A true student and scholar of wakeskating Nick Taylor has made it his life’s work. To him wakeskating is a science and he has been doing thousands of hours of field research for the last dozen years. It’s more than a sport to him it’s art, it’s self expression, it’s a living thing he follows and learns from. He spent years learning everything there is to know about it and has now found his place in nurturing its growth and evolution. His studies in wakeskating began through the spirited stream of internet chatter on wakeskating.com back in 2003. Rigorously Nick studied its history and fantasized of its future. Unbeknownst to him, Taylor would end up being a big part of its future. Like a devoted student to his subject Nick studied his craft down to the smallest detail. No one has spent more time meticulously crafting their personal style and way of riding than Nick. But Taylor has crafted much more than style during his time in wakeskating. Nick has become a major public figure for wakeskating. He’s recognized globally as a face for wakeskating and does not take that responsibility lightly. Realizing the importance of being a thoughtful and auspicious ambassador for wakeskating he does his very best to properly promote the sport and push it forward. All of Nick’s actions are in the service of wakeskating and that makes his partnership and participation in Istudiomo all the more meaningful and humbling for this film.
• • •
Let’s get these basics out of the way for anyone who may not know. How old are you? Where are you from? How long have you been wakeskating? What is your primary riding stance?
Born & raised as a beach kid on Anna Maria Island, I’m now 27 years old, wakeskating for 13 of those years… Most of the time I’m riding, you’ll see my left foot leading the way.
Growing up on an Island have you always had a close relationship with life on the water?
Absolutely. I grew up playing where the water meets the sand, gradually progressing from inshore swimming & fishing to deepwater freediving & spearfishing at the same time that I was learning how to surf & wakeskate, learning to love everything the ocean has to offer while being literally surrounded by it. Learning to wakeskate always seemed like a natural extension of everything else that was going on around me.
What was it like learning to wakeskate on ‘The Island’? Do you feel like The Island influenced your style on the water? Would you have the same style if you learned to wakeskate on one of the many lakes in Florida?
I’ve been laughed at by other wakeskaters before, for calling our early scene an “isolated culture”, but I fully stand by it. Before the age of the web video, we had rather limited exposure to what was going on in wakeskating outside of our own salty little bubble, and we developed a very distinct style/approach as a result. Growing up on the island is the reason I’m how I am in nearly every regard, wakeskating included. I can’t imagine who I would be if I grew up inland, and frankly, I prefer not to think about it.
Anna Maria Island (AMI) has spawned many great wakeskaters. Many of those riders would not have been introduced to wakeskating without you. What was that like being an arbiter for wakeskating in your area?
It was a necessity for survival. I was 14 with basically no one to ride with regularly, so I had to come out of my introverted shell a little ways & recruit some more friends to start wakeskating with me. Back then I had a funky little seadoo & a Kampus K39, and by my shameless proselytizing, we became a sizable crew of stoked-out groms that just wanted to wakeskate every day.
What started as an imperative desire to teach a younger Islander to be able to wakeskate seems to have grown into a patriarchal desire to cultivate a community of friends and rippers. One of the Islanders probably most impacted by your guiding hand is Travis Belsito. You and Andrew Fortenberry have had a major impact on Travis as a rider and as a person. You have taken Travis abroad with you to places like Australia, the Philippines and a couple different van trips around the continental United States as well as Canada. Who is Travis Belsito to you? What was it like traveling with him all over the world? And how has he changed since you first got him on a wakeskate back on the island?
I should say first that I can’t take credit for Andrew’s actual introduction to wakeskating, as Fortenberry found it for himself around the same time I did, later turning into the tech & style monster we know now. To whatever extent I influenced him in the years we rode together growing up on the island, I guess that’s for him to say. Andrew gave the gift of wakeskating to Travis Belsito, who was part of a ragtag little crew of island rats that were always out skating, surfing, or ripping around on fishing boats. They were a handful of years younger than us, but we were stoked on the next generation still holding it down. Andrew’s family & Trav’s family knew each other pretty well & they started riding together pretty regularly. The first time I really hung out with Travis was after Surf Expo ’08, when he had just got his first wakeskate of his own. It was ’08, so everyone on the island was riding an Integrity at this point. His mom called me & asked me to come over to help him put griptape on it, so he could go to OWC with his friends, which me & TJ (Giesey) were happy to do. We chilled at their house for a bit & Charlene made us some food, while super-shy Travis barely squeaked out a word. Within a week or two, I was sitting on the bow of his little fishing boat, watching him do lip tricks & I think even his first 3 shuv. Fortenberry sat at the wheel grinning at his grommet. As time went on, we rode a whole lot more, Travis started talking a little bit more, & slowly but surely, he opened his eyes. I didn’t see him (or pretty much anyone else on the island) for a year when I lived in California, but when I came back & set afloat my stationary yacht, the groms came flocking. In 2010, hardly a week could go by without Travis, Garrison, Chris, & Hunter motoring up to my houseboat on a skiff & banging on the door to get me to take them out wakeskating. Those were the days when Travis went from stoking out on a 3 shuv to wanting to clean up his backside flips. It happened fast. From there, anytime I’d go to Sarasota for a winching mission or to McCormick’s to hit up the cable, I’d bring the groms & watch Trav push himself to the next level, offering advice when I could, but mostly letting him figure it out. It was when he nailed a frontside flip down Ben’s drop at the first Retention to win the qualifiers that my thoughts really turned to helping make sure Travis had every opportunity to grow in the sport & that if he wanted to pursue the dream of being a pro wakeskater, that I would do everything in my power to help.
