Adam Fields kind of pisses me off. Just when I think I'm a pretty nice guy, I meet a guy like Adam and realize what a nice guy is really like...and I don't come close. My insecurities aside, it's always a pleasure to run into Adam and find out about the latest projects he's working on. "Projects" is plural because he's never working on just one thing at a time. You can usually find him simulataneously coaching, promoting, innovating and progressing the sport of wakeboarding in any number of ways.
Adam is not your traditional pro wakeboarder, but he's proven in the past that he could be if he wanted to (2011 Brostock winner, #7 in the 2008 Pro Tour standings). However, he's happy to do his thing in North Carolina and only occasionally rear his head and remind the world what a great rider he is. This interview is one of those reminders.
WW: I was thinking I could do your intro rather than asking you. Let me know what you think? Here it is…
“Hi Ladies, my name is Adam Fields. I own a boat, go really big and am just about one of the nicest dudes in wakeboarding. Did I mention I own a boat?”
What did you think?
AF: How about this…Hi, my name is Adam Fields. I own a wakeboarding school and board shop, AF Wake, Inc. and am just about one of the nicest, hardest-working dudes in wakeboarding. Did I mention I also go really big?
WW: Where is the most memorable location that you have been to?
AF: Either Korea with team USA for the IWWF World Championships in 2009 or Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas for Brostock 2011.
WW: If you were not a wakeboarder, what do you think you would be doing?
AF: I would either be a musician, running my Dad's company (The Boat Lift Store, Inc.) or some type of doctor, teacher or health and nutrition advisor…and, hey, it’s never too late right?!
WW: How long after you started wakeboarding did you realize that you wanted wakeboarding to be a career?
AF: Very soon after making friends with and seeing the lifestyle of former pro Mike Weddington. I knew it was a possibility, but that I would have to work really hard to afford to try. So, I started working within the sport to try to grow it and be a part of the industry. Essentially, my school, then shop, then contest series have all come from that ongoing desire for wakeboarding to be my career.
WW: Will you be competing in any contests this year?
AF: Yes, most definitely! I'll at least be at Brostock, the Wake Games, about 10 Mid-Atlantic grassroots events, plus one or two events in Europe.
WW: When you do a contest, do you go into it with a certain goal or just see what happens?
AF: I most definitely go into a contest with the goal of winning and do what I can to prepare before the event to do so. There is totally a game plan behind winning! I'm also hoping the event goes really well, so I try to promote, volunteer or work in some way to help make things happen whenever possible. Events keep people stoked on practicing, learning and being involved in general.
WW: How are things going with your wakeboard school?
AF: Absolutely amazing! We've experienced some truly awesome things since the start of the school in 2000. First of all, my staff and I have coached 1200-1800 people per summer since 2002, including more than 1000 new first-time wakeboarders! I've been able to host personalized camps with top riders from all around the world, including people from at least 13 other countries. We now have helped nine riders achieve World Champion status in not only wakeboarding, but also in wakeskating and wakesurfing! Kids we've taught are now paid professional athletes because they were given encouragement, direction and hope in there being a career in this sport.
I truly feel there is a science behind learning how to ride. The "AF Wake" method is helping people of all ages learn faster than ever before and I will continue to offer the highest level of personalized training, accommodations and mentorship to all of my riders!
WW: People probably assume that pro wakeboarders just ride and party all day, but obviously there is some real work on the back end that has to be done to satisfy the sponsors cutting the checks. What are some important aspects of being a professional wakeboarder and making the big man happy?
AF: Well, if you do "get there" it is because you have had a strong work ethic, personable demeanor, amazing talent and a will to learn and be available to the big man. The top guys that are in the magazines every month are also now on the road every month to meetings, shops, shows, events and contests. I can personally vouch for the challenges it creates for pros to have enough stability to settle down.
Another challenge is staying the best while being gone from home that much. More work on the back end includes continuing to progress, taking risks and thinking of new ideas/projects for expressing the sport.
WW: Do you use Instagram as a tool to promote yourself and your wakeboard school?
WW: Its seems as though more board sport athletes are really taking on rigorous training schedules in the gym to not only improve their riding but also add to the longevity of their careers. Are you on a program and have you noticed this amongst some of the pros in the wake industry?
