Wakestock and SBC Wakeboarding Magazine: From The Beginning

As Told By Bryan Gardner

Wakestock and SBC Wakeboarding Magazine: From The Beginning

Today I received news from inside SBC Media that the company has filed for Bankruptcy protection and all staff were notified that their jobs were no longer there, essentially meaning the end for SBC Wake Mag and Wakestock. I’m told some of the other titles may live on but nothing is certain.

This is my story of how Wakestock and SBC Wakeboard Magazine began.

In 1998, I was living my dream. My tiny minded 22 year-old dream. But I had no idea that what was coming would explode the way it did and redirect me to the amazing life I’ve led since.

Following a brief and unsuccessful attempt at post secondary education, I was in my second year cycle of spending winter in Whistler and summer in Muskoka. To me it was simple, being young should be filled with a shitload of time spent in cool places, mostly outside, often ending each day in drunken celebration. On the way home for summer I’d stop somewhere north of Dryden, Ontario and live in a tent for six weeks, grow a ginger coloured beard, and plant trees. It was a solid way to dry out from the last five months of powder and party’s, make some decent dollars fast and recharge my work ethic with some old fashioned basic labour. Then I’d carry on to my dream job in amazing shape, pockets holding some extra coin.

Bryan Gardner with Seth Olsen

Bryan Gardner doing an interview with Seth Olsen from Wakeboarding Magazine

Back then, Sun and Ski was the Ontario dealership for Malibu Boats with a small building on the shores of Bala Bay, right next to the KEE to Bala concert hall. It’s a pizza joint now but in those days it was my life. That little building, run by Martin and Cassandra Ford, gave me everything I had been dreaming about since wakeboarding had been invented. A brand new boat to use every season for starters. Behind it I’d coach and train. It was also my transportation, and in Muskoka, the most awesome places to go are best visited by boat. The gas tank was always full and my schedule had built in flexibility to never miss a single tournament. The Balacade remains on the other side, where I’d pump quarters into the games when the rain came. As long as we worked our asses off to help clean, sell, prep and deliver boats, outside of coaching and riding, the Fords made sure we had what we needed. On top of that I had a full sponsorship with Hyperlite and a handful of other sponsors. I was exactly where I had ever hoped to be, smack in the middle of chasing my dreams.

I loved working at Sun and Ski and I loved Bala so much I vowed to make it my home one day. This would come after I retired from being a big shot pro wakeboarder. (winky face) Although I grew up cottaging on Lake Rosseau, I rented a place with a bunch of friends straight across Bala Bay at Manchee point. I could be dock to dock in 90 seconds, ready to take lessons. Thats about as efficient as you can get when it comes to managing the late nights and hangovers. Bala was the place to be for riding and partying and I was terrified of missing a single moment.

I dated a girl whose best friend was dating the owner of the KEE, so I never missed a show and as a return favour, took rock stars out to ride on request. How crazy is that? I was the one doing the favour by taking on the laborious task of hanging out with rock stars? Ok, Deal. The Bare Naked Ladies once wrote an entire rap song on their experience and performed it live 3 hours later. I’ll always marvel at the talent it would take to do that.

But the dirty truth is, at the best of times, I was a mediocre wakeboarder. There were so many other talented wakeboarders that my podium chances often rested on which collection of them would have a bad day if I was riding at my best. It took a long time to admit it, but its the truth. The grand total of my tournament victories is one. But I loved it. I loved it so much I’d sit in my room at night as a teenager staring at magazine clippings from the newly published Wakeboarding Magazine, now called Transworld Wakeboarding. I once wrote letters to 17 ski schools all over the southern USA from tiny ads in the back of the magazine. I begged them to let me spend the winter riding and training there. I told one guy I’d grocery shop for his family and clean toilets, just give me a shot. But unlike a lot of success stories this might sound like, there were no takers in this one. I had to roll with the Canadian season, and my lack of next-level talent.