At this point you are the Grandfather generation in AMI. Are you a soon to be great-grandfather to a fourth generation of island rippers?
I don’t know if the titles go past Grandfather, but either way I’m stoked to see that even in my long absences from AMI, there is another generation of wakeskater groms riding around the 941 on little skiffs & tinnies, dabbling in our few local winch spots, & ripping the shallow mangrove shorelines where I learned my first shuvs.
You have been an active ambassador for wakeskating globally for several years now. What sorts of responsibilities have you inherited from your popularity and influence that you were not expecting when you first began your climb in wakeskating?
There are many hats to be worn behind the scenes that go beyond simply riding well, many of which involve acknowledging & embracing the business side of our sport. When I first dreamt of becoming a pro wakeskater, I never imagined that it might require panel discussions with VPs of marketing or high-stakes contract negotiations with suits & bigwigs, but that ended up being a natural side-effect of working with large international companies, and it’s typically yielded positive results for myself & for wakeskating. Some of the more fun responsibilities have called upon my creative tendencies for writing & shooting photos, ending up with my off-the-board work being published in several magazines over the years. Each new sponsor imbues a rider with new responsibilities tailored to what each company needs in a rider, so those duties have also followed me through the years as I’ve partnered with more brands. Besides business, I receive messages almost daily from wakeskaters looking for advice about shoes, boards, wetsuits, seadoos, boardshorts, trips, tricks, & winches. It’s my personal responsibility to wakeskating as a whole to be on point with responding to these with the best wisdom & explanations that I can. It’s a privilege to be in a position to help others with the things that I know, and it’s easy to relate when I consider my early years of bombarding the wakeskating.com forums with questions until I knew everything I wanted to know about everything & everyone in the sport.
Part of being an ambassador for wakeskating internationally allows you to take advantage of some pretty exciting and unique opportunities. One of these opportunities was you being invited on two separate occasions to wakeskate “The Silver Dragon”, a massive tidal bore that pushes up the Qiantang River along the city of Hangzhou, China. How did you get selected to be a part of the event? What was your role there? What was that experience like?
There was a long series of very lucky circumstances that led to me being invited along for the trip to The Silver Dragon, for which I am most thankful to Keith Kipp. He played the biggest role in making sure wakeskating was part of the event & he personally called me to let me know I’d be clearing my schedule for 2 weeks in September. Growing up, I’d always wondered what it would be like to go to China, & even once I started traveling with wakeskating I never thought I’d have the opportunity to go. Doing bigspins on an 8ft tidal wave through the heart of a modern Chinese city while hundreds of thousands of people watch from the river banks has to be the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. It’s so far beyond anything I could’ve imagined before it all happened, not to mention how far from the realm of possibility it would’ve seemed when I first started wakeskating. The first year I went in 2011, the two main roles I played were wakeskater & tow-in driver for the surfers. When I went back in 2012, they’d sold the rights to the event and it had turned into a surf contest, so my last-minute invite was to fill in for one of the surfers who had backed out a few days before the wave came. To this day, it’s the only surf contest I’ve ever been in [laughs]. The third & my final year 2013, I flew over there boardless as the Coordinator of Safety Operations, captaining the media boat & commanding a small fleet of incompetent Chinese rescue skis via walkie talkie, which was crazy stressful, but in the end everything went fine… My time on The Silver Dragon left me with a deep respect for Chinese culture & history, and I’m so grateful to everyone involved that had a hand in giving me that experience of a lifetime. I still can’t believe I got to ride the Dragon.
What is your take on professionalism from athletes in the wakeskate industry?
