30 Dec Andrea Gaytan Interview
The Andrea Gaytan Interview (by Dana Preble)
(WHOF) Take us back to the beginning of your wakeboard career and where all of the magic started.
(A.G.) Wakeboarding came to me as a huge blessing from the universe. I was one of those things when all the stars align at the perfect moment. I had been waterskiing my whole life in Mexico and I moved to Florida to train with the best coach ever, Jack Travers. Only two months after I turned pro as a water-skier, I blew out my left knee landing a jump. I had been enduring the toughest time in my life as I knew it, loosing my sponsors and my athletic scholarship while going through excruciating physical therapy for a whole year just to be back where I started, since I had pretty much torn all the ligaments and the meniscus in my knee. Because of all this, I didn’t make the team for the World Waterskiing Championships. So, the day I started wakeboarding I was going around the lake doing back flips on my trick ski (which was always my favorite thing to do). I could land flips since I was 15 years old, I could even land some half-cab rolls that weren’t even in the rulebook! Rich Goforth, Scott and Ryan Byerly, Gator Lutgert, Josh Smith and Tyler Hennekee from the Wake Tech team were practicing at the same lake for the Wakeboarding World Championships. Rich spotted me and later came over and left my mother a note with his phone number asking if I wanted to try wakeboarding… So I called…
(WHOF) What year and what event did you first enter?
(A.G.) My first contest was the 1993 Wakeboard World Championships. Rich Goforth got me on the Wake Tech team as soon as I landed my first backroll, we all drove in a van from Orlando to Dallas and it was so much fun! That road trip was epic, I was the only girl on the team and it was a whole different world from my waterskiing background. Those guys were so creative! They were landing new tricks pretty much every session, always attempting variations and grabs, and sliding and railing docks. We stopped at Troy Navarro’s lake on the way to Dallas and we were riding over the ski jump on our wakeboards. You should have seen Scott’s face when I landed a 540! So, trick skiing really paid off for me, that and ski jumping combined, wakeboarding was the perfect mix of what I loved doing and was already good at. It felt like a gift from heaven, how it all came together at the right time and how it was just natural for me because I grew up in a choppy lake in Mexico, (still my favorite place in the world Tequesquitengo)… So after the dawn patrol glassy session all we could really do was try to jump the wake as high as we could and try to do flips that only Cory Pickos was landing! Back to 1993, by the time we got to the Worlds I was landing two flips and a 360, when I stuck everything in the final I ended up in first place! You were already there!
(WHOF) Your athleticism shocked many of us and made us realize that ladies can do amazing things, your early success inspired so many riders both men and women, tell us how you learned so many difficult tricks and how you took those steps?
(A.G.) I have many muses to thank for here. First, I have a younger brother, Rodrigo that is quite skilled at everything and we were always competing with each other. Also my Dad was always challenging us to do brave things since we were little, he would dare us to go on a shark dive with him and do crazy things like that! Thanks to growing up this way, I see no difference in capacity because of gender; I do see one in strength, but the way I look at it is like, if I have two arms and two legs and some guy can land this then I can too! It was awesome that I learned to ride from the best right from the start. Riding with the pros was a very inspiring and humbling experience so I learned to try my best and focus only on that.
(WHOF) Who were your early heroes?
(A.G.) Nadia Comaneci, John McEnroe, Deena Maple, Cory Pickos, Sheri Slone, Jorge Font, Sammy Duvall, Scott Byerly, Gator Lutgert and Josh Smith.
(WHOF) What were the challenges of being one of the first women to compete?
(A.G.) Challenges that turned into opportunities! My first year on the Pro Tour, I competed on all the stops against the men. The biggest challenge for me was that I felt as if I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders; being the only woman, I had all this attention focused on me, it felt like I owed it to all the girls in the crowd who were watching and cheering for me, and to my sponsors and the people who believed in me to carry out a good performance. So, I had to somehow overcome all that pressure and transform it into inspiration. Many times I got to ride in between Darin Shapiro and Shaun Murray, and I’d be standing on the dock reminding myself to focus only on my runs and to block everything else out. I learned to compete for myself, against no one, only trying to better my own record. I ended up in 10th place that year because I became very consistent under pressure, something I really struggled with during my waterskiing competition days.
