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Wakeskating's Beginnings: The Jason Messer Interview Part Six

Author: Staff
Date: 1-27-2006

To read section five, click here...

WS: When and where was Fresh Water Traction officially established?

J: Iíd have to say Surf Expo '96 because thatís an official place, huh?

early wake to wake shuv attempt
An early, shoeless wake to wake shuv attempt on a directional board with a giant surf dog fin.

WS: Yeah, that would work. Or just a year, or even when you named it and came up with the concept.

J: Right. Well, Fresh Water, I came up with that name in '95. I didnít actually come up with the name personally. I was actually showing--I was working with my friend Rod at the Arboretum in Portland, and he was asking me about what Iíd been doing and stuff. Iíd been telling him that Iíd been making these boards and whatever, and heís like, ďI really want to see one of these boards.Ē So one day I brought them up in my car and showed them to him, and Iím like, ďIím trying to think of a name for this company or what I do here.Ē And he just goes, ďDude, thatís Fresh Water Surf.Ē And Iím like, ďWhat?Ē And heís like, ďFresh Water Surf, man.Ē And Iím like, ďWoah, thatís pretty cool." [laughs].

Even up until Surf Expo '96 my name of my company was Fresh Water Surf. And it wasnít until I had the product that I just kind of named my company after my product [laughs]. So thatís kind of how Fresh Water started. I dropped the surf after the first Expo, I think. The first year when I started to see the sport take shape in more of a skate fashion, I dropped the surf for that reason.

Jason at his day job...if you could see his helmet, there would be a Launch magazine sticker and a Fresh Water Traction sticker on it. Represent!

WS: So basically, the name was kind of like the guy thought of lake and fresh water, and then just surfing?

J: Yeah, exactly. Like surfing on the fresh water.

Evolution courtesy of prototyping. Jason setting up an old Thruster wakeboard with some early traction pads on June 18, 1995. Notice the Surf Alley wakeboard in the background...

WS: Thatís so cool!

J: Yeah, thatís the whole--and thatís how Iíve always--in my mind, thatís what the company is all about. Just like, fresh water riding, riding on water. And then the name Fresh Water is so good because itís kind of like a fresh, new thing. Youíll never have a dead or stagnant idea come out from my head [laughs]. Iím always pretty into fresh, new things. So it kind of made sense.

the next step
The next step in the evolution of Jason's wakeskating: the perfect board with the perfect traction.

WS: So in the beginning did you own Fresh Water Traction?

J: Yeah! You know, I basically put my life savings into that company when I first started. Everything I had, all my moneyĖall my spare money went into that company. I never asked for money from anybody; itís self-funded by me.

WS: Yeah, thatís a RARE thing, too, in that industry.

J: [Laughs] Yeah, well, Iím not saying itís the right thing to do, itís just the way that I did it. There was really no other way, other than for me to do it myself.

WS: How many years did Fresh Water Traction operate independently?

J: Umm, always.

Taking matters into his own hands by riding his own rail and his own handmade, high-end wakeskate (with traction). It doesn't get much more "DIY" than that...

WS: Well, eventually didnít you have to consolidate with Double Up?

J: I went to work for Double Up January 1, 2000, as a product manager. They wanted me to work on their products . The fresh water aspect of it; you know, we shared almost the same distribution channels because basically all of the Double Up reps were also Fresh Water reps. You know, thatís just a relationship over the years that we gained. So going to work for Double Up was easy for my company, Fresh Water, because we had the same distribution channels. So I just decided to move all of my product line into their warehouse and distribute Fresh Water products through Double Up distribution. And when I did do that, a clause in the contract was, only as long as I worked for Double up, they would get the profits from Fresh Water products.

WS: So you joined up with Double Up, and they continued to make trac top they called Fresh Water Traction, but they never made any of your boards. Was that in your contract at all?

J: Well, I worked on a board for Double Up that was a slightly dished out Grommet board with Fresh Water grip tape on the top. I do not think they pressed this board for production though. There were only a few made while I was working for them.

At the time that I went down to Tahoe, they were like,"Can you help us with Double Up?" You know? "This is a pivotal year for us; we need help with Double Up." [ED note: Jerry Dugan had just stopped working for them, and he was a significant, creative force behind Double Up Wakeboards and FLF films up until that point.] Without him there was this big creative hole that needed to be filled So right when I got down there, the whole Fresh Water wakeskating thing kind of wasnít priority one. And that was a big part of me going down there, was that I was going to be a part of a larger company, and I was going to help do some product research and product design for new stuff because I had some great ideas that were ready to go. And it was tough going down there and realizing that first we had to work on Double Up before we could work on Fresh Water.

