Wakeskating's Beginnings: The Jason Messer Interview Part FourAuthor: Wakeskating.com Staff
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WS: Who in your opinion were or are some of wakeskating’s biggest supporters? Who are some of the people that have done it since the beginning and have tried to push the boundaries of the sport?
J: Yeah. Well, you know, Josh was the first guy I ever told about wakeskating.
Vintage Josh Smith ripping without bindings on an old NBN wakeboard ca. 1997.
J: Man, he’s the original. When I first started wakeskating or whatever, I was wakeskating before they even called it wakeskating; it wasn’t called wakeskating for the first few years [laughs].
An image from the original Fresh Water Packaging, ca. 1996. Now it's official!
WS: So what did you guys refer to it as?
J: We would just call it riding. I would just call it bindingless riding and you know, riding without bindings. I have this funny video of me, like, I got this video together for Surf Expo '96, and my brother’s doing the video and he’s interviewing me about, like, “What is this called?” And it’s so funny to listen to that video because I’m calling it some funny things but never wakeskating [laughs]. It was funny.
But anyways, when Wakeboarding magazine first came out Josh was up in that magazine a little bit. He seemed like a really cool guy. If anybody in the sport was going to embrace wakeskating at that moment, I was thinking it was going to be Josh. And at the time that I finally decided to get in contact with Josh, he was just starting to ride with FM wakeboards. And I called FM wakeboards one day, just like out of the blue. And I just started making my first versions of traction pads. And I got on the phone and I was like, “Hey, I’m trying to get a hold of Josh Smith.” And they were like, “Oh, woah, that’s kind of weird because Josh is here right now working on some bindings for us.” And I was like, “Woah, can I talk to him?” And they were like, “Yeah, just a second.”
And the next thing I know, I’m talking to Josh Smith and he’s like, “What’s going on?” And I’m like, “Hey, dude, what’s happening? I live down here in Portland.” Because he was up in Hood River where FM was. And I said, “Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you about what I’m doing down here, you know, how I’m riding and what kind of bindings I’m riding.” And I think I even said bindings or something and he was like, “Oh wow, bindings? That’s really cool, and I’d really like to known about it because I’m working on bindings right now.” And I’m like, “Well, these aren’t really bindings, they’re more like traction pads so you can ride without bindings on wakeboards.” And he’s like, “Woah, tell me more!” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve been riding without bindings, jumping the wake and doing all sorts of boardslides and skateboard tricks behind the boat. And I’m saying that I think this is gonna go, like I can really see all sorts of things like rails and pop shuvits and everything.” And he was like “Wow, man. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”
And we talked a little bit longer about it. I gave him my number and he gave me his number, or whatever, because he was living up with Nelson at Lake Sammamish, 3060 house or whatever that house is up there. And I talked to him that day...I remember calling him a couple months later because I was writing an article for one of my buddies' snowboard magazines, and I was writing an article about the state of wakeboarding right now and I was [laughs]...
Jason holding a Josh Smith FM pro model wakeboard from 1996 with some early Fresh Water traction pads.
WS: Was this like a little magazine?
J: Yeah, it was called Board Test magazine. I wanted to get some photos from them, of some good wakeboarding shots or whatever. And I get on the phone with Josh and Josh is like, “Oh dude, we put some trac top on our wakeboards and it’s the best thing going. It’s like all we’re doing up here.” That was the start just because where Josh was living was kind of the hub of wakeboarding, in a way. I think Paul O’brien moved in there at the end. In fact, I remember...
WS: Paul O’brien lived with them?
J: At the very end, right when they were moving out. And then he’s like, “I got really bad news. I think that Paul saw one of our boards,” and Josh was calling me, being all bummed out. And he knew how special it was to me, and he knew how special it was to him. And he was just thinking to himself, oh god, next thing you know, Hyperlite’s going to blow it up.
