When I first watched professional wakeboarder, Danny Harf, ride, I thought it was the coolest sport. To me, wakeboarding is as close as it gets to walking on water. Growing up, my father had a boat and we would always go out on the lake for family outings. Nothing was better than being on the water during a warm day, with the sun shining, soda-pop and sandwich in hand, wearing nothing but swim trunks and sun burns. My dad tried to teach me to water ski, but I could never get up because it was so hard.
Then I discovered wakeboarding. Wakeboarding is a watersport similar to water skiing. But instead of riding a thin, long ski at high speeds, a wakeboard is short and fat-shaped, resembling a surf board, and is towed at a slower speed.
A wakeboarder rides the wave, or the wake, of water behind a boat to perform aerial acrobatic maneuvers. Only when I tried wakeboarding, using a loaned board, was I able to get up on the water.
It was then that I knew I had discovered something special, cruising along the water’s surface. It was truly awesome. The speed of the boat towing a wakeboard is essential to the rider’s experience because the speed determines the size of the wake of water behind the boat on which the rider can use to preform aerial acrobatic maneuvers. In pursuit of finding out more about this wonderful activity, I decided to head back to the source of my experiences: the dealership from which my dad got his boat all those years ago.
My father told me to ask for Mike Hauer, the salesman that hooked him up.
To my amazement, he still worked there, and he even remembered me from when I was a youngling. Mike told me he could never forget the X-Star he sold to my dad. It was the first real wakeboat they had in the store and was memorable because many pros had been pulled behind the thing during its first year of demonstrations. This was news to me! After explaining to Mike that I wanted the ins and outs of the wakeboarding sport, he told me he knew someone we could talk to, that’s been all about the sport since it was invented. He pulled up YouTube and searched “professional wakeboarder Danny Harf.” Then he clicked the first result. Right off the bat, my mind was blown. The guy on the computer screen was doing tricks I had never imagined possible: Double flips, huge air, and spinning like a tornado.
Right then, I knew Harf would be the guy with all the answers. Mike went ahead and shot him a text message asking if he was cool with answering a few questions. Within ten minutes, I was on the phone, recording my interview with the legend, Danny Harf: Why did you start wakeboarding? “Well, I actually moved to Florida when I was like 6 years old and me and my dad and sister and mom, we all surfed in the ocean, coming from California. Yeah, so when we moved to Florida we started getting into some waterskiing, and that’s right when like the Skurf board had just come out. I actually started wakeboarding with my dad and sister and mom when I was probably 10 years old on a Skurf board, and then wakeboarding happened. Because it was a natural transition from the Skurf board, yeah, I mean that was the first wakeboard. But that was like the natural transition to keep moving into the sport.
Yeah, so I kind of grew up snowboarding and surfing, and we did some waterskiing and some snow skiing. When we saw a wakeboard, we actually were in like a sports shop in Florida, and we saw some of the first wakeboards, and it was kind of like something that we all wanted to do, coming from the surf world. Yeah, I mean we basically just started going out on the weekends and, for a long time, we would just carve the wake and basically pretended we were surfing on a wakeboard. Yeah but that’s right when the whole evolution happened. And the twin-tip had just come out at that point, so actually, I had some a family friend of ours who was friends with Scott Byerly. Okay, so one of the first people I ever saw on a wakeboard was Scott Byerly. That was my introduction to the sport and I just really fell in love with it. Kind of became the thing that I wanted to do. I played soccer and baseball but Florida’s hot and humid, so I wanted to be on the lake.”
Quickly, I looked up what a Skurf board was on my cell phone in an attempt to stay educated during the interview. It looked like a normal surfboard but with straps for your feet. Danny called it “The first wakeboard.” It seems the sport was created with surfing in mind. Perhaps surfers wanted what the water skiers had but had other means of doing so. From that point, all they could do was push what the sport already was until it eventually became the action packed sport it is known as today. Somebody wasn’t satisfied. One question in I had already learned about the first wakeboards and an innovator of the sport, named Scott Byerly. I later did some research on Scott to find out he was basically the founding father of what the sport is today. According to Jeff McKee in Alliance Wake Magazine, “He’s been the godfather for years and invented more than half of the tricks we all do today.
