More than twenty years ago, Leslie Kent was the first girl to land a Pete Rose, a grabbed 540, slob front-flip to fakie and the front side back roll nuclear grab. She was the only female to compete in the original Carnival slider contest, the first girl to slide rails and the first female pro-wakesKater. Here is the interview of Wakeboarding Hall of Famer Leslie Kent by legendary star coach Rich Goforth.
The Ripper…There are many ways to describe Leslie Kent although the Ripper pretty much sums it up. I’ll never forget when we first met, she was around 13 years old, I was driving the boat for an Extreme Productions contest and Leslie was next on the water. I’d just taken a break from driving when I passed her on the dock and engaged a conversation.
She responded with the biggest smile, intelligence, eagerness and not an ounce of fear. She was soft spoken but confident, when she got behind the boat, she was humble but killed it while she smiled from ear-to-ear. She was grabbing, poking and executing maneuvers flawlessly with perfect form.
That attitude towards style would hold steady throughout her whole illustrious career and make it hard for anyone to take their eyes off of her, whether she was behind the boat, waiting for her turn on the dock or just standing on the shore smiling.
How old were you when you first started Wakeboarding and who got you started?
The first time I ever wakeboarded was when I was 12, it was on an old-school Skurfer behind a Boston Whaler, but when I really got started wakeboarding, I was 13. I’d spent a little bit of time on the Skurfer at the summer camp I went to in Arapaho North Carolina, (Seafarer Camp) where I got to try it. About a year and a half later my dad got a boat, that was when I really got started Wakeboarding. So, my dad was the one who really first got me started.
Who were your sponsors coaches and influences?
Charlie Patterson was the first coach I had. Tina Bessinger taught me my first backroll which I will never forget. That was back when they were both coaching at O-Town Water Sports along with Toni Bazile. At O-Town I met Andrea Gaytan who took me under her wing and taught me a lot, and Buster Lutgert who I became riding buddies with.
My first board sponsor was Blindside Wakeboards then I rode for Double Up Wakeboards and then Gator Boards. I rode for Body Glove wetsuits for a little bit, then I rode for O’Neill wetsuits and O’Neill clothing once they started making clothing.
“I had been riding for Hawaiian Island Creations but then O’Neill clothing offered me a contract so I started riding for them”
Blackflys was my sunglass sponsor all of my wakeboarding career, I also rode for Sector Nine skateboards, Digit Three shoe company and Spoon watches. For a while I had a sponsorship with Burger King “my dad being a proud dad and franchise owner was able to get a sponsorship going with the corporation”.
My first boat sponsor was Toyota Boats, (when they were making boats) then I rode for Mastercraft for a while and the last year that I was competing for Nautique. Reef was my shoe sponsor. I was also sponsored by Endo Board and Balance 360 boards to help my cross training.
In my last couple of years or so of riding competitively, I was training quite a bit with Glen Fletcher at O-Town Water sports and I was sponsored by a jewelry company called Silver Moon, my bathing suit sponsor was 8.5 quake and Freestyle watches.
What about contests? Tour stops? Travel and photoshoot experiences?
When I first was getting started with riding and my parents were taking me out to O-Town to ride with Charlie and Tina, they were holding a little Pro-Am contest out there. Once I got good enough, I started competing in the Florida X-Cup series. I’ll never forget going to those fun little tournaments with my dad and my little sister Natalie, she competed in them too. My brother Justin came to the first couple of them with us before he went off to college.
Those X-Cup tournaments had lots of different classes like Women Amateur, Outlaw for the riders who were almost pro, Veterans on top of Pro division, all competing at the grassroots tournament. Then they judged the other classes, that was really cool.
When I started competing on the Pro Tour, I was still only 15 that first season I competed in some. The next season, my parents took me to most of the pro tour stops. I remember my first Tour Stop in Orlando, when they still had the five-trick run for the judges. I was so nervous!
Photoshoots and video-shoots where usually fine, but a lot of them we had to work and wake up really early so that the light was good. I got to work with some really talented photographers and videographers from when we had clouds in the sky or other boats on the lake putting out rollers, it always seemed that we stayed pretty positive.
They were so many variables to get a good shot out of every single shoot. The photographers and videographers were so patient. Usually on the shoot the photographers or videographers would get in an inner tube with a camera in a water house case. A lot of times it really took a whole crew to get a great shot.
The Pro Tour was pretty exciting. Each tour stop was its own little adventure. The tour always put on a fun little event for us athletes and the crew members to do at night on the weekends of the pro tour stops. My favorite was the time when they rented it out this awesome skate park in California. For a while, they even brought a big 12-foot skate ramp and set it up at all the Tour stops.
How did crossover sports influence your wakeboarding?
I really love all board sports. I already was into skateboarding and loving it as much as I did, and knowing how to surf and loving that too, really helped with me wanting to try Wakeboarding. Since I was so comfortable on a board already it really helped me with getting the knack of Wakeboarding and progressing quickly.
What were some highlights of your career?
The highlights of my career were winning the Orlando Pro Tour, placing third in the X games, third in the Gravity Games and winning the IWWF World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Who did you train with, travel with and hang out with?
What is your fondest memory or the wake trip of your life?
My fondest memory was getting to go to the San Francisco X Games. It was such a special time for me being into skateboarding, it was so cool and exciting to get to see all the other sports. My mom flew out there with me, and my brother Justin, who was working in Santa Monica at the time, came out too. I remember Andrea being there and after that we went straight to Europe to compete in this European tour.
Being picked as a wildcard to compete in the San Francisco X Games was such an honor for me, even though I finished in eighth place, it was still an experience I will never forget. The best wakeboarding trip of my life was probably the first Gravity Games in Rhode Island Providence.
What is your interpretation of the fear factor of wakeskate, surf and snowboarding?
“The fear factor can cause mental blocks that make the envisioning off a trick or a drop-in from start to finish nearly impossible.”
I think being around and riding with people who were better than me most of the time, helped me be able to get the feeling and mental picture of how to do certain tricks, which helped lower my chances of having much fear when I was learning them. Also, practicing tricks on the trampoline helped lower my fear factor too.
“When you want to do a trick really bad, you just have to learn to get over any fear. You just have to be one with the board and the water and know in your head that you can do it.”
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen Leslie Kent in her own words. To me, she is like the Scott Byerly of women. She holds One World title, (just like Scott) although contests don’t really matter when it’s about being styley, floating and grabbing. Throughout the years I watched Leslie grow, mature, improve and become an incredible woman. We had fun snowboarding in California, surfing Typhoon Lagoon and all the while Leslie still remained as humble as ever.
Now years later, she has developed an incredible passion for the environment, fitness and nutrition. She still has her supermodel looks along with a chiseled body and an attitude that would brighten anyone’s darkest day (did I mention her smile ear-to-ear lol!) All hail the queen of style, Miss Leslie Kent!