First off, this season and the win is dedicated to Zach, Libby, and little Mason. You guys were on all of our minds and in our hearts here in Brazil.
As I sit here in Sao Paulo airport and reflect on my trip and the year, it is a little hard to get past thinking of Zach. We had a moment of silence for Zach and Libby before the start of my semi-final with Federico Bufacchi. I kind of broke down a little bit then, I don't know why it hit me so hard right at that moment...stress maybe. Mark Matsuda had a bunch of stickers printed in memory of Zach, and they were on every ski in the paddock.
I have a list as long as my arm of people to thank for making this year happen for me. But the guys at the top of the list are with out question. John Dady of Blowsion, Steve Webster at Jet Ski Unlimited, and Arno Olbright at Hydro-Turf. John has taken care of me like family since I started my relationship with Blowsion, and he has worked his ass off to get other sponsors on board and help cover costs for me. All of that is in addition to his 100% devotion to giving me the best Freeride equipment in the world. Steve Webster at Jet Ski Unlimited is a huge reason I was able to do so well this year also. Steve built me the perfect Freeride motor, and Chad Cole assembled the entire boat. I had 0 (zero) mechanical issues in contests this year! This motor has been to six countries this year, not to mention I rode the boat 3-4 days a week when I was home, and the only issue I had was that it sucked a stock reed through the motor. I can't tell you what a huge difference having good reliable equipment makes! And without Arno and Hydro-Turf, there is no way I could have traveled to all the places I did this past year. You three made this season possible for me, and for that I am totally grateful!
The 10th anniversary of Jet Waves was a great contest. The bar has really been raised, and I could not be happier! My final against Pierre was the most fun I have ever had in the water in my life. And the result was exactly as it should have been. But I'm getting way ahead of myself at this point.
Saturday morning we woke up early. Brett, Arik, and I were all in the same room/suite. That African wakes up EARLY. I guess no one told him about Brazilian time...gees. Brett wakes me up telling me in his dignified South African accent...”Hey, it's haf past six. We've got a riders meeting at 8am.” I'm thinking yea...that means 10:30, go back to bed. But Arik and I humored him and got up. Ludo was the only one at breakfast in the dining hall down stairs when we got there. And it was a rainy overcast day.
It was raining at the beach, but surf looked fun. The swell that was predicted had not really shown up, but the odd set was well over head and really powerful. The rain held things up for a while, but eventually we did get a riders meeting done and the contest under way. Aside from the rain and cold, conditions were good. Wind was offshore and would stay that way for the entire weekend.
All of the riders that were not seeded had to ride the pre-qualifier on Friday. Those riders were then bracketed against the seeded riders for the first round of qualifying. I got luck and had a by in my first qualifying heat. I was supposed to ride with Alexandre Bruneder (who is an incredibly good 17 year old Brazilian rider) but he dislocated his shoulder on Friday in his prequalifier so he opted to just go straight to the LCQ instead of ride with me. This kid is a very good rider, and I am pretty sure he will be the next freestyler that we see come from Brazil. I decided another few minutes on a new ski would be a good idea so I headed out alone. As soon as I got on the boat it just felt good! The XFT is great in the air, and I felt very comfortable on it. It was really cool of Sergio to give me this boat. Pierre had a mechanical issue in his heat which put him in the LCQ, which he qualified through.
Brett decided that our boat was just a little too heavy I guess, so he decided he would lighten it up a little bit. His 1/8th final was the second one in the water and mine was third. So literally the heat before me he stuffed a flip in about two feet of water, took off the nose, put a hole in the gas tank and bent one of my wrist stops out of position in the process! George and Roberto are two mechanics that work with Tchello at Pro Nautica. They were there to help me take care of any problems that might arise. Those two guys busted ass and got the boat ready to ride by the end of the bracket so I could go out and ride against Cristiano Magarao. By the time all of this happened with Brett, our heat had already been rescheduled to the end of the bracket. Cristiano lent his ski to Douglas Carvalho and he sank it, and it was taking a while to get restarted..so we had a little time.
My 1/8th final was not an easy heat by any means. Cristiano is a really good rider, and I have never heard of him before. He does no handed flips, but uses a cord to attach himself to the handle pole. So he takes his hands off and kind of pulls the flip around with his body...kind a cool, but dangerous. I would not want to be tied that close to the ski, but at least he is pushing and trying new stuff. At the end of our heat he crashed a no-hand-one-foot attempt. I just tried to put a good solid run together, and things went my way.
As soon as we came in from the water though, it was time to head straight back out with Romain Stampers for our ¼ final. We had to run back to back because my 1/8th final heat was moved to the end of the bracket with the mechanical problems. At any rate, I was a little out of sorts by the time I got back in the water with Roman and I was making mistakes. The heat was not all that bad on my part, but was not going to beat Roman. So when the yellow flag came out, I set the boat up for the super flip and did a couple before the red flag. Even still it was a close heat, and I barley edged him out. Funny enough though, that was the only ¼ final that was run on Saturday, (it was getting late.) So there really was not real reason that I had to ride those two heats back to back...but it is cool, all things worked out.
