Darin Shapiro, a.k.a. the Michael Jordan of wakeboarding, has five Pro Tour titles, two world titles and X Games gold in a sport that's only been competitive for eight years.
If you listen to the media hype on him, your opinion probably leads to heated conversations about how Darin Shapiro is sucking the soul out of the sport of wakeboarding. And you haven't even met the guy.
In terms of riding, the guy who's won more wakeboarding contests than anyone in history has gone back to his roots — simply having fun. The win-at-all-costs mentality is gone.
The Darin you'll see on the water these days isn't the guy caught in the freestyle format genre, whipping off Raleys and mobes 'cause they're worth the most points. Rather, he's taking tricks in new directions, doing some spins and adding another half-rotation but still incorporating the explosive, aggressive Darin style we all know and admire.
How do I know this? Earlier this year at his home in Lake Worth, Florida, somebody suggested he do a 900 off the double-up. “I've never tried it,” he said, “but I'll give it a go.” Four tries later, he stomped a front-side 9. This is in addition to the wake-to-wake 7's he can throw any time, any place; the handle-pass KGB 540 that no one can do; and the slew of other tricks he's invented or perfected in the last 24 months.
Darin has pulled some big moves off the water as well. He started talking with Bruce Robson from O'Brien in early 1998 and liked what he heard. After a longstanding relationship with Hyperlite, Darin jumped the wake to O'Brien. He's under a nondisclosure agreement about the cash situation, but rumors have him tagged at three years for $425,000, making him the highest-salaried rider in the history of wakeboarding. But while the money's obviously a factor, it was also time for a change. Things at Hyperlite were getting a little claustrophobic with its deep, deep team, so now he has a lot more space at O'Brien and the chance to start fresh.
As for expressing himself off the water, well, that hasn't changed. Surfing and music are his other deep-rooted passions. The time spent away from wakeboarding has also given him perspective. “I think I've learned that success is actually an inner peace, the feeling that you've accomplished something. It's more of an accomplishment for me now to go on a surf trip and go through all those hassles to get a seven-second barrel. You come out and everything you've done behind you now makes you feel so good inside. It doesn't matter if anyone saw it; it's just a personal feeling that makes you feel like you're in heaven for a while. That's how riding my best in a contest feels. If that means winning, that's great. But it's the personal accomplishment that makes me feel the best.”
Too often the best guys get judged against themselves rather than against their competitors. “Darin rode well today but not as good as he usually does” has been heard countless times. And I'm no different. Is it his pure talent that's been the source of the criticism?
In the end, maybe Darin Shapiro is just a good wakeboarder. He's a 5'3″, 140-pound, ripped 25-year-old man who grew up loving the grace and beauty of surfing and the speed and technical power of water skiing and found a blend of both on one double-edged sword called a wakeboard. Only when I stop being judgmental and making grand media-as-adversary statements do I see the real Darin Shapiro turned inside out.