Dylan Miller’s career arc as a wakeboarder isn’t of the typical variety. He didn’t explode onto the scene as a teenage phenom. He didn’t win major pro contests. He hasn’t had big parts in feature videos. Yet despite the lack of traditional success, Dylan has become one of the most recognizable and influential riders in the game. At 30 years old, most riders’ careers would be wrapping up, but Dylan’s is still taking off. He just got a pro model board from Slingshot, he’s currently filming for a new full-length video, and he started his own soft-goods brand with Heshbacks. Plus, he keeps the entire sport entertained with the @Wakezeach Instagram handle. It goes to show that just because a career doesn’t progress in stereotypical fashion doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen at all. Dylan is proof positive that determination, hard work and a unique skill set can be just as valuable as raw talent and contest results.
You originally came to Orlando as a kid looking to make it into the sport, and you’d work on drilling rigs at home in Canada to fund your wakeboarding, right?
Yeah, I’ve been coming to Orlando for 11 years. I got a job at the Hansen’s camp — World Wakeboard Center — in 2006 and worked there for four months, right after I graduated high school. What I would do for years is work on drilling rigs back home in Canada to save up money, then come spend the summers in Orlando riding as much as possible.
You used to ride in boat contests, but then really started to focus on different types of riding. What sparked the evolution and progression?
I tried to get my name out there more by doing contests and the Pro Tour. I think the furthest I ever made it was top 10 or 15 or something, and I just didn’t have the tricks or the head for competing. It just was never really my thing. I was more into shooting stuff for videos and things like that.
I grew up in an area of Saskatchewan that’s mainly farmland and oil fields and stuff, plus the winters are like nine months long, so there wasn’t a lot of stuff to do. I spent a lot of time in the winter snowboarding in the area around my house, but my whole perspective of riding came from that and from watching videos. I really liked seeing guys that could do everything; they could hit a half-pipe and then go launch off backcountry kickers. That’s what still motivates me today. I see a lot of stuff that skateboarders and snowboarders do, and it gives me ideas of what I could try on my wakeboard. I think it’s good to broaden your horizons like that. I still get a lot of influence from wakeboarding, and I watch everything everybody is doing, but I really try to stay up to date with snowboard and skateboard videos too.
You’ve been really busy already this year. What have you been up to, and what can the people look forward to?
Yeah, it’s been crazy. Just after Christmas, I went to Australia for a month with Taylor Hanley, Nick Dorsey and Raph Derome. That was our first official trip for Formats, the full-length film Taylor is making. We ended up driving something like 3,500 miles all over the east coast of Oz.
It’s really cool to be a part of that, because in all my years shooting video stuff, I’ve never had my own part in a full-length. We’ve gotten really good stuff so far, and I’ve been able to get more clips while shooting for this interview, so I’m stoked.
You started running the Wake- zeach account on Instagram as a sort of “legit police.” Now it seems like more of a comedy feed. Was that a natural evolution or a direction you felt it needed to take?
I’ve been running it for a while now, and as far as calling guys out and stuff, I think it served its purpose. It did what we intended it to do. We were calling guys out for sloppy grabs or not T’ing things up on rails, and I think it made a difference those first couple of years. Now there has been this sort of shift to goofing off and having fun with your riding — you see it in snowboarding too. You can go do a crappy grab but tweak it in a unique way, and it’s like fun and cool. Everything goes through stages, right? There were wide stances, and now there are skinny stances. I’m sure wide stances will be back in five years. Everything has to change to stay fresh, and the Wakezeach stuff just sort of naturally morphed into a comedy/crash-type feed. It’s crazy how much people on Instagram love seeing other people get hurt.
What’s your favorite Wakezeach post of all time?
I think my favorite is this guy with a tattoo of himself wakeboarding on his arm, and it’s drawn so that the character’s arm looks like his own arm. It’s actually pretty sweet. The post has 1,700 likes, which is a lot for the page.
The industry has changed quite a bit in your time as a pro, and these days it seems harder than ever to actually be a pro and make a decent living as a wakeboarder. What are your concerns about wakeboarding’s future?
I think it is harder to be a pro, but that might be because it’s too easy to become a pro, if that makes sense. In snowboarding and skateboarding, it really means something to get a pro-model board, for example. Guys spend years grinding away before getting rewarded with something like that from a company. I think in wakeboarding, it’s still a bit too easy, and too many kids are able to call themselves “pro” when, in reality, they aren’t.
What does it mean to you to have a pro-model board after all these years?
It means a lot. I think I’m the oldest person to ever get a pro-model board. It’s between me and Ben Greenwood. (laughs) Would it have been nice to have one earlier? Of course. But I’m so stoked to have gotten one and to have the relationship I have with Slingshot. They’re such a rad company to work with, and I’ve been with them since 2011. It’s been awesome. I’m lucky to be part of the team.
Your board has a different shape and outline compared to most others. Where did that come from?
I wanted to make it narrower than most boards. Old-school boards used to be really narrow, then they got really, really wide. I really like being able to go edge to edge really fast and have fun carving. It’s more snowboard-style, I guess you could say, because it’s a little narrower and a little longer. It’s a lot of fun to ride, and I ride it for everything.
Did wakeboarding get too hard for the general public?
I think there’s this weird thing going around in society right now where if you get hurt doing something or you don’t succeed, you just move on to trying something else. I think it’s sort of an Internet state of mind. Everything is so fast and accessible that people aren’t as patient as they used to be, so if they’re struggling with something or the experience isn’t good right off the bat, they’ll move on. Wakeboarding is so much fun no matter how you do it, but maybe people aren’t as willing to take the time and some of the pain to progress and learn.
You’ve started working with Heyday and just got a boat. How did that relationship come about?
I was introduced to them at Surf Expo, and it was really cool because they knew who I was and were interested in working with me. They got acquired by the Brunswick Group, which is one of the largest boat groups in the world. Hopefully, that should help.
What does a company like Heyday mean for wakeboarding?
Well, it’s crazy how expensive wakeboard boats have gotten. I think there are probably only four or five pros who could legitimately afford the boat they would want/need to be pros. That’s insane. Heyday is going against the grain, and obviously, they’re not going to have all the bells and whistles of most boats, but they’re simple boats that work. That’s what I like best — they’re just boats that do what I want them to. Hopefully, that resonates with people and helps get more people into wakeboarding.
What’s it been like starting your own apparel company with Heshbacks?
I’ve learned that it takes a lot longer than you think to make your money back. (laughs) It’s been good though. Nick (Dorsey) and I have a lot of fun working together on it. I’ve always been into hats — I went through my phase with the New Era stuff, and I really like designing them.
Were you a sticker on or sticker off kind of guy?
I took the stickers off. (laughs) I kept it on my first one, but then saw everybody else doing it and was like, “Eh, I’m gonna take this off …”
What’s a day in the life of Dylan Miller like these days?
I don’t have any trouble staying busy these days, that’s for sure. When I’m not riding, I really like woodworking and making things for the house, little projects like that. Plus, now that the season is getting underway, there are always guys in town, like Felix and Taylor, and Oli lives here during the season too. My girlfriend is around a lot too.
Speaking of, what’s it like dating the daughter of a former NBA player?
It’s pretty cool, and it’s pretty crazy! I haven’t met her dad yet; her parents are divorced and he doesn’t live nearby. But he’s got a reputation for losing his temper when he was a player, and she tells me he’s calmed down a lot, but I’m still kind of nervous to meet him, you know? (laughs)