And then within that whole time, we acquired Hardline. I had just hooked Hardline up with their whole EVA handle line, so they were looking really good. I was pretty pivotal in Hardline being acquired by Double Up.

We went ahead and brought Hardline Ropes and handles in house by April 2000, all of a sudden we have another product line that needs to take off because, frankly, Double Up and Hardline were a lot bigger than Fresh Water. You know what Iím saying [laughs]? And so, all of a sudden Fresh Water got dropped down to the third rung, and then I find myself day in and day out learning about making wakeboard products. You know what Iím saying? And coming up with new EVA handles for Hardline, and Iím thinking to myself, "What did I sign up for?" I thought I signed up for, yes, obviously being a product manager for Double Up, but also to--I wanted to develop other Fresh Water products.

2001 Fresh Water Page
The Fresh Water Traction page from the 2001 Double Up Catalog--Fresh Water Traction's last line of products.

To view a complete collection of Fresh Water catalogs and to learn a little more about early wakeskating, check out the following links:

1996 Fresh Water Surf Catalog Page 1
1996 Fresh Water Surf Catalog Page 2
1996 Fresh Water Traction Catalog Page 1
1996 Fresh Water Traction Catalog Page 2
1997-1998 Fresh Water Traction Catalog Page 1
1997-1998 Fresh Water Traction Catalog Page 2
1999 Fresh Water Traction Catalog Page 1
1999 Fresh Water Traction Catalog Page 2
1999 Fresh Water Traction Catalog Page 3

WS: So was it kind of a painful thing for you to push your love to the side?

J: Yeah, it really was. I wasnít really into it for the monetary gains. And being a part of a company that HAD to make money and had to go. You know, it was easy for me because I was such a small company, Fresh Water. And everybody I talked to was like, ďYes, yes, yes. We want this stuff because itís so new, itís what we want.Ē So for me, selling things was starting to get easy. But at the same time, I decided to hook up with a company that needed to sell lots of boards that year if they wanted to stay in business. You know what Iím saying? So it got really tough, and I would probably say to people that were in that type of position, you might want to try and stick it out and try to stay true to you and see where it leads.

WS: So just to get a clear answer, in the end what kind of led to end of Fresh Water Traction?

J: Well, it had a lot to do with...when I ended with Double Up, I stopped working for Double Up in September of 2000, nine months after I moved to Truckee, Ca, and started working for them. I really felt like a chapter was ending.

I went to school for forestry, you know, I have a degree in forestry and I am a certified arborist; I take care of trees in Portland. So this whole water sport thing was kind of a fun thing for me that got pretty serious because I stumbled upon something pretty cool.

And I am happy with where Iím at right now with everything. Thatís not to say that I donít want to come out with products in the future. But, you know, when youíre a person like me that has kind of made a name for himself, that name just doesnít go away. Itís not like I have no way of getting back into this industry if I want to. You know what Iím saying [laughs]? Itís kind of like, for me right now, itís just good to just get away for a little bit. I put a lot of years into the sport and a lot of time...

WS: The hardest years, probably.

J: Oh, absolutely. I put a lot of time into this sport, and I got back a lot, too. But thatís just life and I enjoy it. And thatís why I like where Iím at right now.

WS: Do you think youíll make any products in the future?

J: Absolutely. You know, this industry is so ebb and flow right now. And as you can see, letís just say wood concave was everything for the last three years, and now it is harder to find. You know what Iím saying?

WS: Or, instead of a wood concave, now the hot thing is to do like a wood flat like maybe 9 ply or whatever, and then have the concave formed out of foam. Thatís what Hyperlite and Liquid Force are doing.

J: Well, you have to understand that Iíve been waiting for this day for a long time because I own a utility patent on the top surface contours of a bindingless wakeboard.

patent number
Total dedication and foresight led to this number being printed on packages of Fresh Water Traction Pads, starting in 1998.

WS: Really?

J: Itís really interesting. I own the patents on a kicktail, concave sides, and arch support that are on the top of a board. So you can kind of understand, maybe this will help a little bit to understand my position because, you know, obviously yes, I did put my time in to promote the sport and everything [laughs]. But also a big part of my plan was, if I come up with an idea from my head, Iím gonna patent that. And in 1996, just after the trade show I think, I went back home to Portland and I filed for a patent with a patent attorney. And I think it was in June of '98 when I got the patent pushed through [laughs]. And itís a pretty nice patent, I must say.

I mean, my profits from Fresh Water, I put into a patent. And I had it filed and now I own it. If you look at my original Fresh Water Traction, youíll notice that there was what, kicktails, concave sides, and an arch support. I knew that thatís what was making me ride good, a kicktail and concave. So you know, I went ahead and wrote that in a patent, a utility patent.

