Not only is Sean one of the most stylish wakeboarders around, he’s also one of the humblest. Even though he lets his riding speak for itself, he has a lot to add to the conversation on the current state of wakeboarding. We caught up with this new dad to see how things are going down in south Florida.
WW: Hey Sean, how’s life in Florida?
SO: Never been better! This past year has been a little crazy. My son is just over a year old, so he’s keeping me super busy. On top of that, I’m still riding as much as possible and I took a job with O’Brien. So things are a little hectic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
WW: How’s dad life?
SO: Dad life is incredible! Seeing my son laugh and smile every day makes it the greatest thing ever. Watching him grow and change is something that I really can’t put into words. This is, without a doubt, the most important role that I’ve ever taken on and I’m so happy to be a dad.
WW: Your son’s name is Pierson right? Where did that name come from?
SO: Yep. My wife has always made mental notes of names that she’s liked. When we found out that we were having a boy, we sat down and came up with a list of names. Over the course of a few months, we crossed off a bunch of names and we ended up with Pierson. There is no family or friend significance. It’s just a name that we liked.
WW: Has the responsibility of parenthood effected your time out on the water at all?
SO: Absolutely, but it has also allowed me to value my time on the water even more. I jump at any opportunity I get to go ride and somehow wakeboarding is even more fun now than it ever was.
WW: How’s the weather been and which lake are you on now?
SO: The weather here in Jupiter has been incredible. For the majority of winter, we’ve had highs around 80º. It’s perfect! We actually don’t have any lakes down here. Instead, I live on a canal just off the Intracoastal Waterway, so that is where I spend most of my time riding.
WW: What’s the plan with Florida Wake?
SO: I’m currently taking a break from running the school so I can focus more on my son. It’s tough because teaching wakeboarding is something that I’m passionate about, but I realized early last year that running a successful business while also being a full-time dad was going to be hard. I didn’t want to take a call from somebody who wanted to ride that afternoon and have to respond with, “Well, let me see if I can find a babysitter.” I didn’t think that was a good way to run a business and if I’m going to do something I want to do it well.
WW: Are you still traveling as a coach?
SO: I still travel a little bit as a coach, but not nearly as much as before. Luckily, my mom and my mother-in-law are super helpful and can usually watch Pierson if I ever need to go out of town for coaching or other work.
WW: Do you plan to teach your son to ride?
SO: Of course, but not until he’s ready. I’m not going to push him into it. I’d hate to force him to ride and emotionally scar him just because I was impatient.
WW: For sure. Some people put their kids out on the water at six months old, which seems crazy. You are now working with O'Brien as more than just an athlete. How’s that going?
SO: It’s great! I’ve been an athlete for O’Brien for about 13 years now and about halfway through last year I transitioned into more of a marketing position. I work with a great group of guys who are all dedicated to improving our brand. Plus, I get to spend more time behind the camera shooting our riders, which is a lot of fun.
WW: What gear are you shooting with?
SO: I’m generally shooting with my Canon 1D X. That camera is amazing and I love having the full frame sensor. I also have a 7D as a backup camera and a GoPro Hero 4 Black to capture some unique/sketchy angles.
WW: What new exciting product should we be expecting to see from O'Brien?
SO: I can’t really disclose the info, but there may be a new board coming out that should have people excited.
WW: What do you think of the state of wakeboarding right now?
SO: Hmmm, there are certain things that I like and there are a lot of things that I think need improvement. Let’s talk about what I like first. I’m really happy that more and more cable parks are popping up all over the place. This has the potential to significantly grow our sport, which needs to happen. I also like that we have a dedicated day for "Pass the Handle" to try to bring more people into the sport.
WW: Definitely. I think riders really make an effort on Pass the Handle day, which is cool to see.
SO: With that being said, I wish that we didn’t need a day dedicated to this and that everyone who wakeboards, wakesurfs, etc. would try to make a habit out of inviting new people to ride on a regular basis. I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to this, but my goal is to really put in the effort to get more people riding locally.
This sport needs to grow and for that to happen we need to put more people on boards and more people in boats, but here’s where we have another problem; it seems like our industry only promotes riding behind the latest and greatest boats. Don’t get me wrong. These boats definitely kick out the largest wakes we’ve ever had and a handful of riders have been able to use them to their fullest potential and seriously progress wakeboarding. The issue is that most of these boats are now in the range of $100k-200k and somehow they are selling left and right. So you can’t fault the manufacturer because they are just trying to make as much as they can while they can.
WW: I agree 100%. People think they need the newest and best equipment and it definitely scares off newbies.
SO: Right. However, at that price there’s only a very small percentage of the population who can get into this sport. And our industry is telling the consumer that this is what you need to enjoy this sport. In reality, we need to be saying, "Go ride behind that center console, stern drive, pontoon boat, jet boat, old ski boat, etc." Ride behind anything that you can get on because it’s fun and, for the majority of the wakeboard and watersports community, it’s sufficient.
WW: For sure. It seems like a catch 22 because every company is just trying to survive right now, and to do that they need to keep making a profit. Why do you think this is not such a big issue in other sports? Do you think wakeboarding is just not big enough?