And I remember him distinctly calling me one day all bummed about that. But whatever. That was kind of how it started it until a year after I talked to Josh and hooked up and met with him, and got to shake his hand, and give him some traction pads and have him just stoke me out. He was probably the first guy ever that was just totally behind me 100%, like from day one. He was just, "Oh yeah, you need a board? Here you go." Next thing I know I’m getting FM boards in the mail. And Josh was down. And Josh’s board-- his FM board--that was probably one of the best wakeboards out there [laughs]. They’re probably still trying to make that board. You know what I’m saying? That board was so ahead of its time, and that board was a killer original wakeskate board for everybody.
Product shot, what?
WS: That’s the one that you were riding in those original ads, right?
J: Yeah, yeah, that’s Josh’s board, definitely. We were all riding that board.
A Fresh Water Traction ad that appeared in the very first issue of Launch Wakeboard magazine at the end of 1996.
The second Fresh Water Traction ad from the second issue of Launch Wakeboard magazine.
WS: Did Josh Smith wakeskate at all before you talked to him, or were you the guy that introduced him to it?
J: Yeah, totally. Yeah, called out of the blue, landed on Josh’s door [laughs].
WS: I think it’s so cool that he was so supportive. That’s perfect.
J: Yeah, Josh is the greatest. He was such a breath of fresh air for me because I was kind of thinking that there wasn’t going to be any people in this industry like me. But I find out later that there was tons of them, you know [laughs]? But at the time, at the infancy of the sport, it was a little uptight. And to read Josh’s interviews, and to talk to him on the phone, and then to have him support me so much, and have him introduce me to people, and to have him grow it the right way, was so important. It was probably the most important, or one of the most important aspects of the birth of wakeskating, was Josh’s positive spin on it. He made sure that the right people saw it. He made sure that the right people heard about it. He made sure that it grew slowly.
WS: Yeah, I wish more people would have heard about that. You know, he just didn’t get very much coverage at all, at least compared to other riders.
J: Yeah well, Josh does his own thing. Josh isn’t out here to please other people. He’s not really like that and if the industry’s not going in his direction, or if the industry is frustrating to him, he’s not going to stay in something that’s not working for him. That’s Josh’s way.
And we always called him turtle because he’s kind of slow anyways. He’s just a bro. He’s a rider’s rider. You don’t want to be waiting for him, but he’s who you want to be hanging out with.
WS: Okay, so Josh Smith was clearly an important influence on wakeskating. Who are some other important supporters of wakeskating? And who else has been doing it for a long time?
J: Well, I mean...basically at the start of '97 when people were just starting to figure out wakeskating and were starting to ride without bindings, all of those guys I dug like Byerly, Drew, Scott’s brother Ryan. All of these guys were–they got it. They got it right off the bat. There was no...there was no problems [laughs]. They just all got it. And from that moment on, especially with someone like Drew, it was just like game on from day one.
A wake to wake on a hand made Fresh Water Traction wakeskate. Don't even bother checking Ebay for this one...
I was out riding with those guys with one of my soft boards back in '97, and I was watching Drew and I knew Drew had hardly been riding, if at all. And by the end of the first session he was doing half-cabs, just big nice airs. And it’s just like, you know what? These guys are real talented. These guys have been riding wakeboards forever, and now to watch them just ride without bindings and almost pick it up seamlessly. I was like, these guys are skilled, this is a skillful crew. So I was really into that crew, too.
You know, right off the bat at Surf Expo in '96 when I was just kind of blowing everybody away, really the only people that kind of knew about me were Josh, Nelson, and kind of more of the west coast people at Double Up. You know, at that booth and stuff it was just funny, the random pros that just kind of rolled through there and were just kind of shell-shocked. They were all so young at the time. But Scott Jobe I remember classically coming to my booth, and he was with Chase, wearing matching Neptune button up shirts or whatever [laughs]. And throughout the trade show Jobe kept coming back four or five times showing different people, showing Staker and a bunch of other people. Jobe was already kind of the little kid on the block because he grew up next to Josh and Greg and all those guys at the Sammamish house.