The very first set of Fresh Water Traction pads, with the photograph dated as June 25, 1995. These were also the pads that were used to earn a utility patent.

WS: So now do you get to kind of claim that part too?

J: Yeah, absolutely. See, when I first started wakeskating, I thought to myself, "What am I making hereĖa kicktail, concave sides, and this arch support." To me, that was the most important aspect to wakeskating, you know? Thatís why I developed it. If you didnít have these control points, you know, if you don't put your foot on a kicktail, itís hard to ollie. It made it so much easier when I built a kicktail. I could ollie twice as high, you know? And then the concave sides, when I was doing like shoveits and all that stuff, you knew where to land. And so like, Iím five, six, seven years ahead of everybody with this stuff. So Iím thinking to myself, "I should probably patent this.Ē You know what Iím saying? And so thatís the reason why I patented all of that stuff so long ago before anybody really...I donít even think people really understood the real meaning of my traction pads.

WS: Do you approve of where wakeskating is going right now?

J: Oh, absolutely. Iím saying that the sport is in its infancy and this is just the first go-around at this, you know? Itís seriously, what Thomas has done, bringing it to a real skate level, thatís kind of the first cycle of wakeskating. You know, working on your technical riding, rails, all that kind of stuff. You should be able to build on that later, you know? And what we ride behind, that changes all the time, too. This sport is always going to evolve, and Iím really happy with what has happened, even in the last five years of the sport.

What I wanted to be able to do was to be able to turn on the T.V. and watch an event behind the boat that was technically advanced and something that you look at and you go, ďWoah, that is really cool.Ē And when I do watch wakeskating on T.V., thatís what I think. And when I do watch a video, I think itís a pretty legitimate sport. Thatís kind of what I always wanted out of it anyways, just legitimacy.

You have to put your time in and it doesnít come naturally, and thatís a part of wakeskating. Everybody thatís good at wakeskatingĖgranted, thereís the Thomasí of the world that pick things up so fast. But people that are good on a wakeskate have put their time in, you know? They didnít just show up and blow up.

WS: Yeah, thatís another thing. It does take a lot of time to get that board control so you can progress. Basically, I think the scariest thing is having one foot on the wakeskate while the back foot comes off.

J: Well, I mean, when wakeskating first started, everybody know, the big companies were kind of like, "Woah, what happened?" All of a sudden, people are talking wakeskating, and a lot of the big companies were scared of the sport a little bit because ofĖthey thought it was a lot moreĖit could hurt you a lot more than wakeboarding could. There was just an unknown sport and people didnít really know. And thatís why I kind of went into production with soft boards and stuff because I would get so much flack from people for riding hard, rigid boards without bindings. People would think it was unsafe. And there was even a rumor started that somebody died wakeskating.

WS: Oh god.

J: Yeah. That rumor got out and I donít think itís true. But when it first started, there was just a lot of concern about how dangerous it was. And thatísĖwith water sports, you have to be concerned because thereís been a lot of lawsuits involved with water sports in the past. And it is kind of one of those things where people are on alert in this industry because there has been some pretty heinous lawsuits in the past.

And so that I think was really one of the things that held wakeskating back a little bit from the mainstream, or kind of made my job a little bit harder [laughs]. Let me tell you, itís a lot easier coming into a market thatís already saturated and you just have a better product to sell, you know? The marketís already there, you just sell them a better product. But can you imagine coming into a market when there is no market? Where there is nobody that does this, and everything you do is just all about educating people, and every conversation you have with anybody is that of educating them and talking to them about this new thing. I mean, thatís where I was at for the first five years of this sport [laughs]. It wasnít about skimming any cream off of the milk, it was about putting my time in and telling everybody about this sport, just letting it sink in and seeing what happens, you know? And thatís really what it was. Basically, it was a big uphill battle, and you talk to shops and theyíre like, ďGosh, weíre just starting on this wakeboarding thing,Ē you know? ďNow you got this, whatís this?Ē Itís like, oh man [laughs].

jason today
Jason at home with a collection of lures that were found along a special waterway in his hometown by himself and some friends.

The End

Jason would like to thank those who've always believed or helped out along the way, especially: Steve Frink, Josh Smith, Scott & Nick Jobe, Thomas Horrell, Collin Wright, Drew McGuckin, Scott & Ryan Byerly, Jeff Barton and Bill McCaffray.

"Itís really cool like that, to have those moments where youíre kind of, youíre not peering into the future, but youíre a part of the future. And thatís kind of one of those things; itís like, where do you find the force of water? It bubbles out of the earth somewhere and everybody wants to get as close as they can to the source, you know? To be, for a few years or for a few moments, to be at that source and to be with it, and to see other people be with it too, is pretty powerful."--Jason Messer

the messer

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