No Talent

As it turns out my lack of talent became the key to my success. I always knew I wasn’t going to make it long term as a rider, regardless of what I did. My dad used to tell me the second you believe the very bullshit that comes out of your mouth is when you cross the line to being a loser in every way. That one lesson has helped me stay real about the choices I’ve made in life. And in 1998 Parks Bonifay was the most talked about rider on earth, beating veteran pros and inventing tricks so rapidly it was hard to keep up. He was 15, and there were others, like the Sovens, behind him. The writing was on the wall for this 22 year old, I was absolutely not ‘the shit’ and never would be. My time had passed.

Bryan Gardner - double up in the 1998 final

My double up in the final in ’98

And so, with the burning passion and love I had for wakeboarding I realized the more I poured myself into the sport the better equipped I’d be to find a place in it, somewhere, somehow, competing or not. I became a certified coach, an examiner teaching others how to be wakeboard coaches. I sat as the first ever wakeboard chair with Waterski Canada at a time when wakeboarding was the ugly stepchild of towed watersports, when the old schoolers started waking up to the fact that it could bring in money to the limping governing body waterski sports. I worked with legend, Mike McComb from B.C. to help his initiatives that have gone on to shape the judging and scoring systems in the sport, worldwide. And I helped run events at the local, provincial, national and world level, from judging at the pro world championship level, to announcing, driving, selling sponsorship, even hosting TV shows like the first nationals in 1996, and every chance I had, riding. Anything wakeboarding, I wanted to be a part of it and I was willing to do the work to make it great. But it never felt like work and I’m certain thats how I was able to take on so much. It became the secret formula for what was about to happen.

Steve Jarrett

It was a midweek day in early July, 1998. I was sitting at the Sun and Ski pro shop desk and Steve Jarrett walked in. I’d met him a few times before at various tournaments and even helped him out by taking a few boxes of magazines to the second annual Canadian Wakeboard Championships near Edmonton the year before. He was the owner of Snowboard Canada Magazine and the Summer ’97 issues I took out west had a Wakeboarding segment that he was promoting. That was Steve, grass roots, ground level all the way. It was kind of an honour that he’d make time for you and talk sport, always entertaining ideas of early adoption in any youth culture genre. He was a Lake Muskoka cottager, ex competitive windsurfer who started a windsurfing magazine, Windsport, in the boom years. When snowboarding popped he got on it fast, starting Snowboard Canada Magazine. It exploded to become the flagship money maker. He was the ‘By the riders, for the riders’ guy who understood, where skiers on snow or water, and old people, wouldn’t. Steve never prepared me for the extra charges I’d have to deal with at the airport when I took those boxes of mags for him. But that’s a classic Steve Jarret play.

Steve had a team who knew how to run an event. A small but dedicated one. At that time he had friended a marketing guy at Molson named Bill Jones. Together they had married snowboarding and music into a cross Canada competitive tour called the Snowboard Canada Jam Tour. Masterfully, they played on the turf war between Molson vs Labatt, when Labatt brought Kokanee east to be the beer of choice for the 20’s demographic. With snowboarding as the hot thing to market, the two brewery superpowers bid for Jam tour title sponsorship and Bill and Steve found themselves throwing well funded, enormous snowboard parties from Quebec to BC. So as I sat there at the desk at Sun and Ski, Steve told me he wanted to do the same thing as the Jam Tour but with wakeboarding, right here, in Bala, and call it Wakestock. He said he and Bill wanted me to help them, that he had seen me at local competitions and was sure I was the guy who knew everyone to get it going, all the details of competition to make it legit and run the show on the Mic. And he was right, I did. All I’d ever done was studied at the university of Wakeboarding. Lets get this thing going.