Because of my ranking I was invited to compete against the men at the X Games! I had to ride between Parks Bonifay and Scott Byerly, it was nerve racking, but I was the underdog and didn’t really stand a chance against the men unless they fell and if I stuck everything. That is why one of the biggest highlights of my career was when I qualified for the Callaway Masters the first year they added wakeboarding. They invited the top 5 men in the world and then they had a Masters Qualifier contest where they took in the top 3 qualifiers. Again, I detached from the outcome and stuck my gnarliest passes, feeling so inspired by my peers but without a thought of making it in…or not… I can still remember how loud my roommates and I were screaming when I ended up in 3rd place! And thanks to all those blessed performances the next year they had added a women’s division at the X Games and at the Masters!!!
(WHOF) What was your first wakeboard and boat combo?
(A.G.) My first wakeboard and my first boat were such rewarding experiences in my career. Bill Van Sickle from Full Tilt Wakeboards hired me specifically to design the first women’s model. We called it the Supermodel. It was so much fun to do the graphics with my friend Susie Wirgau, we made it pink with flowers and a beautiful girl on it, also the guys at Full Tilt helped me design the mold for it which I made smaller (133), wider and way lighter. I was also honored to be the first girl to get a free boat! That was thanks to Paul Singer at Malibu Boats that believed not only in me, but just like Bill, they believed that women were also able to wakeboard and worthy of making a career out of it! That alone has always been the most satisfying part of my journey, because from then on, with or without me, a seed had been planted.
(WHOF) Take us through your decision making process on new tricks and how you prepared your runs.
(A.G.) Ok, Preble now that you are not competing against me I can tell you all my secrets haha! I love wakeboarding because there is just so much variety and possibilities to develop your own style. So, I kept trying different grabs on my flips and spins and just riding everyday at Scott’s house constantly inspired me. Watching Brannon Meek or C.C. Roberts or my bro Chuy Rodriguez, which was so annoying because he was so good, he stuck a Mobe on his third try! Chuy and I came up with a funky roll and they named it the Mexican Roll (after us of course). Riding at Scott’s we pretty much had like a three fall limit because so many of us wanted to ride and Scott was the only one who had a boat, (he was so nice to let us all train at his place) so, I’d spend a lot of time on the trampoline or in my head visualizing the things I wanted to try before I rode, and when it was my turn I made sure I stuck everything I knew how to do before I’d do something I might fall on. It was the same thing I did at contests. I would rank my tricks from safest to most difficult and I would tailor my passes with that. In practice, I loved evolving so much that every single time I rode I tried to learn something new, because I wanted to ride better and better every single time!
I will tell you my best-kept secret…before I attempted a new trick and before my turn in every contest, I’d look at the sky and say a prayer and suddenly I felt no fear… I had an inner peace in knowing that I was part of a team with a benevolent force that always gave me the faith and power I needed. That insight helped me stay humble and grateful because it was not me, but it was through me, that the magic happened and it has been my honor to be part of that experience.
(WHOF) Who were your biggest rivals?
(A.G.)Girls like you Dana Preble, Sarah Cline, Tara Hamilton, Leslie Kent and Buster Lutgert were huge sources of encouragement and inspiration that pushed me to learn tricks that I hadn’t learned before.
(WHOF) Tell us about your travels that went along with Wakeboarding. What was your favorite event?
(A.G.) Oh my God! Traveling around the world was definitely my favorite part of being a pro athlete! All the beautiful places and people that I met along the way! I love Japan and Europe and Australia and California and Hawaii (I fell in love with Hawaii at that RnR Thanksgiving contest and now I live here!) My favorite event was always the X Games, because we got to meet and hang out with other extreme athletes whom I looked up to, and it was so much fun! I’m still friends with some of the motocross and snowboard legends and I love watching them on TV and be like, “Oh yeah, that’s my homie!”
