Jul 25, 2011
Author: Josh Owens
While the media spotlight may not be constantly pointed at women’s wakeboarding, it doesn’t mean there’s a bunch of diverse and talented riders killing it day after day. From trying to get the best photo, to landing a groundbreaking tricks, to dominating every contest weekend after weekend, they’re constantly busting their asses to bring women’s wakeboarding to the forefront. Amber Wing, Nicola Butler, Dallas Friday and Melissa Marquardt are a few of the leading ladies out there at the head of the pack and helping to grow the sport in their own unique and individual way.
Amber Wing: The Jetsetter
Amber kind of started out as a freerider, but she’s been throwing it down in contests lately as well. She definitely pushes myself and women’s wakeboarding in general by landing all of the new tricks. —Nicola Butler
Amber is a super motivated person; I don’t think I’ve met someone as hard working as her. It definitely shows in all she’s accomplished in her career between the contest results and all the new tricks landed. —Melissa Marquardt
Amber always seems to be pushing her own riding and the envelope of women’s wakeboarding in general. She’s a positive influence on the sport and is a living example of whatever he can do, I can do as well. She’s influenced me to become a better rider and push my tricks to the next level. — Dallas Friday
Considering the amount of time you spend in Florida, does it now feel like home?
Sydney will always be my “home” home, but I definitely feel at home in Florida as well because I’ve been coming over here for a few years now. I love Florida mostly because of the humidity and the heat and being to go out on the. It’s winter back in Australia right now and I definitely do not like the cold weather. It’s fun to live in the endless summer life.
Who do you normally ride with?
Usually I ride with Haley Smith and Nicola Butler. I also tend to ride a lot with Dean Smith and Ben Greenwood.
Do you prefer going out with the girls to ride or do you like riding with the guys as well?
I like riding with either, but it is a different vibe for sure. I love going out with the girls because it’s really fun and laid back and it’s more of a mellow vibe for sure. It’s also really fun to go out with the guys because it’s cool to be able to watch them ride and then they also push my riding as well. It feels like I try to learn more tricks and go bigger when I’m in the boat with the guys.
What would you say and the ups and downs of travelling?
I really like travelling because I get to meet a lot of people and go to really cool and unique places. A lot of the time when I’ve gone to different countries, I’ve stayed with other wakeboarders or even families instead of just going to a hotel. It’s a good way to see more of the local culture and to eat what they eat and live how they live and compare it to they way I was brought up. The bad part would be living out of a suitcase and board bag for a long period of time. Also it’s weird to wake up in the middle of night and not remember where I am; sometimes it take me a minute or two to figure it out. I actually travel with my own pillow and form some reason that helps.
What is your favourite place you’ve travelled to?
That was definitely the Oakley trip to the Amazon when we were filming for Push Process. We stayed on this amazing boat in the middle of the jungle; there was a chef and a staff and we just got to ride on untouched water that no one had ever wakeboarded on before. It was so dark at night cause there weren’t any towns for miles and because we were right on the Equator the stars were incredible. We got experience some of the local culture; I met a witch doctor. It was a trip of a lifetime.
What’s it like being part of the Oakley family?
It’s amazing; I feel like the opportunities are endless. If I have a cool idea for a trip, they’re really approachable and super supportive. And they also come up with some unique projects that they want me to be a part of as well.
What feels better: landing a trick that’s never been landed or winning a contest?
I’d have to say landing trick for the first time. I remember this when I landed the Toe 7 and Toe 9 the rush and feeling of accomplishment I felt. Sometimes you can win a contest and not even be that pleased with the way that you rode. Of course, it’s awesome to win but I think I get more fulfillment landing a new trick.
What’s the next trick you’re looking to land?
(Ha-ha) I don’t know, I’ve got a couple in mind I guess. I’d love to land a Heel 9 someday; we’ll see how that goes.
What do you think it’s going to take to get more girls involved in the sport?
I think it’s working with the younger girls at the grassroots level to get them introduced to the sport. I think the girls-only clinics work really well, because they tend to be really fun and laid back but really productive at the same time. Hayley Smith doing some clinics where she’s not only teaching how to ride, but also how to drive and park a boat so girls can be totally self-sufficient. Getting more girls wakeboarding isn’t something that going to happen right away; it’s a bit of a process and is going to take some time, but in the end it’s worth it.
Melissa Marquardt: The Stylist
We’re really good friends and whenever we ride, it’s always about getting good photos and working with the best photographers to get shots for the magazines. Whatever tricks she does, she’s really focused on how they look and not just about landing. —Amber Wing
Melissa is the most down to earth person and really fun to hang with. She’s really focused on freeriding and has that West Coast style with a bunch of wrapped tricks, cool grabs and gnarly winch drops. She’s definitely pushing the sport in that way. —Nicola Butler
She’s all about the style with her West Coast Cali swagger. She’s proof that you don’t have to live in Florida to be a pro wakeboarder. Rails were never my best discipline and she’s pushed me to step up that side of my riding. She’s also always one of the first to congratulate you after a good run and is really supportive. —Dallas Friday
You just won your first pro tour stop, but you’re not really known as a contest rider. How do you feel about competitions?
