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A Decade of DVS in Wake (Part 2)

Author: Staff
Date: 12-09-2008

View the DVS ad Gallery here.
View the DVS Wakeskate shoe gallery here

(Continued from part one of "A Decade of DVS in Wake"
Read part three of this DVS series here

Once it took form, the DVS wake team was composed of three wakeboarders. “Basically, when DVS started to support the wake industry was when they initially put Thomas on the team back in the day. Thomas, along with [Matt] Staker and Aaron Grace were all on the program,” says Leatherman. It was around this time that Leatherman complemented the wake program by joining as another wakeboarder with a distinct, snow and skate inspired style. But nearly as soon as DVS assembled a wakeboarding team, a change, or perhaps more accurately, an evolution was looming. One key rider would begin to explore other options that would alter the direction of the DVS wake team.

At the beginning of Horrell’s DVS sponsorship, industry peers and wakeboarders alike widely respected Horrell for his original riding style and his willingness to to hit nearly any rail in front of him. But at the height of his success, Horrell was already moving beyond the concept of bindings and became more interested in taking advantage of the untapped potential in wakeskating. Wakeskaters were unattached to their boards and free to explore what had never been done before. So for any rider who wanted to be creative on the water, wakeskating became the perfect form of self-expression. Especially at that time, the only limitation was their imagination. Horrell took full advantage of this in many ways, from landing the first kickflip on a wakeskate, to using the lip of the wake in ways nobody had really explored, while most other riders adhered to a wakeboarding influenced style of riding.

Horrell's new experience on the water allowed him to add another passion into the mix: skateboarding. DVS recognized this potential and continued to support both Horrell and wakeskating. “It’s weird, but the timing was right. They believed in me, saw the potential wakeskating had, and after a few years, stuck it out and basically cornered the wake market as far as ‘cool’ footwear goes,” says Horrell.

“Obviously there are a lot of correlations between skate[boarding] and wakeskating, and that is one of the reasons DVS decided to jump completely into the program and not just ride the coattails of a random up-and-coming sport,” says Leatherman. Similarly, Grace offers, “Once Thomas started to get wakeskating in the mainstream, for a lack of words, I think that is when DVS really took notice of wakeboarding and wakeskating.” DVS recognized the potential inherent in wakeskating, and increased their support for their wake team, while simultaneously increasing their presence in the water sports industry. “DVS decided to really get into the sport by expanding the wakeskate team and their support through team tours, advertising, and the development of wakeskate specific shoes,” says Leatherman.

Horrell was featured in the first major ad from the 2003 DVS wake team ad campaign.
(View a larger version here)

A Memorable Team

In the beginning, the DVS wake team was composed of both wakeboarders and wakeskaters. A common thread among this team of individuals was their ability to look at the water differently and ride with a style that other board sports could relate to and respect. Style, creativity, and originality are values that have remained consistent with the DVS wake team as the years passed by and the names changed. The DVS wakeboarders were exploring the potential in jibbing, keeping their spins tucked and their grabs proper. And the team's wakeskaters were flicking, popping and catching their tricks above the water.

In addition to their riding styles, the DVS wake team continued to define itself through personality and character. Grace explains how the marketing team behind the DVS shoe company approached the wake industry with a lighthearted attitude, which helped to set the DVS wake team apart. Grace says, “DVS has always stayed a pretty core brand, but they did it right with the way they marketed toward wake. They were all about having fun and not taking it too serious, but at the same time putting together one of the best teams in wake.” Similarly, Leatherman has always recognized how the team’s attitude has been perceived by others: “There has always been quite a bit of personality on the program, and that is a major influence on how people perceive the team. Somehow we found that people took us seriously when we were the least serious people on the planet.” The team displayed their character on various team tours, including the Dirty South tour (as named by Myles Vickers); team trips from Barcelona to Prague; and the ads they placed in the industry’s magazines. “I think we have been associated with…some off the wall tours, and the boss men get a kick out of weird coverage we always seem to come up with,” says Leatherman. Beyond their humorous presence in the industry, the wakeskate team came to be influential to the development and progression of the art form and its participants.

Jim Leatherman in his first DVS ad rocking the wake in his signature fashion.
(View a larger version here)

Over time, the DVS wake team, led by then team manager Sam Ratto, came to support the riding abilities of wakeboarders Shawn Watson and Parks Bonifay, and of wakeskaters Thomas Horrell, Tim Kovacich, Jim Leatherman, Aaron Reed, Danny Hampson, and Reed Hansen (“C” team riders included Danny Molina and Myles Vickers). “If you look down the chain of riders that DVS has supported over the years, you get the idea that we keep it short and sweet,” says Leatherman. And if you look closer, you’ll recognize that the wakeskaters on the DVS team were also Cassette team riders. It's nearly impossible to deny their connection because each team served to inspire and influence the other while they collectively advanced wakeskating.

