Blood & Bondo: The Leif Erkkila Interview

Leif Erkkila Blood & Bondo

Photo: Keaton Bowlby

It’s safe to say you’re a first generation wakeskater, an OG! When did it all start?
Wow. That’s a good question. I guess it was around 1999. I was at the lake wakeboarding a lot back then. Mike Rogers called me all stoked about wakeskating. He had found a rock that stuck out of the water and was doing ollies over it. I had ridden the wakeboard barefoot without bindings, but he told me to bring some shoes. I skateboarded a lot back then, it was my first love. So I grabbed some old skate shoes and we went out to the lake. He busted out these cut down Thruster wakeboards with foam grip over the entire board. They had no fins. I remember how tiny that board seemed. We went and ollied the rock and did some wake jumps. I landed a couple shuvits. I was hooked. From that point on, I had no desire to wakeboard. I just wanted to ride that wakeskate. It seemed so obvious, like, why did it take us this long to figure this out? We were skateboarding on the water.

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The era before production wakeskates. What kind of maguyver shit you guys were getting into?
Yeah, I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer. That’s one of the things that made it extra fun for me back then. We were really just exploring the possibilities and trying to figure things out. I started cutting down wakeboards and playing with fiberglass and bondo. I put kicktails on a board that actually looks somewhat similar to today’s shapes. I remember being bummed that it weighed so much. It weighed about ten pounds. Wakeboards were foam core back then, so they were pretty easy to sand and shape. Griptape hadn’t even come in to play, yet. Rogers had a foam supplier for Solbound, so he could get us sheets of foam grip. Its funny that one of my first wakeskate hookups was from a binding company.

Who was the west coast crew made up of in the beginning and what companies were you riding for?
Mike Rogers was a huge influence. He owned solbound and he was always down to try new things. He’s a really sharp dude. I learned a lot from him about the “wake industry”. Aaron Aubrey and Fil Lowe were a few of the dudes that I rode with a lot. It was tough because most wakeboarders didn’t really want to deal with wakeskating, but those guys were always down to ride. Then we started wakeskating out at Discovery Bay on the delta with Josh Smith, Rich Facciano, Darin Rayzor, and Rodrigo Donoso. We would build rails and stuff, which you couldn’t get away with anywhere else. Josh was riding for Concrete bindings, which later became Collective Development. Duane Pacha ran that company, and he was starting a new wakeskate company called Kampus. Josh got me hooked up with Kampus, and I moved to Carlsbad Lagoon in San Diego. I lived with Jeff Harcq. Kyle Murphy rode for Collective and Steve Wahlman rode for Kampus, so they would come out and ride with us a lot. Duane had a lot of connections in the action sports industry. He got me hooked up with Sessions clothing and Mica wetsuits.

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What was it like being on Kampus? I remember a lot of dudes riding K3’s and K39’s early on.
I had a great time being on Kampus. I worked at the warehouse and Duane let me be really involved with the r&d. I was able to conceive the shape and graphics for my pro models and he used my ideas for the aluminum lock-in fins that Kampus produced. He would give me tester decks to try out from prospective manufacturers. I remember the first time I rode the K39. It was before Steve Wahlman and I got pro models. I took it for one ride and told Duane he couldn’t have it back. Then George Daniels and Phillip Basino and Clint Tompkins got ahold of them. They were all ams at the time. They went crazy on that thing. I remember George had kick flips on lock. He was one of the first guys to make that a stock trick. I think a lot of wakeskaters out there got down on a K39 as one of their first wakeskates. It was a super affordable board that made wakeskating accessible for kids who wanted to get on the water.

The “classroom” pro model with Kampus is all-time but I’ve only seen one or two. Was that graphic ever released to the public?
I guess it was called the “Leif”. It was released to the public, but we had a really tough time selling boards back then. Most Pro Shops were at boat dealerships. They were just into the big waterski brands that they had dealt with for years. They didn’t really understand wakeskating. Most thought it was just a fad and they didn’t know how to sell it. I don’t know if more than 10 or 20 of those boards were ever sold. Maybe less!

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How do you compare being a sponsored wakeskater back then to now?
A lot has changed and a lot hasn’t. Back then, if you could do a 3 shuv and hit a rail, you were good. These days, you need a heavy bag of tricks and some serious style to turn heads. I think opportunities have gotten bigger and better, but it’s a lot more competitive in terms of how many good riders are out there. It’s good to see some major sponsors have put some real money behind wakeskating. A lot of people have put in a ton of work to get wakeskating on the sponsorship map, but it seems like it’s still really tough to make a living at it. I believe only a handful of guys have pulled that off.

I found something you wrote about Cassette a while back that was pretty rad and rumor has it Thomas made the same impression on a few other guys currently pushing the boundaries of wakeskating.

“Cassette really broke the ice and created a “scene” that began to separate itself from wakeboarding and evolve into it’s own thing. Thomas brought elements of art and style that related more to skateboarding, in my opinion. That is probably what I liked best. It was finally something I could relate to on the water.”