SO: I’m not an expert when it comes to other sports, but my guess is that we aren’t the only sport feeling it. A few years ago Quicksilver dropped most of their athletes. Around the same time, there were some reports that Billabong was struggling financially as well. Sure these two brands don’t necessarily reflect sports themselves, but they are closely tied to the image of certain sports and to see them struggling tells me there are probably some issues. The other possibility is that those brands aren’t being managed well, but I feel like the issue is more systemic than that.
To some extent, I feel like we are battling technology for participants. It seems like there are so many people out there who are reliant on their phones for entertainment that they forget that they can actually go out and enjoy the world around them, create their own adventure, instead of watching somebody else’s. Sure it’s harder and takes way more effort, but the reward is so much greater than watching videos on YouTube or playing games on your iPhone. Anyways, back to the question… I’m not really sure what constitutes as "big enough," but I don’t feel like wakeboarding is anywhere near as big as I’d like it to be. We’ve got a long ways to go and the only way to do it is to bring more and more people into the sport.
WW: You’ve always taken the freeriding over contest route. What advice would you give to up and coming kids?
SO: Go to school and get a good education or really develop a usable skill. Do this while pursuing your passion in wake. This isn’t easy, but it makes you more valuable in the long run. As for riding, be unique and separate your riding from the others. There are plenty of really good riders out there. You don’t want to just be a good rider. You have to stand out. Also, take the time to develop relationships with the company reps in your area. Help them out and provide a good image for their brand. Remember, it’s not about what the company can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them.
WW: Nice JFK paraphrase, haha! Unfortunately, it seems like only the top percentage can make it on wakeboarding alone these days. What do you think of athletes that play both filmer/rider roles?
SO: Being an athlete is hard and you are right that only a few riders can make it on riding alone. Even less will be able to retire solely based on their career as a rider. That is a hard fact to swallow considering the number of riders out there who are dedicating their life to progressing this sport. So I believe that taking on other roles is a really important thing to do. The filmer/rider combo is great. Guys like Aaron Rathy, Trever Maur and Collin Harrington put out incredible videos and portray what they feel wakeboarding should be. They have a great sense of the sport and their insight allows them to showcase that to the fullest extent. Also, by developing another skill they can work for other companies either inside or outside of this sport.
WW: What do you think the biggest difference is now in the industry compared to when you first started?
SO: Haha, I’m going to sound old here and I’m only 33. When I started there was no such thing as a wakeboard boat and nobody was riding at cable parks (at least not that I knew of). Those are obviously two huge changes in the industry. Another major shift is the media platforms and how we consume wakeboarding. It used to be just the mags and VHS or DVDs. It was so exciting because of the anticipation of getting your next dose of wake content; new stories, new tricks, cool shots, etc. Now, with social media and various media outlets, it feels like I’m constantly inundated with wake content, which is great, but it has also eliminated some of the mystery of what’s happening in the industry. Things aren’t as exciting since I probably consume some sort of new wake content multiple times per day. On the other hand, I love being able to see what other riders are doing, communicate with them or give out some pointers, so it’s not all bad. It’s just completely different from when I started.
WW: Do you think the instant gratification is helpful or harmful in growing the sport?
SO: Overall, I think it’s definitely helpful, but we have to look at it in a couple of different ways. For the riders already involved in the sport, I think that the ‘instant gratification’ may motivate them to ride harder. If you see a friend land a new trick, you may be inspired to try something new. That’s great and it promotes growth in your riding, but it doesn’t necessarily grow the sport. On the other hand, for those who aren’t involved in the sport, they may be scrolling through Instagram and see a photo or video of a friend riding and think, "That’s cool. I’d like to try that." It’s possible that this person has never been exposed to wakeboarding since it really isn’t that common in mainstream media. So now you’ve got someone who is interested in the sport and if they act on that desire, then social media is doing a great job promoting and growing our sport.
WW: What are your plans for the 2017 season?
SO: I’m hoping to spend a lot of time riding. I had a JetDock installed at my house a couple months ago, so now my boat is sitting on a floating lift in my backyard and is more accessible than its been for the past couple of years. I’m going to promote this sport in the best way possible and do everything I can to help bring new blood into it. On top of that, I’m going to be shooting a lot of wakeboarding and doing anything else that O’Brien asks of me. And, of course, I’m going to continue to be the best dad and husband I can be.
WW: Who would you like to thank?
SO: First and foremost, I need to thank my wife, my son and my family for their constant love, support, and inspiration. Without you all, I’d never be where I am today. Lots of love to everyone at O’Brien for building incredible products, keeping me onboard for the past 13 years and for giving me the opportunity to stay involved in this amazing industry. Thanks to WakeWorld for always showing me love and for being the first website that I pull up every morning. Also, a huge thanks to my old business partner at OrlandoWake, Derek Seaman, and everyone that I’ve been able to spend time with on the water over the past 20 years. You all have provided me with a lifetime of memories that I truly treasure. I seriously can’t believe all of the opportunities that I’ve been given because of this amazing sport.