I’m definitely more of a freerider. I like trying to bring in influence from other board sports like skating and snowboarding into my riding so I’m not really into doing contests. Winning in Acworth was a little unexpected, but it feels pretty good. I like to ride at all the contests, but it’s really not much of a focus for me. I don’t put a lot of time or energy into training or anything like that.
Where do you think your style comes from? Who’s your main influence?
I think snowboarding and surfing have played a role in developing my style. I also think riding with my brothers and guys like Randall [Harris], Kyle Murphy and Steve Wahlman have had a big influence on me as well. They’ve always taught me to grab legit and have really helped to push my riding. They’re always giving me a hard time, but in a good way so I think that has a lot to do with it.
How much time do you spend doing other boardsports like skating, snowboarding and surfing?
I like to surf; I live about an hour from the beach so whenever I’m down that way and there are waves I like to paddle out when I can. I don’t skate that much. Mostly I spend a lot of time snowboarding throughout the winter because the water gets a little too cold to ride in California. I think snowboarding is a great cross over sport for wakeboarding. It’s a similar feeling and I feel it helps my wakeboarding in the long run.
What’s it like riding with the guys all the time?
I like it. I grew up with two older brothers so I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy and I’m just used to hanging out with guys. It’s always fun to ride with girls too, but I think that guys push my riding a little more. I don’t think I have a preference for one or the other, I just like riding with people who have a good vibe and who like to push their riding.
What keeps you wakeboarding? What’s the drive?
I just love to wakeboard. Being able to do something that I love and make a living off of it is really a dream come true. I really couldn’t ask for anything more. I think it’s as simple as that.
You’ve had a few bad injuries: which one was the worst?
I’ve blown out my knee before and have had a bunch of scrapes and cuts, but I think the worst thing is all of the concussions I’ve had. It’s scary to admit how many I’ve had. I think they’re more scary than injuring any other body part. I’ve got them from catching edges when landing and hitting the water or getting a type of whiplash. When I get scared to try new trick, I’m always thinking about concussions.
There’s not many girls spending a lot of time winching. Do you go on regular missions?
Winching is so much fun because it’s a totally different aspect of the sport. It’s more like skateboarding where you have to find different terrain to go and hit. Me and my friends go winching in the wintertime quite a bit because there’s more stuff to hit because the water is higher. We’ve already hit most of the spots around here and we’ve scoped a few more spots up in Northern California. We’ve found quite a few this winter so hopefully I’ll get some shots from them.
What do you think it’s going to take to get more girls involved in the sport?
I think events like the girl-only clinics are a really good way. I also think cable parks are a great way to introduce not only girls to wakeboarding, but making the sport more accessible to everyone. I’d really like to see more girls contests out there as well, just so we can be seen a bit more and have the chance to spread our influence to a larger audience.
Nicola Butler: The Young Gun
She’s young and fairly new on the scene. She’s definitely a competitor and wants to win. She also wants to land new tricks all the time. I really love riding with Nicola. — Amber Wing
She’s a fresh new face on the scene. Her riding looks effortless and it looks like she’s having fun while doing it. She’s always down to ride whether it’s training for contests or freeriding for fun; I’ve always enjoyed riding with her in any situation. —Dallas Friday
She’s an awesome wakeboarder. I just had the chance to ride with her a lot in Florida and she’s very competitive, but also has really great style. She’s still so young and has loads of potential. She’s definitely going to be one the best riders in women’s wakeboarding for a while. — Melissa Marquardt
How did you first get into wakeboarding?
I don’t come from waterskiing family like a lot of people out there. When we were living in England I went to a cable park called Willen Park (although now it’s called WakeMK cable) and I tried wakeboarding for the first time. The one other time I was there, they were holding the boat Nationals there and I met Will Christien who was an English pro rider at the time. I just picked it up from there and found I was kind of good at it. I’d surfed my whole life up until that point so it was a natural progression for me.
Do you still ride a lot of cable?
I don’t ride as much as I used to. When I first moved over to Orlando I was at Orlando Watersports Complex (OWC) almost everyday. It’s a lot different than riding behind the boat and I find it can mess up some of boat tricks. Right now I’m focused boat riding and I’d like to do well at both; maybe someday I’ll put more time into riding cable.
Why do you think contests are so important in our sport?
I think contests are really the main source of income for a lot of riders out there. It’s a lot harder to make a living by just freeriding. I think it’s the fact that our sport is still fairly small. You look at skateboarding and snowboarding and you have a lot of riders making a lot of money by just freeriding, but wakeboarding isn’t there yet.
Are you competitive with others or just with yourself?
I’m mainly competitive with myself. Usually if I don’t win a contest, it’s usually my fault because I haven’t ridden as well as I could. I know what I’m capable of and when I don’t perform to my best ability.
