to Florida. My dad sent me back, I changed boards and then it just clicked. I learned trick after trick after trick, and it was so awesome. From my best trick being a heel 7 here and there, to within three months I was doing toe 9s and switch crow 5s — it was so fun. My parents came over to meet me for my 16th birthday, and it's the only time they've come to the States.

How did you stay up with the sport and what was going on?
As a kid, I remember, I used to get mad at my friends because when we'd talk about what we wanted to be, they all just ­wanted to go to work with their dads or somewhere, and that never made sense to me. Why didn't they want to be a pro wakeboarder or snowboarder? I was the only one who really wanted it. I used to sit down and watch The Book series and think about every trick and go out and try it, and that was all I did.

How was it when you first got to the U.S.?
When I got to the States, I was staying with Cobe and Tarah [Mikacich], and one of the first days I went over to Jimmy LaRiche's house for something. The first person I saw was Adam Errington, and I was like, "Holy shit!" It was so cool. We chatted a little and rode together like the next day. I couldn't ­believe all the pros were all there in one place like that.

How did you know about everybody?
All their video parts and that kind of stuff. [For] full videos though, there wasn't very much online that I knew. I wasn't really good at using the laptop, but I would watch their videos, like Relentless, The Truth.

Stylewise, who were your favorite guys?
Back in the day I wasn't really looking up to guys who had good style, I don't think. In snowboarding I knew you had to grab or do this, but I liked [Shawn] Watson a lot, and I liked Phillip [Soven] just because he was a young kid and was killing it.

How did you learn to ride?
I had a coach, and also just by watching ­videos. I would sit in our game room for hours watching every step on how to do a trick over and over, then go out and land it in a few tries. My coach, Enzo, was so good. He would go normal speed and pull back the throttle so as kids we wouldn't be so scared trying new stuff. I used to love that. Then I came to the States, and there was a point where I couldn't do that anymore. Mike Ferraro isn't going to pull back the throttle for you. He'd be yelling, "Try a back mobe! Try a back mobe!" and I remember being so scared and then just getting smoked. Finally I did one and never tried it again. [Laughs.] I think that's when I started to grow up, though. If you take one, take it.

Massi Piffaretti
PRO SPOTLIGHT: Massi PiffarettiThomas Gustafson

Tell us more about Lake Como
My entire life since day one, I lived across the street from the lake. It's the most beautiful place in the world to wakeboard. In the _winter it's really chill, but in the summers it's crazy. There are a bunch of ferries _going around, and then there are people on boats everywhere all the time. Even if it looks smooth, there's always a little roll or wobble from long waves. So if you want to ride in the summers, you have to get up at dawn and start your day with a shred, and if you're lucky, get a set in right before the sun goes down. If you look at Lake Como, it's shaped like a Y; it's huge, deep and really long. We live right near Como, and our part is the busiest, so to get good water we would drive the boat to another section 15 or 20 minutes away [where] you can find places with less people. We would just pack some sandwiches, get a crew of like eight riders and go on a mission. We'd ride, stop at a beach to eat the sandwiches, and ride some more. Our coach always loved us. He would always drive to the nice water even if he didn't have to, and it was awesome.

How harsh are the winters? Are they tough?
They're not bad. You've got to wear a full suit, and sometimes a drysuit if you really want to ride all year long. But I used to steal my mom's gloves for doing the dishes and put them underneath my suit. [Laughs.]

Who do you enjoy riding with in the States?
Well, I love riding with Danny [Harf], and I ride with Gunner Daft a lot. I live with Gunner, so we ride together a bunch. I really like to ride with [Brian] Grubb too. I try to ride with _everybody, honestly. I like to see what everyone does and take little things I like and make them my way. You know what I mean? I get to pick things and add to my riding.

Who would you like to ride with that you don't get a chance to?
I've never ridden with Randall [Harris]. I want to ride with Randall for sure. Do you have any fundamental style laws or anything? How do you think about it?

If I have a photo shoot or something, I like to have something planned. I don't really go to sleep at night. I do sleep, but I stay awake just thinking about new things I want to do and tricks, and it's kind of cool. I'm always thinking of new ways to grab or try things. A lot of input for me comes from snowboarding. I still follow all that's going on there. I think the shifty, shifty stuff they're doing right now is so cool and would look really good on a wakeboard. A lot of it for me comes from snowboarding just because that's where I started. I think you can pick different things from anywhere, though, if it has a board in it, and make it work for whatever you're doing.

What's your take on the narrow stance thing?
I think it can be cool as long as it's not too narrow. I've always had a narrower stance because of snowboarding, and I love the Airblaster crew and what those guys do. I ride farther in on the cable because it makes it a little easier to press and all that, but keep it comfortable behind the boat. I see [the narrow stance] more as a trend now, just for people who watch other people. In snowboarding there's always been the skinny stance, so it's nothing new - just for us, maybe.

Do you like Orlando?
Yeah, I do. It's a cool city. I wish it was a _little different, more European for, like, eating and that stuff. There's just a bunch of crap. I'm lazy, [and] part of it is I don't cook and get groceries because I leave so much. I like to cook, though. I enjoy it. I'd cook all the time if I didn't have to clean.

So is it just a restaurant thing?
Yeah, it's just kind of different. Europeans, when you walk into a restaurant, you're welcome there. They don't force you to leave. I just feel like in the States, they come, take your order, bring your food and want you to leave as soon as possible. Europeans are nice and want you to be there, hang out, chat a little bit.

Massi Piffaretti
PRO SPOTLIGHT: Massi PiffarettiThomas Gustafson

You're arguably the most famous rider from Italy. What does that mean to you?
I care a lot for the Italian riders. We have a lot of young kids in Italy who are killing it now, and that makes me really happy. I want to open up some roads for people from Italy. For the most part I did it all myself, but I want to help people, whether it's introducing them to people or whatever. My mom and dad never told me what to do, never told me what contests to do or whatever. They helped me in other ways, but they didn't know that much about the sport, and it was cool.

It's a balance, man. If you concentrate on one thing, another thing slips.
Exactly. I want to do fewer contests, but when it comes time, I'm going to be ready. I'm going to be on it with a mission to take home the win.

What do you really want to accomplish?
I want to get some stuff in the books. Trick of the Year, win a big contest, ­Wakeboarder of the Year or something like that. It's always been in my mind, obviously, and I'm still young.

How old are you?
I'm 20. I just want to do something my way, and if people like my way and I can be ­noticed for it, then cool.

What are your plans for the future?
I'm going to work on a couple of Red Bull projects. Do some weird spots to ride in and stuff like that. I just want to keep pushing myself and think about new tricks, and I really want to win Trick of the Year. I also want to win some more contests, and I'm going to look into the right contests to do. I'm not going to do the same thing I've been doing my entire life, where I go to every contest and every event. I feel like I'm going to go if I'm ready, and I'm not going to force it and do them all. I want to do some rail contests too, and I just want to have fun. Doing what makes me happy is what I want to do. [Laughs.]