(WHOF) I’m sure that your sponsors played a big part of your wakeboarding career. Tell us how you found them and how you worked with them.
(A.G.) Blessings and divine connections! I’ve got to thank so many people; Jimmy Redmond and Tony Finn were my first sponsors, Todd Weatherall from O’Brien, Bill Van Sickle from Fulltilt was a huge mentor, Jonathan Paskowitz from Black Flys, Peter Townsend from Rusty (who gave me the very first women’s boardshort samples to try out at Surf Expo); the crew from Flojos, Dave Hagget from O’Neill wetsuits and my buddy Troy Eckerts from Volcom. Russell Gay with Masterline ropes. Paul Singer and Lani Farmer from Malibu Boats, which I still use and Liquid Force that has been my post retirement sponsor since Jimmy Redmond has supported me throughout my life with Liquid Force gear. I have to thank Darren Wyley from Wyley’s, Tom James and Jeff
Barton from WakeBoarding magazine for all they did to help me. I also LOVE Bill Porter from Performance Ski n’ Surf that thanks to him we had our first women’s fat prize money at the Pro Tour. It was always awesome to have the Wakeboard and Surf Expo together because that is where I met many of my contacts.
(WHOF) What was the best thing about being a part of wakeboarding from the beginning?
(A.G.) The freedom of expression that came along with it! And sharing and introducing the sport to so many different countries, doing exhibitions and clinics and getting treated like royalty. I loved being part of the Fulltilt team with Thomas Horrell, Cobe Micacich and Mike Weddington too! We had so much fun designing ads and boards and graphics, I enjoyed so much filming videos with FLF Films and with Ron Sidenglanz, being able to free ride and to try things over and over without so much pressure. I loved riding with Shaun Murray and Dean Lavelle and Sonja Scheffler who were infinitely patient coaches, but my favorite wakeboard coach of all time was Jeff Heer.
(WHOF) How has the sport changed since you began? How did you progress with the sport and all of the changes that went with it?
(A.G.) Well the sport is huge now! I guess back then things were progressing so fast that we couldn’t see it! When Wake Tech came out with the Flight 69, the first twin-tip board, it revolutionized the sport. Or the Skylon! That was huge! I remember landing so many new tricks when I tried the Skylon for the first time. We used to bring cement blocks on the boat to make a big wake or whatever we could find; Buster had an overflowing waterbed mattress on the back of her boat! It’s funny to look back at so many things that have changed (I can’t believe neon is still around). Back then we had to build sliders and pray that they would hold up when we tried them out, or that there weren’t any invisible screws poking out. Now there are wake parks everywhere and you just press a button on the boat and you have a huge wake. How about wake surfing? That started out as something to do on windy days and it is now another sport, or the birth of wakeskating thanks to Thomas Horrell and Drew McGuckin (the first time I wakeskated I was actually trying to learn a Raley so I took the boots off my board to ease the face plants!)
(WHOF) After dominating the sport for quite some time you decided to break away and do other things. How and when did you make this decision that all athletes eventually come to?
(A.G.) It was a sunny Florida morning haha… I was standing on the dock ready to attempt a 720, I already could land two different 540’s so that was the next step, but suddenly I felt a paralyzing fear… I started going over pros and cons in my head, I knew someone who had blown out both knees on their first 720 attempt, and I had already had three knee reconstructions so I finally decided I was too afraid to hurt myself again. And just like that I was over it. I knew I had reached my limit and I was not willing to take another risk to progress my riding. The next week I announced my retirement at the Gravity Games before they started, that contest was awesome; I rode with all my heart and with absolute freedom through every round, the best part of it was that I kept on sticking all my tricks! At the finals, when I landed the last double up and I knew that I had won, I was so stoked I sent a huge kiss to the sky!! I came out of the water and gave my board to a little girl that was standing there. Seriously, like my son likes to say, moments like that remind me that I owe it all to the sun and to the stars that love me more than I can possibly understand.
(WHOF) Lastly, what is your favorite Nick Name?
(A.G.) Mmmm… I guess I liked the Mexican Jumping Bean nickname the best, but you can leave that one out, ok?