Do you ever get bored with wakeboarding?
Yeah, there’s been a couple of times where all my friends were in school, then going to the beach or going shopping in their spare time and I just wanted to hang out with them. I think it goes up and down, but I’ve always been able to realize my love for the sport and get motivated to ride.
Are you excited about Queen of Wake getting bumped up to 8 stops?
Yeah, that’s really cool for women’s wakeboarding and it’s given me some extra motivation to really push myself to ride better. It’s nice that we’re back in the spotlight again and getting opportunities similar to what the guys are getting.
What’s been your proudest moment in your career so far?
2008 was the best year of my career. I worked really hard going into that season and won a lot of the titles I had set as goals including the World Championships and Queen of Wake.
Was there one wakeboarder you looked up to as you were growing up?
When I was starting out I really looked up to Dallas Friday. When I first started training with Mike Ferraro I’d always see her ride. I also looked up to her because she paved the way for all of women’s wakeboarding by all that she’s accomplished in her careers.
What do you think it’s going to take to get more girls involved in the sport?
I haven’t really been involved in a lot of the girls-only clinics, but I think they’re a really helpful way to get girls introduced and more involved in wakeboarding. I’ve been doing a few of the Mastercraft demos on the day after the Pro Tour stops and we always get a few girls out each time. It’s always a good time and I feel they just need to be introduced to the sport in a positive way so they’ll want to keep progressing with it.
Dallas Friday: The Competitor
Dallas is one of, if not, the most determined riders out there. She’s made some awesome recoveries from a few bad injuries; I think she’s so strong and really driven as an athlete. She’s raised women’s wakeboarding to another level. —Nicola Butler
She’s the ultimate competitor. When she shows up to an event, you know she’s there to win. She’s trains really, really hard and is so focused. You can always see the fire in her eyes. —Amber Wing
Dallas has pushed our sport to a whole new level. She’s won virtually everything there is to be won and has had to battle through a lot with her injuries. I’m really thankful to have someone like her representing our sport. —Melissa Marquardt
How’s your knee feeling. Are you close to getting back on the water?
Right now I’m taking it one step at a time. I’ve been through a lot of injuries and I’ve always come back and surpass my pre-injury riding level and that’s what I want to do this time. It’s a little different this time because this was my most severe injury. I’m trying to be smart and listen to the doctors. On previous injuries, I’ve always rushed back whether it was from pressure from sponsors, friends or just wanting to be back on the water. I’m putting myself first this time.
What exactly was the injury?
I tore pretty much everything in my knee: the anterior, posterior and medial ligaments, the meniscus and the patellar tendon. It did a number on me for sure.
There must be a huge mental aspect coming back from an injury like this.
I think that’s why I’m really taking my time getting back on the water. In the past, I got back on the water early before I was feeling one hundred percent and there was always something holding me back because I knew I couldn’t really push it. Those situations were frustrating because you’re not able to ride they way you know you can. I didn’t want to be in that position again so I’m waiting to be fully healed until I’m back riding and training for contests.
The waiting game must be really difficult.
It’s the hardest thing and it’s so tempting to just go out and ride. Right now I’m getting on the water occasionally and cruising around but every time it’s so tempting to try and push the limits a little bit.
What was the surgery like for such a huge injury as this?
Yeah, it was a 9-hour surgery. I went to a really good clinic in Alabama called Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Centre. They’ve treated big NFL stars like Brett Favre and the Manning brothers. I’ve never felt in such good hands or been so reassured about getting the surgery so my knee would be back to full strength. Because they deal with so many high-performance athletes they really put me in the right mind frame when I was starting my recovery.
You’ve had a couple of major injuries, was there ever a time where you thought about not coming back?
No, and I don’t think I’ll ever get to that point. I don’t think there will ever be injury where I say enough is enough. When the time comes when I know I’m done competing, I’ll know it, but an injury is never going to keep me down.
Where do you think your competitive nature comes from?
I think it’s something naturally within me and I was born with it. I think competing in gymnastics when I was younger helped to develop it. Probably being the youngest in my family and having two older siblings had something to do with it as well. I’ve always known what I’m capable of and that gives me a lot of drive.
Besides physio and getting your knee back to full strength, have you been doing anything else within the wake industry?
My coach, Mike Ferraro, was really pushing for me to stay active in the wake community. One of his other clients is a girl named Megan Ethel so I’ve been helping her out a few times a week in addition to the coaching she gets from Mike. It’s not really coaching, more just going out in the boat with another girl and having fun, but still being pushed at the same time. It’s kind of a mentoring role. I’ve actually really enjoyed it; I’ve never really thought of coaching before, but when I’m working one on one with someone who really wants to learn it has been a great experience. It’s been really cool to see her progress as a rider. She told me she was my biggest fan when she was getting into the sport so she really listens to what I have to say. It’s cool to be able to guide her and share some of my experience that I’ve gone through in my career.