WS: Yeah, I was going to say wasn’t he from the North West too?
J: Absolutely. He is from the North West, but at the time he might have been 14 or 15. He was just getting going, you know [laughter]? Jobe is definitely one of the original wakeskate guys. He showed a lot of people the sport.
And yeah, I didn’t get a chance to meet Thomas at that Surf Expo. But I think at that point Jobe was really good friends with Thomas, and I think Jobe was talking to Thomas about me and about wakeskating. It definitely wasn’t until '97 that I met Thomas. But when I met Thomas I knew that this was, that he was the future of the sport. You know, it wasn’t until I actually saw him ride that I really was convinced.
But, actually right when The Decline of the Water ski Monopoly–Schmaltz came out with a teaser, a Wake and Bake teaser a year or two before Decline came out, and he had some footage of Thomas and Cobe. And I was just like, I was looking at Thomas’ style and I was like, “Who is this kid? This kid’s got mad style.” And Schmaltz was like, “Yeah, totally, Thomas.” And I’m like, “Man I need to meet this guy because he was way right for the sport.”
And when I finally ended up meeting him he had already given me props in an interview, and he had the cover of Wakeboarding magazine, I think in '97, and he was talking about me in this interview, and he hadn’t even met me yet. So I kind of knew that he was stoked on the whole wakeskating thing. And by the time that I ended up meeting him, I think I ended up meeting him and staying at his house in Surf Expo '97 and spending the whole week with him, you know, riding and watching him. And within, like, a year’s time, that kid went from just starting riding to opening the door of the future to wakeskating. You know, he just--within six months of stepping on a wakeskate, he was already pushing the sport in a whole other way that I hadn’t even really seen yet at all, you know? That was really cool, watching Thomas ride for the first time behind his Supra, and how he’d take the sport so far in such a little amount of time. I knew that this kid was really special, and that he was going to be really important to the sport. And he had a cool attitude, too, and he was a real boardsman. He was just a good guy.
But the VERY first time I met Thomas was the summer of '97, driving up the West Coast with Randy Harris and Sarah Cline in Randy’s bus, heading up to the Portland pro tour, and they stopped by Collin’s house. I was hanging out over at Collin’s house, and I got a call from Randy trying to get directions. And sure enough, before we knew it, Randy’s motor home was stopping and Thomas and Sarah showed up. And uh, I didn’t know Thomas at the time at all. I just read his interview and he was on the cover of Wakeboarding earlier that year. When he came in the door he had no idea who I was. I think he had only heard of me at that point, possibly from Jobe, watching a video at the trade show, or maybe seen my video, I think. But I'm not sure, I think he just heard of me. As soon as he came into Collin’s place, I just introduced myself and he was like, "Woah, Jason." He's like, "Man I’ve been wanting to meet you for awhile now." So that was really cool.
And we ended up—I think it was early evening and they wanted to go riding and stuff. So we did go out in Collin’s boat on the Willamette. Sarah, Collin, Randy and I piled down there to ride, and Thomas wasn’t going to ride that day—I guess he didn’t want to ride a day before a contest because he was going to be wakeboarding the next day on the pro tour. So I think we just went out and—I’m pretty sure Collin rode that day—and watching Collin and Randy ride was really cool because they were both really starting to get their game on. I think Thomas was driving. And then I ended up riding, too, and the water was rough that day. But I definitely wanted to show Thomas what I was up to. And he definitely wanted to watch, too, because we hadn’t had a chance to ride together. I think I basically did a dock start in, and we kind of started going up the Willamette and like I said, the water was rough and there was lots of rollers ahead, and I was just getting my ollies wake to wake. I remember at the end trying to hit up one of those elusive wake to wake shuvits and then I was pretty much done. It was pretty much a blow out situation there. Still, I got to ride for Thomas and that was really cool.
A proper acid drop.
WS: Yeah, I have a lot of respect for Thomas and a lot of people do. He’s really responsible for how far wakeskating’s come right now.
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