AF: I am definitely on an almost year-round program that fluctuates depending on what my goals are. For the top riders, there is a balance between riding and working out, but during the off season there needs to be a bit of rest and huge amount of other workouts to keep the body balanced and strong. I talk about a strength-to-impact ratio in one of my blogs on the AFwake.com website. It makes sense that as we ride a board and do jump after jump that our body has to stay on the positive side of the strength to impact ratio in order not to get broken off, so to speak. Body position combined with great technique gives you a lot of strength to handle going big.
WW: With all the talent that is currently roaming the waterways and seeking sponsors, riders must possess more than just skills on a wakeboard. What do you believe it takes to have sponsors blowing up a rider’s cell phone?
AF: Availability and connections.
WW: What did you throw down in your run at Brostock 2011 to give you the win?
AF: In Brostock, you get a left, a right double-up and one of your choice in the first round. And you can't win off the same trick from one round to the next. 2011 Was supposed to be three rounds; Four people in a heat, then head to head, then a five person final. So, in the first round I hit a big nose-grabbed slim chance, a switch stalefish glide and a really big S-bend. I don't normally do Raley tricks off double ups, but come on, it’s Brostock!
Then the boat broke, so there was a delay and the head to head round was skipped. A ten-man final of two double-ups each ensued with a replacement boat from the audience. I went pretty early on, like 3rd or 4th, and landed a clean, big, nose-grabbed slim chance five a little into the flats first hit and looked up to the boat like YES!!!
We stopped the boat at the end to let the water settle. I pretty much instantly had this feeling that I had won in my mind. Regardless the placement, I landed my biggest trick perfectly! From there it was just for show.
So, on the last double up I charged the wake trying the biggest bee sting (that's an S-bend into a hoochie glide, then turn and land switch at the last second) ever. I popped the handle on the landing, but Steven Hahn got a sweet picture of it. I could not have been more pumped! Since I went big on all my double-ups, people remembered me. I got a lot of compliments from the fans. The entire Brostock video with four of those five hits is below.
WW: What is your secret to going so big?
AF: *Note - Intent to go big requires knowing how to land soft - see AF Wake blog about proper knee bend. Now, ready for a little "Wake Physics?" Going big requires a combination of things; good body position, a good strength to weight ratio (being light helps), good technique and intent to go big.
To go really big, your good technique uses progressive, pendulum-like tension building against the pull of the boat to stretch against the boat to stay in the air longer. With a loose line gravity works better to help you drop. With a loose line and gravity taking over you lose your energy and quickly separate from the boat, which is not good. Try to use the tension in the rope combined with the speed control and timing of you hitting the wake for an upward swing affect that maintains through the landing. You're landing is nice because it’s still pulling you up when you land!
If you get the timing right it’s actually quite a smooth looking and feeling way of jumping.
A big wake plays a role, but not as much as people think. Speed plays a role, but if you build your speed at the wrong time you can still lose the effect.
WW: What boat are you usually getting towed behind?
AF: I ride mostly on my EPIC 23v, which has an amazing, small and steep style wake that sends you straight up and down. I also ride with my buddy Bry a lot on his Malibu VLX.
WW: How much weight are you running in the boat and how do you disperse the weight in your boat?
AF: Epics come with nearly 4000 pounds of stock ballast and I never use more than 3/4 of it (meaning I don't have to put in ANY additional weight). The wake is best with a little more on the port side and mostly stern heavy, so like 1000 lbs on the left, 750 on the right and 350 in the bow. That's the weight setup used when I did the set in the video below
It's not the biggest wake ever but it works! And you can buy two Epics for one G23 or 24 MXZ.
WW: If a company came to you with a healthy travel budget for you to travel for the year and your job is to double their current sales in the wakeboard market. How would you go about it? Do more contests? Demos? Networking?
AF: Tailoring the brand’s image depends on the product and company goals. If you grow the entire wake market, everyone will have more sales. So, ultimately plans that grow the sport increase sales.
If I was working for a boat or board company, I would recommend using the budget to put together more interactive AF Wake demos, clinics and grassroots events with local people and pro athletes. I would work hard to expose boating and wakeboarding to more people who don't already know what it is, targeting metropolitan areas with nearby waterways where boating can exist.
Using the help of the top regional riders, board shops and boat dealerships I would also help educate and form AF Wake schools for people to come to at which they can learn and participate. I'd develop a system for those shops and schools to form water sports clubs, run their own events and get leagues established for kids in schools. These shops, boat dealers and coaches running the schools would continue to grow the sport and their local businesses adding to the market and sport awareness as a whole. People having fun with their products will generate residual growth.