He was the first rider to bring a true boardsports style to wakeboarding. If there has ever been a legend in our sport, it is he.” I also found out that Scott created one of the leading wakeboard brands that is still around today, called Byerly Boards. I found it to be quite relatable, how Danny states his background growing up snowboarding, played a part in sparking his interest in the watersport. Personally, I love to snowboard in the winter and have been doing it for years. Maybe that’s what sparked my interest in wakeboarding, too. I liked having this in common with a pro. I wondered if his first experience on the water was like mine… What was wakeboarding like when you first started? “It’s completely different than what it is today. I mean, I would say yes and no. I mean generally, it hasn’t changed too much. I mean, we’re still going up and back on the lake and you know, doing flips and spins.
The sponsors have changed. The companies that are involved have changed. And, I mean—I think the sport is on a good track. I know that there has been some decline in overall sales numbers of the wakeboards that are being sold right now. Obviously, wakesurfing has become really popular. Yeah, but I really think that wakesurfing is kind of an avenue to get on to a wakeboard. And, we have all these great boats out there that put up a huge wave to wake surf. And, I know a lot of people are buying their boats to wakesurf. But, you know, as kids grow up and get bored of wake surfing, I think you’re gonna see a lot of kids jumping back on a wakeboard. Yeah, I mean, the cool thing about wake surfing, I think, is that you can really do it in any water conditions. You know, if you’re wakeboarding, you want semi-smooth water, and you know, if it’s a busy weekend on a lake, it’s kind of hard to have really good conditions to wakeboard. Yeah, I mean, I’m totally supportive of the whole wake surfing movement. Like I said, I got into wakeboarding from being a surfer. Yeah, so to me, like riding an endless wave behind a boat is kind of the ultimate thing.
Yeah, but I also think that you’re missing the adrenaline rush that you get from going 23 miles per hour and sending yourself through the air on a wakeboard. It will never compare to, you know, surfing at 12 miles per hour. So, as much as I do love surfing, you know, if I really want an adrenaline rush and I want to go, you know, have a blast behind the boat, I’m gonna jump on a wakeboard for sure.” This time I actually knew what he was talking about! Wakesurfing is basically just regular surfing, but it’s done by slowing the boat down enough to create a wave large enough that it can be surfed just like on the ocean. I’ve had the opportunity to do some wake surfing just this last summer and it’s a lot of fun for sure, but the wow factor is nothing near the spectacle of what these professional wakeboarders are doing.
Where do you think wakeboarding is headed today? “I mean, I think the future of wakeboarding is, you know, on a really good path. I think there’s a ton of kids right now who are really pushing the abilities of, you know, what’s possible on a wakeboard. And, I mean, you got guys like Harley Clifford and Corey Teunissen, and Massi Piffaretti, and all these kids that are really, you know, changing the whole sport in what’s possible. And guys are doing double flips and 1260s off the wake, which, when I was coming up in the sport, that was not possible. So, you know, I think the evolution of the boats and also just the equipment in general, and also the accessibility of having cable parks, is you know. I think wakeboarding is forever gonna be the fourth board sport behind, obviously skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding.
Yeah but you know, if you live in middle America, or on a lake, and you don’t have access to the ocean or a mountain, I think you know, wakeboarding is to me, you know, just as fun as those other sports. I think that, uh, you know, I think you’re gonna continue to see the sport evolve and, you know, I think wakesurfing and wakeboarding will always kind of go hand in hand. And, like I said, I think you know, with great conditions, I’d rather be on a wakeboard. But, if the lake is blown-out and it’s busy, and I jump on a wake surfboard instead. I think just people being open-minded to doing everything, you know, slalom skiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, just hanging out on the boat.”