There comes a time in many professional wakeboarder’s careers where “nothing left to prove” can justify a change of scenery, or at the very least provide some dignity to an otherwise not-so-graceful decline in progression (and sponsorships). But with a bunch of accolades and accomplishments under her belt, and with only one paying sponsor (Rockstar) for the last several years, Nicola Butler isn’t taking that route. In fact, she’s still pushing, often times still winning, and doing it with a determined-to-prove-everybody-wrong smile on her face. For somebody who has literally and figuratively ridden the highest of highs and lowest of lows in her career, it is only appropriate that Nicola can’t quit wakeboarding, despite wakeboarding seemingly trying to quit her. It sounds cliché, but in Nicola’s case it’s totally true; she loves wakeboarding too much, and in her opinion, she still has a lot left to prove, both on the water and off.
At the end of 2016, after years (and what could be considered a full career) in Orlando, Nicola moved to Northern California with her boyfriend. It was a fresh start for her, while going back home for him. Since then, not only has Nicola’s riding not slowed down, it’s continued to progress. It’s also given her the opportunity to approach it in new ways, as well as do things like photo shoots on the Delta with the acclaimed Rodrigo Donoso. One of those recent shoots produced some gems, which lead to the creation of this month’s Cover Up feature. Read more about Nicola’s life the last 18 months, and what she hopes women’s wakeboarding can accomplish in the not-too-distant future.
You’ve been living in California the past 18 months, how’s that been and what prompted the move?
It’s the best! My boyfriend was born and raised here, so after finishing the 2016 season in Orlando, we both agreed that the West Coast was where we needed to be. I lived in Orlando for over seven years and it was just time to move on… It started to feel like Groundhog Day for me, everybody doing the same thing, day in and day out. I missed seasons and mountains and new things.
What’s a day in the life of Nicola like now?
Every day is a new adventure. If I’m at home I usually wake up to my super sassy dog, Loki, barking at me to take him on a walk. Sometimes he lets me drink my coffee first. I reply to emails or work on some photography things when I’m home. I’ll hopefully drive out to the Delta to get a set in, and then come home and hit the gym. At night it’s dinner with the boyfriend, watch Netflix and go to bed by 10. The mid 20’s are hitting us hard, haha!
How often are you able to ride out there and who do you ride with?
I’m able to get out at least three times a week now, as well as most weekends when I’m home, which is awesome. I’ve been riding with Josh Twelker and Matt and Jestina Steele. It’s always good vibes out there.
You recently put some posts up about physical fitness and body image. What’s that journey consisted of for you, and what prompted the lifestyle change?
I did! I started blogging again and put up a post about my weight loss journey. It basically covers how I came back from grief and injury. I just got to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable in my body anymore and I knew that I had to make some changes. I ended up losing over 40 pounds and I’m the fittest I’ve ever been, so that’s pretty cool.
What are you doing these days to be healthier and stay fit?
Just being more mindful of what I put in my body and staying active. I cut out dairy and meat a few years ago and that’s really made a huge difference. It took some time, but my relationship with the gym has changed. It’s no longer a place of punishment; I really enjoy working out and pushing myself. I’m planning on blogging more about my fitness tips and what helped me.
You’ve always been a top-level rider, but have you noticed a difference in your riding since making these changes? Definitely. I knew that by not being in shape I was at a much higher risk for injury. That motivated me the most, I think. I just couldn’t handle going through rehab again. Being lighter helps me execute tricks so much quicker, and I feel like I have more time in the air.
Last year you made a big push to further promote and legitimize fellow female riders, are you satisfied with the response?
No, not really. There are still huge strides to be made. Respect is a two-way street and I think companies have been disrespecting and exploiting female riders for way too long. Most wake brands currently have little to no female representation, which makes me sad.
I think the female riders have definitely made progress in some areas, though. A major barrier has been broken and girls are starting to realize they are a double threat by owning their femininity and badass-ness. This industry has created a system where we are pitted against each other instead of celebrating each other. Now I see girls everywhere rocking cute bikinis and killing it on the water. And why not? The idea that women should aspire to ‘ride like a guy’ is so outdated. The women are taking control of how they are portrayed and bringing a certain style and grace to the sport. I love seeing it evolve into that.
Wakeboarding doesn’t pay the bills anymore, so what else are you up to in the real world?
Photography! I shoot just about everything here from portraits to real estate to weddings and engagements. I also do social media and website curating for some wake sites.
How many female riders do you think are making a full living off of just their wakeboarding careers?
Not enough. The fact that the guys prize money is more than triple ours says it all. It’s a catch-22… We want to show up to events and represent, but without sponsorship or adequate prize money, it becomes cost prohibitive. Progression is being hindered because girls simply cannot afford to train and travel anymore.
What motivates you to keep going and keep competing, despite the lack of financial support?
Sometimes I don’t know, but I love it too much. I like traveling and I love competing. Rockstar have played a key part in keeping me in the game, so I’m very grateful for that.
Where do you see women’s wakeboarding in the next few years? What do you think it’s going to take to grow the professional side for women?
As I mentioned before, I think the most important thing for female progression is for us to keep supporting each other. To ride with each other, to push each other to try new tricks, and to celebrate each other’s accomplishments without seeing it as a threat to our own. I do not think it is our responsibility, or even within our ability, to change the industry’s way of thinking. That change needs to come from within. I’d love to see companies hire more females so that the idea of having a girl involved in a project is not such a foreign thing. To respect us enough to stop saying we need to find sponsors or create content for their benefit and to instead approach us with ideas on how to work together. I think we could all evolve from that change.
You were so close to landing a double back roll before Wake Awards last year? Any updates? Any other new tricks you’re working on?
Still working on it! Lately, I’ve just been going back to basics. Trying different grabs and to just make everything look better. I guess that’s what happens when you ride with the guys on the west coast!