WW: What are your plans for the next five years with wakeboarding and your personal life?
AF: Well, as soon as I can get back wakeboarding (going to Orlando after Christmas) I want to push my riding by getting in great shape, learning a slim 7, Pete 7 and by winning Brostock again. I'd also like to finish properly dialing in the AF Wake business model and franchise plan that allows me to open up new wake schools in other areas.
I've given up living all winter in Orlando because of a certain pretty blonde named Kate Moye, who lives in NC. Living in NC on more of a year-round basis helps me focus on my business up here and has given hope to the idea of starting my own family soon. In five years I hope to be married and have at least one child with another on the way. :)
WW: As a professional rider and a business owner in the wakeboard industry, you probably have a good insight on the industry as a whole. Are there changes that you believe would improve the growth of the industry?
AF: First, it would help if it was warm everywhere, which we can't control, ha. If the boats were less expensive that would also help.
If you disregard the cost issue, an important change would be to improve the sport's appreciation at the beginner level. Most people rarely see the type of riding that the people in the industry see daily. They don't know how to learn safely. Or, worse, they don't have a boat or their dad or granddad is driving the boat 30 mph because he thinks you're "supposed to" or was "letting the boat plane out." Your regular readers obviously have more experience. At my school we see some crazy stuff! You'd be amazed at what people are purposely trying to do when pulling boarders. Through instruction anyone can learn, but the desire or opportunity isn't always there.
People get so tired of falling or fearing injury when they try wakeboarding that they stagnate and grow bored. Those advanced riders doing this then sell their boats or become wakesurfers (no offense, but you know you're out there) and 3-5 days at my camp will blow your mind.
At my school we break this down and help riders who have plateaued or are feeling old. There is so much more to learn than people realize. They don't even have to beat themselves up to do it. Having that tutor, a club or group of friends who like to ride helps make it a lot more fun.
An ambitious pursuit to organize more sport structure and set certifications for coaches so there can be more accredited places to learn would be another positive change.
More grassroots events for beginners to participate in and more live, demo-style promotional events for beginners will also spark growth for the riders at that level. We need to give them something to practice for.
GoPro has made wakeboarding more enjoyable at a beginner level because you can have fun easily making videos with your friends. It's a blast at whatever riding level you are.
Cable wakeboarding has also helped because the progression is fast and relatively inexpensive. If you are a beginner you can keep having fun with less headaches.
Another change we wakeboarders or "advanced boaters" would appreciate (hear me out) is if there became a mandatory vessel operations course as part of a more thorough boat drivers license test. This would only work if you then had vessel operations classes and instructors who teach and certify. Included in the course would be mandatory understanding of the proper driving speeds for safety. Make people have to have the knowledge they need to be safe.
For example, if a rider loses control at 19+ mph, catches an edge and hits their head the right way, they could die. Yes, sadly, this has happened. Then they have to prove to the instructor on a body of water that they can drive the boat well enough to guarantee that safety. By the way, I would like to be a part of the movement. Let’s call the Coast Guard and lobby for federal law change! I could go into so much more detail, but that’s for a later discussion.
WW: Have you received any great advice that helped with your wakeboarding career?
AF: The greatest advice I've received has to do with work, time and happiness. We all have to trade our time and talents for money to pay to live. My Dad and my U.S. History teacher in high school urged me to resource my talents so my time was being spent doing something I enjoyed. I now get paid to teach wakeboarding, which is something I love. My extension of this advice, that I try to pass on to others, is that if people want to be paid well for something, they better be good at it. Generally, the better you get at something the higher you get paid and the more opportunities arise from your talents. Work hard at everything, maintain high expectations for yourself and you will develop great habits that will help you succeed throughout life.
WW: Adam, thank you for taking the time and allowing the readers to know more about you. Now is your chance to give out some shouts, thanks or whatever the hip way to say it is.
AF: In addition to all my students, shop customers, friends and fans, I would like to thank WakeWorld for constantly working to put up fresh new content for us wake enthusiasts to enjoy, my parents for being the supportive role models they are, my mentors along the way including Mike Weddington, Brent Larson, Stephen Smith, Jeff Crouch, Danny Tolentino and Bill Porter, my sponsors; Epic Wake Boats, The Boat Lift Store, Inc., Liquid Force, Smith Optics and my company, AF Wake, Inc.