Driving the Boat

WSIA's director reflects on his first year in charge.

Credit-Rodrigo Donoso copy

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Donoso

Watersports afficionados have an advocacy organization in the Water Sports Industry Association, which fights to keep waterways open to behind-the- boat activities (among many other tasks). The person leading that organization, Kevin Michael, 41, is himself a longtime watersports partaker who understands the needs of everyday participants and the industry that serves them. Michael, a former professional show skier, magazine editor, and business owner and father to a 14-year-old daughter, has been on the job for almost a year now, so we decided to catch up with him and see how things are going, for him, the WSIA (wsia.net) and the industry.

BW: How did your first year go?
Michael: Too fast! Prior to this year, the WSIA granted me the benefit of a six-month trial as assistant director. Our industry leaders have given me incredible guidance and have invested in me with professional leadership training. Our board is full of smart and talented businesspeople and innovators, many of whom I’ve known for a long time. Larry Meddock held this position formerly and set me up for success. I can’t imagine filling any other role at this point in my career. I love towed watersports and I live it every day. It has always been who I am and I love working hard for it, because it has always been there for me.

Were there any surprises, good or bad?
I don’t know if surprising is the word, but our annual charity efforts have really impacted me. I’ve lived a very fortunate life filled with amazing experiences, but it’s tough to beat the feeling of cutting sizeable checks to athletes who’ve injured themselves severely while pushing the sport, as well as others who have suffered and could use some help. Our industry has always felt like a family to me, and it’s great to know we are here for each other in times of need.

Is there a niche of the industry that’s growing more than others right now?
It’s no secret that wakesurfing is blowing up exponentially. From 2012 through 2015, the segment showed 30 percent growth in sales, year-over-year. For 2016, we’re projecting more than that, possibly way more. Wake parks are also booming — more than 100 in North America. Opening a new cableway is a great project for entrepreneurs who want to do something cool and fun as a business.

What are a couple of the biggest issues facing WSIA members right now?
Discourteous boat drivers. If they annoy their neighbors, these disgruntled homeowners can try to ban the activity. I say “try” because in most all of these cases, the WSIA jumps into action and defuses the situation. As Meddock says, “When you peel the onion,” these issues stem from a personality conflict started by factors such as loud music and running too close to docks and shorelines. When confronted, the driver may be likely to flip the homeowner the bird, and now it’s an issue. So we are getting out in front of this with a new campaign to proactively educate participants on how to conduct themselves to preserve waterway access for years to come. Anyone who hears of a threat to towed watersports can call our hotline at (508) 507-9742.

What is a big priority for the coming year?
We are coming out with some really cool videos on safety and general WSIA activity. #PassTheHandle is also a big participation effort that gives back as much or more than we decide to put into it.

What are a couple of recent boat manufacturer innovations that have positively affected towed watersports?
In 2011, an incredible engineer discovered a way to create a clean wakesurfing wave without having to lean the boat to one side. In 2012, the design was brought to market and participation boomed. A lot of people don’t realize that we’ve been wakesurfing in a modern way since around 1998. But it took these surf-specific boat innovations to make it easier to wakesurf and also to switch activities on the fly.

What is your favorite towed watersports activity to participate in?
When I was younger, freestyle waterski jumping was everything. Given the boat speed of 35 mph and a double-wake cut, I fell in love with the speed and ability to be upside down, flying over the water. Today, wakeboarding behind a boat is the ultimate thrill. I get to ride in a couple major competitions each season, and that sets a goal for me to be in good shape and get back in rhythm.

How might a watersports professional describe your riding style?
So far, I haven’t been able to master the style that I see in my head. Maybe that’s why I always come back for more. Let’s ask wakeboarding legend Shaun Murray: “Kevco’s style is all about flow. You can tell that he’s in search of a good feeling when he’s riding. I like watching people like him ride, because when things feel good to a rider, they usually look good, which is always easy on the eyes. Soft landings, floaty in the air and best of all, in control from start to finish.”

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