"Live life to the fullest and make great friends along the way."
My Perfect Adventure
Imagine what it might be like to skateboard on water, performing tricks as a boat pulls you forward. That’s somewhat like wakeskating, an offshoot of wakeboarding where riders don’t strap their feet to the board. Now imagine doing that in ponds, rivers, canals, swimming pools, and even fountains, and you’ll have an idea what Brian Grubb does for fun.
Grubb is one of the world’s best wakeskaters, with five Wakestock pro wakeskating titles under his belt at the age of 32. After learning to wakeboard when he was 12, he fell in love with wakeskating because it combines elements of his other favorite activities, including surfing, snowboarding, skydiving, and bungee jumping, which requires good body control. The sport also leaves room for creativity, both in terms of tricks and terrain. Once Grubb decided to wakeskate on the canal in front of Canada’s parliament building, getting up early in the morning so security guards wouldn’t catch him as he launched himself over a 12-foot drop gap. Another time, on his 30th birthday, he went to skate in Las Vegas fountains, performing tricks as he rode behind a winch, or a machine that pulls wakeskaters on surfaces too enclosed or isolated for boats and jet skis.
Grubb was formerly named wakeskater of the year by Wakeboarding Magazine, now TransWorld Wakeboarding magazine, and today he has racked up 22 tour wins and four overall series championships on the Wakeskate Tour, a series of competitions that puts him up against the world’s other top wakeskaters. He has dabbled in film as well, taking home another award for his wakeskating role in the movie Out of the Pond, by surfwear company Billabong. These days, Grubb is also working with Vertigo Bungee to launch a commercial bungee jumping business in Kentucky, on what he says will be the highest bridge for commercial jumps in the United States.
Here, he tells us about dodging saltwater crocodiles in Australia, his first time on a wakeboard, and his ambition to free fall from outer space.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
My perfect day would take place somewhere on an island in the South Pacific, like one of the French Polynesian islands around Tahiti with a left and a right point break. I would wake up, eat some mango and pineapple for breakfast and then go surf for a few hours. After lunch I'd go for a skydive or two with some beach landings. During the last few hours of daylight I’d do some wakeskating with friends and then have a few beers while watching the sun set with my girl.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
I’d go on a surf boat trip around the Maldives islands, south of India in the Indian Ocean. It would be so fun to stay on the boat and explore different waves for a couple weeks with small crowds, or no crowds. It would be ideal to have a PWC [personal water craft] onboard so we could wakeskate, too. I've seen pictures of the Maldives in surf magazines, and a friend who went on a surf trip there a few years ago said it was amazing. I’ve heard the islands are in danger of going under if ocean levels rise, so it would be cool to go now.
Where is the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special?
The Kimberley region in northwest Australia, where I went on a Red Bull trip called Northern Tides a few years ago. It's one of the most remote places on earth and has some of the largest tide changes in the world, at over 30 feet. The rest of the Red Bull wake team and I explored the area on a boat for 10 days, and we only saw one other boat the whole time.
It was one of the most amazing places I've ever ridden even though we were constantly trying to avoid the saltwater crocs. A guy on a PWC followed us when we rode so we could hop on the sled when we fell instead of sitting in the water. We only saw five or six crocs the entire trip, but it was still unnerving to see one slide down the muddy bank into the water as I was getting ready to ride on the back of the boat.
If you could have lunch with any adventurer, explorer, or athlete, who would it be and why?
I’d like to sit down with Dan Osman, who was a free soloing climber and rope-free flying pioneer. His skills as a speed free climber were unprecedented, but I was always most impressed by what he did jumping off huge cliffs and bridges with only a climbing rope.
Dan, unfortunately, passed away attempting a world-record jump over 1,000 feet; the rope was weathered and too long. I never met him but know that some of his friends, like Miles Daisher from the Red Bull Air Force, continue to push the limits of free fall in his honor. The stuff Dan did before he died was so far ahead of the time and so much more gnarly than any BASE or bungee jump. He lived life to the fullest and inspires me to do the same.
What's something you can't travel without? And why do you need it?
The one thing I don't like to travel without is my iPad. I get all my magazines on it and keep it stocked with new episodes of my favorite TV shows. I've been watching Dexter and The Walking Dead on my last couple of trips.
When you arrive at a new destination, what's usually first on your agenda?
Each one of my trips is a little different than the last. If it’s an international trip, I usually try to get a SIM card for my phone and exchange some money so I have cash. After that, I just try to meet up with the rest of the crew on the trip and figure out where we’re riding first. Most of the time, a couple of us riders will fly in together and meet up with a crew of local riders. They take us to their favorite spots to ride so we get to see the best spots in the area.
What motivates you as an athlete?