Limited perspectives, lack of motivation, & skewed priorities in our little industry have been stunting our growth for a long time, and I’m just as guilty as anyone. Whether or not there’s a threshold, or if we’ve past it or not, I now realize that we’ve focused on the hardcore aspects of wakeskating so much as a community that we’ve neglected what makes our activity appealing to new riders, and by extension we’ve screwed ourselves out of growing into the sustainable large-scale sport that we dreamed of ten years ago. By being “too cool” to participate in the workings of the bigger watersports industry, we’ve lost out on the chance to bring hundreds of thousands of new feet to griptape, which would have opened up countless opportunities to wakeskating that we’ve now missed. We were so eager to separate ourselves from them, but we should have been content to coexist with our differences as siblings; not disown the family completely. We cut ourselves off & now we’re reaping the consequences of what could’ve been a healthy booming industry. As it stands now, wakeskate companies are barely making enough to keep riders from working construction on the side, new skate & surf companies are saying ‘no thanks’, our Magazine just closed shop, our Tour got shelved for a year, & opening a wakeskate-only cable isn’t even close to being economically feasible. It didn’t have to be this way, and I blame every one of us who thought we were too cool to work with the existing structure of the watersports industry or pursue projects to get the mainstream interested in what we do… As bleak as that rant ended up, things aren’t all bad. Wakeskating is still awesome, and it’ll always be fun regardless of what the industry looks like. On top of that, we’ve always had a solid crop of professional riders making sure that wakeskating is represented well across the globe, even if they aren’t the most hardcore progressive flip-trickers or concrete cowboys you’ve ever seen.
Wakeskating’s growth is limited by many factors, cost, climate, and lack of awareness to name a few. In what way could we make wakeskating more accessible for more people?
I think it’s healthy for wakeskating to acknowledge it’s limitations & take a realistic approach towards growth. Cost & difficulty are the biggest obstacles for sure. You can’t just grab a wakeskate at a shop & start ripping. You need a pull, a rope, some shoes, somewhere to ride, & you need petrol. It’s tough for kids & even stoked twenty-somethings to put their resources towards wakeskating when all they’ve got is lunch money or their rent is due next week. It can never be as cheap as skateboarding or surfing, and that’s something we have to work with. On top of the necessary materials, new riders need the patience to learn how to ride. We all know how awesome wakeskating feels when you can pop off the lip, do a bigspin, throw a big spray, noseslide a ledge, & kickflip down a drop, but it’s hard to impart that esoteric feeling on someone who keeps falling trying to edge out into the flats… So while the resources needed to get into wakeskating are a potential barrier to new riders, that idea gets turned on its head when we see what made wakesurfing blow up these last few years: how freaking easy it is. Getting up is way easier on a board with tons of surface area, and then they’re just standing there pumping a little wave. It’s mind-numbing to watch, but it’s unquestionably super low-effort fun. Wakeskating is so much more satisfying, but most people just don’t seem to want to try as hard anymore at things, I guess… Looking forward, I think the biggest help we’re going to get towards growing wakeskating is going to come from taking advantage of all the new cable parks popping up everywhere. There are little wake scenes forming everywhere these cables get built, but if we don’t take more proactive steps, they’re all going to end up being uncultured strap-fests. Each new cable park is a carte blanche to impose our way of riding onto the next generation, we just have to make moves… On a personal level, I’m working with Remote to try to get quality flat decks under $80 back on the shelves, to make at least that aspect of wakeskating more affordable for kids first getting into the sport. I know I probably wouldn’t have been able to get into it like I did back in ’04 if I’d never found that $65 Kampus K39… This year, with the help of the designers at the our new factory, we were able to develop a low-profile concave I call “The Hybrid”, which uses a simpler construction technique & slightly less material in order to get a quality board on the shelves at around $180. It’s a huge step for us, and towards my goal of making wakeskating more accessible to everyone.
You have a few huge NBDs (never been done) under your belt, 360 flip, frontside bigflip, and countless others. Was landing something first your end-game? Or was it just an inevitability when you were pushing wakeskating the direction you wanted it to go?
Ten years ago was a mystical time in wakeskating where many corners of the map had not been filled in, and people still said that certain tricks were impossible. There was a whole crop of talented young riders who wanted to make a name for themselves & to do things that had never been done. Sitting in math class daydreaming about how sick it would feel/look to do a 360 flip on a wakeskate was mostly what drove me to make it happen, but certainly part of that was daydreaming about getting a high five from Byerly & having the world know that some kid from the Gulf coast had done it first. Every 15-year-old has that craving for attention & recognition for what they accomplish & for me it just happened to coincide with a time in wakeskating that celebrated each step towards declaring everything possible… The first trick I did that no one else had probably done was a frontshuv with a backside body varial. I was 14, and I definitely did it to get my name “in the book”. It was basically 2004 wakeskating’s equivalent of commenting “FIRST!” on an instagram post in terms of significance, but it meant the world to me… The frontside bigflip made perfect sense to me in 2007 because at that point I didn’t really skateboard yet & just looked at every trick as a combination of rotations on a 3-axis grid. That was one I did just to stoke myself out, since after the 360 flip, I didn’t really need any more firsts to make my mark. Either way, I never expected the frontside bigflip to win Trick of the Year, but people were stoked on it… These days it’s more like skateboarding, where a lot of guys can do all the tricks that all the other guys can do, everything that was impossible back then is standard now, & video parts are more about what tricks you can get at different spots & how you can get creative without just hucking a bunch of super crazy flip tricks off the inside-out wake. I like how things have evolved.