Three Days of Boarding Bands and Bikini’s

Three days of boarding bands and bikini’s. That was the slogan from day one, crazy from the first minute. Bala fit perfectly into the formula Steve and Bill were crushing with the Jam Tour. The KEE was right there for music at night, a hotel and bar across the street, all very visual from the main highway, all within walking distance. Bala was like a party in a box waiting to be opened. And we did. We pissed a lot of people off and gave a lot more stories for life. I remember first realizing how big it was when I stepped onto the giant barge used as the stage for the bikini contest. I was co MC’ing and late coming off the water. I grabbed the mic and clip board, stepped up and when I looked at the park I felt my bowels liquify. So thats how shitting yourself happens. It was a sea of faces and shoulders folding in to make room for more faces and shoulders. Windsor Park had become an amphitheatre, Bala Bay, the stage. In the front were some actors and hockey players set to judge in Muskoka chairs, all looking at me but wanting to see bikini’s. Fuck. Thats all I could say to myself.

We stopped traffic and made it hell for local residents for three days. How awesome is that? Despite the township and some locals bitching about the garbage and people, it was a very big boost to local business. In this economy I’m sure most would happily offer three days for the seven figure cash injection it gave to local business. I know, I read the economic report even though the township players didn’t. After all, where there is garbage there is money being made right? We actually set a national record for the most cash spit out of an ATM in 24 hours. I’ll never forget one Bala Real Estate Agent publicly stating, ‘wakeboarding is ruining the real estate market, wakeboarders don’t buy cottages.”

No Sir, their parents do, well, some of the kids with with trust funds do too. They also buy $160,000 wakeboard boats and want to have fun in the summer in Muskoka.

But how awesome is that? You have to be doing something right to garner this much pro and con passion right? Nothing successful comes without haters, nothing.

The next week, Steve came into the shop again, same way he did before. He told me he was so happy with the event that he felt there was enough appetite to start a magazine based in Canada, dedicated to Wakeboarding. And that I would be perfect to take on the editor role of such a thing. A new dream job falling right in my lap, how could I say no!? But I did. I turned down the offer to start the first ever Canadian Magazine. I had made a once and for all style promise to my dad that I’d go back to school and get something more than high school for my education. I’d tried once a few years earlier and bailed to do the Whistler, Muskoka circuit. So this was it, and it stung like crazy. I was already enrolled at George Brown in Downtown Toronto for a Marketing and Admin. program, two years plus a post grad for sports. And that was that.

Saying Yes

Then my life changed forever. My girlfriend was going to San Diego for the winter and this was the last time I’d see her until the new year. I’d woken up in the middle of that same night screaming, my girlfriend trying to calm me down. I’d dreamt someone was stabbing my dad to death in front of me. I have rarely, if ever, had a nightmare like that. My dad had been calling and I had blown it off for three days to hang out with the girl before she left. The last thing she told me was to promise to call him. I did. He told me he had cancer, surgery was happening right away, the morning of my first mid term. But it was a 95% chance it would all work out.

When I learned my dad would die within two years, I stayed with my family for the rest of the week. Everything in life was different now. I’d missed my liberal arts mid term. Who cares? The Instructor. He told me that in real life you get three days for a funeral, and as of yet no one has died. He was pissed he’d have to write a different test to make sure I wouldn’t cheat and told me I was being docked the mandatory 40%. I’d lose the credit and my term almost certainly. I’ve never known a stranger series of emotions. Do I smash his pompous face through the window beside him? Do I follow procedure and appeal his low level power play? I had to be better than that, this was about my dad not me. So I calmed down and took lunch with Steve Jarret instead. He had called me a lot during the fall semester. He wasn’t finished with me just because I said no to him. When I told him the story, Steve responded by telling me that when ever things go bad with my dad, I could take all the time I needed, he’d hold up everything until I was ready to return. And thats what the real world was offering. They would teach me the journalism, they couldn’t teach a journalism student what I knew about youth culture and the sports SBC was invested in. The restaurant we were in was the one where they filmed that scene from Good Will Hunting near Front and Jarvis in Toronto. The one where Matt Damon says, “how do you like them apples?”

Thats exactly what I thought when Steve made the offer to me.

I went back to my dad, still in the hospital. Days after learning that he was going to die, he still wanted to be a dad and mentor to me, always interested, asking the real questions to find out what was going on in my life. But he had a hard line against dropping school for a second time. Until I told him that I didn’t want to look back ten years later and regret the opportunity. That I’d get paid to learn in my element rather than chip away where there was no passion. School would be there but eventually Steve would have to find someone else for this awesome gig. There was no more discussion, he told me straight up to do it.