On the water, I’m motivated by watching other people who wakeskate really well. Right now I'm really impressed with guys like Ben Horan, Nick Taylor, and Andrew Pastura. Every season I try to become a better rider than the previous year, which means learning new tricks and keeping the ones I already know consistent. I’ve been working on learning new flip tricks, like a backside flip and a hardflip, and on getting wake-to-wake kickflips consistent.
As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, when and why did your plans change, and do you have any regrets?
When I was five years old I learned to water ski with my cousins on a family vacation to Indiana, and it was all I wanted to do from that point on. I wanted to be a pro skier. After my family moved from New Hampshire to Florida when I was 11, I was on the water every chance I got. I transitioned from waterskiing to wakeboarding over the years and finally found my real love on the water: wakeskating.
When and how did you first start wakeboarding and wakeskating?
My first time on a wakeboard was in 1992 when I was 12 years old, at a clinic being put on by then world champion Darin Shapiro. After hearing about the clinic from the local pro shop, I asked my dad to take me. I was excited to go and the first one there, but I was also really nervous. Darin was so cool though, and he got me up and I was doing wake jumps by the end of the session. Plus, I got to watch him ride from the boat, which was amazing because it helped me see what was possible on a wakeboard at the time. I was hooked, and my parents got me a board for Christmas that year. All through high school my friends and I rode after school, and we all got pretty good.
In 1998 I started seeing Scott Byerly and Thomas Horrell in the magazines, riding cut down wakeboards with surf wax or grip tape and doing skateboard tricks on the water. I thought it was the coolest thing and started riding wakeskates more and more. There were only a few people wakeskating at the time, and I thought it would be a good time to stop wakeboarding completely and focus all my time on wakeskating. I knew if I could help make wakeskating its own sport, I could build a career in it. It was the best decision I've made. I've been living my dream ever since.
What's one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring wakeskater?
Never stop learning and always take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Don’t get lazy and decide not to try something because you think it’ll be too hard. Some of the best things I've done in my career came from meeting people all over the world and staying in touch with them to do fun projects.
Have you ever had any role models or mentors? Describe the most influential and what he or she taught you.
I’ve always looked up to my dad, who’s been a great influence in my life. He was a fighter pilot in the Navy and has always been a hard worker, and that was something that rubbed off on me growing up. He showed me that nothing comes easily—it's all from hard work and staying focused on a goal. That was a hard pill to swallow sometimes when I was a kid, but looking back it made me who I am today.
Both my parents encouraged me to follow my dreams, spending countless hours on the boat over the years so I could get better. They also made sure I had a good education to fall back on if wakeskating didn't work out. I stayed in college even though I was traveling a lot for wakeskating, and I finished at UCF with a Bachelor of Science degree in communications. Sure, it was hard work to do both, and it would have been easier and more fun if I quit school, but I knew the hard work would pay off in the long run.
On the water, my mentor was Scott Byerly. He’s the godfather of wakeboarding and wakeskating, and I was really lucky to start wakeskating with him when I turned pro. I met him at X Games the first year it was in San Francisco through Hyperlite, the board company we both rode for. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I went to college close to Scott's house and would ride there between classes. He helped me with my first few sponsors, and just by riding with him and shooting with the cinematographers and photographers that were shooting him I got shots in magazines and my first few video parts. I will always be grateful for his guidance and friendship.
Do you have a life philosophy?
Live life to the fullest and make great friends along the way.
Have you ever made a mistake or experienced a near accident that made you think twice about going out wakeskating again?
I’ve been pretty lucky over the years not to have suffered many serious injuries. I’ve had a few broken toes and ribs, but nothing too serious. My board hit me in the forehead once a few years ago, and that required 35 stitches to close up. Since then, every time I fall I cover my head with my arms, so hopefully it won’t happen again.
If you had to choose a different career, what would it be and why?
I love surfing and playing golf in my free time, and if I had the natural talent, I’d want to turn pro. The athletes at the top of those sports make great money and get to travel all over the world. I admire guys like Ricky Fowler and Bubba Watson who are super talented but also have a lot of fun out on the course. I also look up to Kelly Slater and Shane Dorian for what they do in the ocean. Kelly is the best surfer of all time and continues to get better, even into his 40s, and Dorian is so gnarly, paddling into the biggest, deadliest waves on the planet.
Name three things you still want to cross off your life bucket list.
Do a space jump, which is possible now, thanks to Red Bull Stratos. Hopefully in my lifetime people can get a jump like Felix Baumgartner did. A jump from any altitude where you see the curvature of the earth would be amazing.
Go to Norway to BASE jump and fly wingsuits off the mountains there.
Go to Tavarua in Fiji and stay for a couple of weeks to surf, spearfish, and relax.