Is that what is making wakeskating a richer, fuller and possibly a more mature sport? That it no longer relies on the addition of another 180 degree spin or 360 degree flip? Has wakeskating found its more creative and personally expressive outlet for progression?
Framed in those terms, wakeskating never had to find anything, it was always a creative outlet for personal expression, but now that the level of riding has become so technical & meticulously refined, the tools of expression are much deeper and much more diverse. That might be what was meant by the question, but we’re pretty deep down in this abstract rabbit hole. Looking at wakeskating from a separated personal view and collective view, I can say that my own riding has certainly matured from that rudimentary mathematically-mapped concept of progression, and I suppose it’s safe to say that wakeskating as a whole has come to a general consensus of progression that favors a certain flavor of creativity & unique styles of riding that vibe right with our past… So, I should’ve just said “yeah”.
Every year we see a couple new wakeskate companies pop-up while two fade out the next. They are getting a little support here and there but can’t keep afloat. Do you feel like this constant recycling of new companies hurts the industry?
I would say that this dismal cycle is one of the more painful symptoms of the current state of the industry, but it couldn’t be called one of the greater causes of our problems. Starting a company is hard, especially in a critically small/underfunded industry like wakeskating. I’ve been asked before if the over-saturation of wakeskate companies was harmful to the sport, since every new company essentially represented a smaller piece of the pie for all the others, & it’s a tough question to consider or measure in any real tangible way. I think refocusing our efforts towards getting more people into wakeskating will eventually make this a non-issue.
You have purchased your own property in North Florida and built yourself a wakeskate compound on it. What was that like? and What future plans do you have for your plot of land out in the forest?
I could write a book about everything that’s already happened out there, all the dreaming & drawing, the lumberjacking & construction, the first contest, all the video shoots we’ve done out there, the parties & the quiet solo nights. It’s been an unreal couple of years out there, learning & living… The future is a bit of a mystery, but if there’s enough of a demand for it, I’d love to turn it into a wakeskating summer camp & teach a bunch of groms how to hit drops & rails, and maybe do river runs with the seadoo too. It’s kind of a pipe dream at this point, but who knows.
You have captained several winch excursions in your van around the United States. Every excursion has explored new terrain and found new spots. Every time you have hit the open road you have taken new people with you. What is so appealing about this van-dwelling winch life?
Van Life! It’s the freedom of the road, cross-bred with wakeskating; what’s not to love?! Before winching became the main course of progression, we were bound to the bay, locked in the lake, or roped to the river. Obviously wakeskating is fun no matter where you do it, but the same Florida backdrops get stale & monotonous after a short while. Hitting the road with a few friends to seek the unknown taps into our dormant explorer & forces us to the boundaries of our comfort zones. You learn a lot about yourself out there spending weeks at a time camping every night & living close quarters with the same 4 people, with minimal amenities, traveling unfamiliar territory all to film a wakeskate video. It’s turned into one of my favorite aspects of the whole modern wakeskating experience. My choices in regard to “crewing the ship” have always been based around whose riding has got me stoked at the time & wanting to see what they’ll do when the winch fires up, but also who seems like they’d be fun to travel & adventure around with. The formula seems to have worked really well so far, and I don’t see us slowing down any time soon.
You have had more video parts than most. What little piece of knowledge do you have about filming a section that others may not know?
It’s been a hell of a ride, so far. It’s crazy how different it is filming a video part in 2016 compared to ten years ago. My first real video part that went to DVD was filmed behind the seadoo in a single day. These days it takes weeks to months to years of roadtripping & plane-hopping to hit enough spots to put together a solid video section, although it is much more common now to work on smaller timeframes & travel schedules towards a good 3-minute web edit… I have all kinds of smallkine advice on little things that make traveling easier & my opinions on what makes a good video section, but I don’t claim to have any special knowledge about filming a section that sets me apart. I do tricks that make me happy & ride the way I want to, to make myself happy & stoke people out…
What are you expecting from Istudiomo?
Stoke, mostly… With such a diverse lineup & a thoughtful format, I’m excited to get more insight into what makes some of my favorite riders tick. Thank you, by the way.
Cinematography by Andrew Roehm and Mitchell Cobb
Photography by Andrew Roehm and Travis Belsito