As a group, they had cohesive personalities, and they rode with a shared vision in which they wanted to advance wakeskating. Danny Hampson, currently a wakeskater for Liquid Force, can attest to this because he launched his career with Cassette, and soon after a position on the prestigious DVS wake team followed. Hampson recalls the tight relationship between the Cassette and DVS teams: “We were all so connected back then and DVS and Cassette were part of this big family of people that were always around back then and were just one big group of friends bringing ideas to the table and challenging the standards of everything." The team's collective influence and unique synergy really goes back to two key concepts: riding with a good and respectable style on the water, and sharing many of the same ideals that came from skateboarding. This allowed the DVS wake team to display their art form in a way that would help build respect on all fronts for what they were working so hard to advance. “It’s a good thing when you’re showing coverage to Tim Gavin and the skate TM’s [team managers] and they are like, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing sequence.’ That makes you want to keep the perception of your sport a certain way,” says Leatherman.

Danny Hampson's first ad with the DVS wake team. "Varial Flick," 2004.
(View a larger version here)

The DVS and Cassette teams seemed magnetic, because they attracted the interest of so many impressionable riders. Granted, the industry was small, so options were limited. But as a wakeskate company, Cassette stood out because the team exerted enormous influence time and time again. And because DVS solidly supported Cassette, DVS received a loyal following from wakeskaters, because rocking the same gear created a connection and made the riders feel like they were a part of the movement. Hampson recalls how he was an early supporter himself before being invited to join the DVS and Cassette teams. “Joining DVS at a young age was pretty unreal for me because I always had so much respect for the company and image they portrayed. And always following Thomas' career so closely made me always wanting to be in a pair of DVS [shoes]. Once I got on Cassette it was just a pretty natural progression to get on with DVS...I will never forget the first DVS box I got and how the rest of that day I was literally in shock that I had just gotten three brand new pairs of shoes.”

Brett Leadley offers another perspective. Leadley is your average wakeskater, and having been a rider at that time he also had a memorable experience with the strong presence of Cassette and DVS: “I bought a pair of those mesh Epic shoes when they came out back in 01 or 02. At that point, I didn’t know much about DVS as a company. I just knew my old skateboard shoes weren’t cutting it and I thought mesh was a good idea. So I’m wearing them the day I meet Thomas and the Cassette crew, [and] I remember him asking me if I liked them.” Leadley continues, “After my Epik’s got ruined, I did some searching for some DVS's and found out that they were a family-run business, which really means a lot to me.”

Wakeskaters admired the images the DVS and Cassette teams projected, and they wanted a piece of it themselves. Leadley recalls the climate of wakeskating at that time and how riders were responding to the options and images around them. “I honestly think because wakeskating was so small at the time a lot of people felt the way I did. Everyone looked up to those guys. I remember one time, probably in 03, we were standing in line at the cable and [a current, unnamed pro] was joking around. He’s like, ‘Yeahh, I got my Cassette board,’ points at his board, ‘I got my DVS on,’ points down at his Milans…I mean, he was intentionally making this same point. Like every kid out there that day (mind you, then there were very few wakeskaters) was wearing DVS and riding their Cassette.”

Aaron Reed drops hammers: wake to wake kickflip, 4-trac style, in his 03 DVS wake ad. Reed is also wearing a pair of team edition Dresdens that can be seen throughout Sfumato.
(View a larger version here)

The DVS wake team was so dedicated and inspiring that they not only benefited the DVS program, but wakeskating as a whole. “I think DVS has only really got totally involved because of the riders they supported. If we wanted to do a trip, a shoe, or something of that sort, we just had to run it by the boss man and he would normally give us the thumbs up,” says Leatherman. With support from the DVS shoe company a few of the team riders helped to produce some of wakeskating's most influential media. For instance, Thomas Horrell and Cassette wakeskates produced their first team film and the first all-wakeskate film titled Linear Perspective, along with the unforgettable follow-up film titled Sfumato. Also, DVS supported the only book dedicated entirely to wakeskating, titled Butter 2002+1. Beyond the DVS family’s commitment to sponsor riders, key wakeskate films and produce ad campaigns, they also took some early steps for wakeskaters and helped create the freedom to choose.

Stay tuned for part three of "A Decade of DVS in Wake."

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