Saturday night was not only the night for the Jet Waves 10th Anniversary party at club Kiwi, but it was also Pippa's brithday (wife of British rider Grahm Reid.) I missed the party and went to have a little Bar-B-Q with a couple of my friends from last year, which I am sure was a better place for me than the club. However I will say this about the party. I'm pretty sure Arik deserves some kind of award or medal for his efforts on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Those of you who know him, I would suggest you give him a call!
Sunday we awoke to a beautiful crips morning that felt a lot like Southern California in the winter. It was bright, wind was off-shore, and surf was a bit smaller but still fun in the head high range on set. My last couple of heats on Saturday were not easy on the ski, and I found the bottom a couple of times. So George and Roberto spent the early morning doing a little fiberglass repair on the nose. I don't think George slept for even an hour the night before, so it was a tough morning for him. But the guys got the boat done, and the contest got underway with Brett's ¼ final heat.
Brett had a great run against Lenzi, but wound up coming in at the yellow flag with a bit of an injured wrist. I'm sure if he had just ridden out the heat, he would have won but Lenzi went through to the semi-final with me. And Federico and Pierre were in the other semi.
I had a tough heat against Lenzi and won what I am sure was a very close decision. I had an interesting contest, I was either very on of just kind of off. And with Lenzi I was just a little off. But I did get a few good super flips in and I think that was the deciding factor. Pierre got the redemption against Federico that he has been looking for since Europe, and won with a great ride.
So with that, the final four were set with me and Pierre riding to decide the win, and Federico and Lenzi going for thrid in the consolation final. In the consolation final it looked like both riders were having a bit of a tough time. Surf was getting more and more inconsistent and both riders just seemed a little off their game. But in the end Federico beat out Lenzi to finish thrid.
Heading in to this contest I was a little conflicted about what I should do considering we were having basically two rounds to decide the Championship, with the second round to start as soon as the Jet Waves final finished. I wanted to be sure and conserve myself and equipment as well as I could for the second contest. But man....that is really hard to do. I figured as long as I get a decent finish and some points in the first contest, I will be in good shape points wise heading in to the second contest. So, being that I was in the finals, I had accomplished my first goal and the pressure was off. Plus, there is no one that I would rather be in a final with. Pierre is a really good friend and I have been looking forward to meeting him in the finals all year.
I went in to the water really excited and in a good frame of mind. I had accomplished what I needed to as far as series points were concerned, physically I felt great, and I was comfortable on the ski. At this point it was not about beating my opponent or making it on to the next heat. It was just about having fun and putting my personal best on the water for 10 minutes. And it wound up being the most fun I have ever had on the water. Possibly the most fun I have ever had....and hell I lost. But that really did not matter. I rode as well as I could, except I was unable to throw a double roll. The only set that came through for it (when I was ready to do it) had Pierre in priority on the one wave in the set I could have done it on. Aside from that, I did all I could and did it well in that 10 minute period. When that happens, and I still get beat, it was a damn good heat! Pierre won it with the first heel clicker back flip that he or anyone else has landed. That deserves the win!
So here we are, end of the contest, finals are done. I have given every last drop and I have, and it is time to go get lunch and do it all over again starting with the 1/4t finals of the Championship Challenge. The IFWA took the top 8 from the points standing and bracketed them against each other. It is not so much that I was physically tired. I have been training really hard this year and fitness is not the issue. But mentally it is just exhausting, especially after a “final” round like that one. And given Federico's third place finish (right behind me) he was still really close in points. So close in fact that if he were to win the Championship Challenge, and I were to finish 4th we would be tied in the points for first. So there was still lots of work left to be done and pressure was back on again.
I did have a bit of luck on my side that skewed things in my favor. My first heat was against Brett Armstrong who was now with out a ski to ride, and he was forced to borrow a Kawasaki. My luck was to change a little for my next round (semi final) with Federico. I made lots of mistakes from start to finish. One of which was not throwing a double. But I was just way out of sorts during that heat. Things got off to a bad start when I opened up with two super flips that came up short, and I was just kind of rushed for the rest of the heat and blew it with lots of other mistakes. So that put me in to the consolation final with Romain Stampers who had been beaten in his semi by Pierre. Unfortunately for Romain, he dislocated his shoulder again at the end of the heat with Pierre and was in lots of pain for our consolation final. Romain is another guy who is a great friend of mine and we just went out to put on a show for the crowd. Basically I would throw some tricks and he would critique them from the water with an obvious thumbs up or thumbs down... I still rode hard and for sure it was a better show than having Romain not get in the water at all.
When all was said and done, Pierre had beaten Federico to win the Championship Challenge. But my third place finish was enough to get me the 2008 IFWA World Title! That night we blew off a little steam in town and put a very memorable end on an unreal trip and adventure. There are quite a few stories from that night, but none that I can tell here. Next year you will just have to come on tour with us and the IFWA.