Immediately I went to work at SBC Media and started Wakeboard Canada Magazine. We later changed it to SBC Wake to match the other titles. I joined the Jam tour team selling sponsorship, labouring like a roadie during setup and MC’ing the halfpipe and big air events from the Canadian Open to the Vans Triple Crown to the West Beach Classic along with SBC Wake and Wakestock on my plate. I also took on the Managing Editor roll for SBC Business, the industry trade mag. I was living a dream every kid who sucked at riding like I did would have wanted. And I had no business being there at 23. I couldn’t even type 5 words a minute and struggled to use a computer properly, I had avoided it in high school. Try doing that now. But Steve and Bill believed in me and waited for me to catch up. Bill mentored me on a level no one has ever matched.

But SBC was never organized and never properly lead when you look at the big picture. Its the elephant in the room but just like my riding talent, it’s the dirty truth. Steve just could’t figure out how to adapt and delegate, he had to do it all himself. And his famous hiding acts for weeks and months tormented some of the most ambitious people I’ve ever met. The whole lot of them are ripe to be cherry picked by other awesome places to continue a career. But nothing ever happened on time, everything was a last minute slight of hand to pull events out of the fire. What’s worse is everyone knew it, the staff, the riders, the sponsors.

As I’ve moved on to broadcast and video production in my media career I’ve seen and worked behind the scenes of every major sport, the Olympics and World Cup, the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Elite athletes at world level events of the biggest scale. And they all need strong leaders and planning. Efficiency and communication. Teams win, individuals don’t, even in individual sports there is a team behind the athlete and they all work together on specific goals and deadlines. The world class don’t structure their days by winging it. So that is ultimately the downfall. And I reject the spin that would state otherwise, blaming any one or anything else. There was always an award winning team behind SBC, so strong that 17 years of this broken way of doing things is testament to their ability to hold it together. I commend all of them for their ethic and endurance. Its a conflicting thing to say about the organization that gave me so much. But real truth in journalism is what I learned there and its what I’m telling here. It’s also what made it easy to decide to leave in 2002. And it’s my hope that others will realize this, adapt to it and know the company is dead but the market is not. This only presents new opportunity.

I have so many stories of Wakestock and SBC Wake from the geeky to the flat out illegal in places all over the world. But the one that matters most is when my dad finally died on December 14th 2000. True to his word Steve held production of the buyers guide issue. I know it cost him a lot but he didn’t flinch. He shut it down for six weeks. After my dads funeral he sent me on a bogus trip to Whistler to go snowboarding. I say bogus because I was meeting up with Danny Harf, Chad Sharpe, Emily Copeland (Durham) and Danny’s sister Lauren to do a ‘Story’. There was no story. My sister lived in Squamish and we rode and laughed and partied as I quietly mourned my dad among the people I could relate to best, wakeboarders and family. I’ll never forget that generosity from the crew I hung and for Steve staying true to his commitment to me.

“Its such a conflict to feel so grateful and upset at the same time.”

So I am weeping today. The death of SBC and Wakestock in a way feels so close to the feelings I had at my dads funeral, the two are so connected. It’s like one more lingering piece of dream or specialness that you don’t acknowledge every day, but just take comfort in knowing its there, has slipped away. Something you see every once in a while that reminds you about big moments, significant moments, won’t be there. Something that helps remind me of my dad and where I came from won’t be reminding me anymore. Its strange and comforting that last year Wakestock came back to Bala, where it all began. And ultimately where it died. As I write this I can see Windsor Park where it all started, and I can see the KEE to Bala and that dock where I ran that ski school. My dad taught me life is short and for living.

So I live mine on Bala Bay now, a promise kept to myself, shared with my better half to have a home here. And as I look out to my roots — I’m devastated.

This should never have happened.

– Bryan Gardner