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Shitcreek Issue 001. Shuv over. Photo: Brent Baumunk

What do you think about today’s wakeskate scene?
Nice find. You do your research. I’m pretty blown away by today’s scene. The talent on and off the water is amazing. The art, the ingenuity, the tenacity. Guys (and girls) just keep pushing forward. I love the DIY spirit that seems to be in most wakeskaters’ blood. Rider owned companies, cross-country road trips, amazing movies, pro tours, backyard wakeskate parks. It’s come a long way.

Is the current state of wakeskating anything like you envisioned ten to fifteen years ago?
Yes and no. I always envisioned it moving more toward a skateboarder mentality. I always knew it would evolve and grow, but honestly, it has gone way beyond what I ever envisioned. The riding is off the charts. I remember having serious discussions with other wakeskaters about whether or not anyone would ever land a kickflip. I just shake my head in awe when I see what today’s riders are doing on wakeskates.

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The winch has been the most influential development in wakeskating. It was a huge game changer. It got us off the lake and out of the boat. It opened up so many doors. I remember imagining something that could pull me on pieces of water that were too small or too shallow for a boat and how that would change the overall approach to wakeskating. Then Thomas and the Cassette guys actually did it! Before that we were basically stuck behind a boat, or the occasional pull from a car. I don’t know if I would still wakeskate without winching.

So what made you guys want to start a magazine?
Trey Wiles. Shit Creek was his idea. He called me and was talking about wanting to make his own wakeskate zine and just do whatever the fuck he wanted. Just give himself a platform to express wakeskating from his own point of view. It sounded good to me. He got a few other guys in on it and we started playing with some ideas and put together our first issue. Then WSM shut down their print mag. I was so bummed. We kind of felt a little responsibility, like we wanted to make sure there was still a print mag in existence for wakeskaters to read and contribute to. We live in a digital world, but there is nothing like holding a printed magazine in your hands and having that collection to go back and look at. I still have Thrasher Mags from the ‘80s. They’re like history books.

shitcreek

Who is behind the mag and where did you guys come up with that incredible name?
Well Trey really got the ball rolling, he’s the editor in queef. He invited me, Sheldon Semon, Myles Vickers, and Fil Lowe to be a part of it. Trey came up with the name. He’s a funny fucker. Sheldon handles all the online stuff and does the layout on the computer. Basically he heads up the nerd department. He’s a damn genius. Fil is the staff infection photographer. He’s pretty good with all that stuff. Myles handles the ad sales, and contributes writing. I do some writing and interviews. Trey still needs to come up with funny titles for Myles and I.

We all do a little promoting, so here goes… Sign up for a free subscription at shitcreekmag.com and send us some shit to put in our mag! We appreciate it. All submissions, complaints, inquiries, requests, and accusations can be sent to shitcreekmag@gmail.com.

Are you guys planning on keeping it “shitty” or can we expect some turd polishing on this project?
Well, a little of both, I guess. We would love to take it as far as we can in terms of upping the quality, but we also would love to keep it free. Our whole philosophy was to keep our production within the realm of “wakeskate reality”. In other words, we wanted it to be able to support itself. As you well know, there is not a lot of money in wakeskating. We sell some ads to help pay for printing and distribution, but it still ends up costing us a few bucks out of pocket at the end of the day. If we can get our circulation numbers up and maybe sell a few more ads, we could possibly polish up the nugget at some point. With that being said, there’s something satisfying and appropriate about how it looks right now.

bloodstream_gear

Check out bloodstreamskate.com and follow them on instagram @bldstrm_skate.

Agreed, I’m into it. What about Bloodstream? Any 2015 spoilers?
Hopefully some retail accounts. I’ve been trying to get that going. I have a day job, so I’ve been trying to let bloodstream grow at it’s own pace. I wish I had more time and money to put in to it. Garrett Fleming, Sheldon Semon, and Keaton Bowlby help me out a ton. Bloodstream would be nowhere without those guys. They really deserve a lot of credit. We’ve been working on some new products. We are getting ready to release the “Summer Series”, which is a thinner sock for warmer temperatures. We will also be announcing a few new additions to the team.

Who are the top 3 wildboyz out at NCC?
Garrett Fleming, Evan Gambetta, Myles Vickers. They all get after it.

You’re the foreman right? Any crazy plans for another drop this time around?
I don’t know. It’s a lot of work to drag all that shit 3 hours away and put it all together for a 2 day session, and then drag it all home. I know the people who show up have a blast with it, and it’s really fun to see everyone throw down. I haven’t decided yet. There will be some fun rails and good riding no matter what.

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Do you bring your daughter to convergence or is it too rowdy for small children?
She’s only 2, so she hasn’t been yet. It’s too rowdy and I’m busy behaving like a little kid myself.

Any words of wisdom for the young guns?
Always remember why you started wakeskating in the first place. Keep it fun! Look out for each other. And teach someone how to wakeskate if you get the opportunity. The world needs more wakeskaters.

Wesubsist

  • Rap Cat

    Chyeah. Lovin’ the history lesson.

  • ryan

    Legend

  • brandon

    Triple OG

  • Foamtop Forever

    Know your roots.

  • Brett

    Poopy pants!!