I’ve known Gunnar for around six years now and as far as friends go, he’s a pretty great one. We ride together almost every day and I don’t really have anything bad to say about him.
He originally hails from the frigid state of Wisconsin, which means he sometimes puts a funny twang on words, but, hey, no one’s perfect. I think the greatest memory I have of Gunnar would be the time he crashed a scooter into oncoming traffic in front of the Arc De Triumph in Paris. Daniel Powers was on the back and, although Gunnar went flying over the handlebars and the scooter landed on Daniel, no one was hurt too bad and we can all laugh about it today.
Gunnar recently committed to moving to Florida to pursue wakeboarding full-time, so I decided to sit down with him and pick his brain. For those of you who don’t get the pleasure of seeing his daily Snapchat selfies, here’s a little inside look at the Wisconsinite.
WW: Hello! Thanks for coming over and saving me the effort of crutching over to your house. Life’s pretty tough with a broken leg. So we’ve obviously known each other a while, but for those who don’t know you as well, lets start with your name, age and where you grew up.
GS: Hey, no worries at all. I’m Gunnar Shuler, I recently turned 22 and I grew up in a small town called Janesville, Wisconsin. It’s about an hour south of Madison and around ten minutes from the Illinois border.
WW: How did you first get into wakeboarding and how old were you?
GS: I was eight years old when I was first introduced to wakeboarding. We had a summer house about an hour from where we lived that was on a lake and we used to go there after school and on weekends. My parents have been waterskiing since college and they knew a bunch of show skiers in the area, so we’ve always been involved with watersports. I learned to waterski when I was three. It was just like a family activity that we always did together. One day I saw somebody wakeboarding and decided that I wanted to give it a shot. My brother Gus and I ended up doing a bunch of local competitions and it just kind of grew from there.
WW: Was Dano the Mano one of those waterskiers?
GS: Dano the Mano actually ended up selling us our first wakeboard boat when he worked at a local marina!
WW: Oh, so you guys go way back! At what age did you decide to move to Florida full-time to pursue wakeboarding?
GS: We started coming down to Florida at a young age to stay at some of the wakeboard camps, but it was right after high school when I decided to move to Orlando full-time. My parents bought a house on Lake Holden, so we have a set up down here that's pretty hard to beat. I used to always go home for the summers, but this is the first year that I'm going to spend the whole year here.
WW: Do you go to school while you are down here in Florida?
GS: I go to school part time. I just got my AA degree from Valencia and should be transferring to UCF pretty soon.
WW: Congratulations! I'm sure it's pretty hard to juggle school and riding. What are your plans for this season?
GS: This season I'm planning on doing the Pro Tour, Nationals, Worlds and the new Nautique events. I'd like to try to get as much film and photos as possible this summer. I'd also like to try and do a trip up to Georgia to check out some of the cable parks and do some filming up there.
WW: On the topic of travel, wakeboarders travel to places all over the world; some awesome, some not so great. Where is your favorite place that you've ridden so far?
GS: My favorite place would have to be on Lake Michigan when I went there on a Fox shoot. We found this little back cove area that was right next to a vineyard. The water was this crystal-clear blue color and it had the illusion of being around twelve feet deep, but really it was like over fifty.
WW: Naturally, you tried to swim down as far as you could, right?
GS: Reed Hansen ended up free-diving down with a handle and made it down to about fifty feet. I tried to do it after him and made it about thirty feet down. I can't equalize very well, so I ended up getting a crazy bad sinus headache for the next week after that (laughing).
WW: Wisconsin can get pretty cold during the winter months. Did you snowboard at all growing up?
GS: Yeah, I used to snowboard competitively until I was seventeen. I started snowboarding the winter after I started wakeboarding. When I was seventeen I was getting ready for a contest, which would basically be the equivalent of a Junior Pro Men contest. The main slopestyle course was closed so I went over to the larger jumps. It was my first run of the day and I went about seventy-five feet on an eighty foot jump and knuckled it so hard that I tore my meniscus. That was pretty much the end of my snowboarding career (laughing). I decided to just focus on wakeboarding.
WW: Good choice. So, you mentioned the new house on Lake Holden. Who do you ride with day to day?
GS: Well, I mostly ride with you when you’re not injured (laughing), Daniel Powers, Tony Caroll, Pierce Homesy and my brother, Gus. I'd say those are the five main people I ride with.
WW: You had a pretty major haircut at the beginning of the year. What made you decide to cut the locks off?
GS: I've always had long hair my entire life. It's always been at my ears at the very shortest. After high school when I moved down here I didn't know any good places to get my haircut so I kinda just let it run wild. The last haircut I had before the big one this year was in 2010. I had a pretty deep conversation with one of my friends from back home which inspired me to cut my hair. His aunt had passed away from cancer and his sister was going through chemo at the same time so after that talk I decided to cut mine and donate it.
WW: Who did you donate it to?
GS: Being a Wisconsinite and a Green Bay Packers fan, I donated it to AJ Hawke’s foundation that he has with the organization called Wigs for Kids. I ended up donating around thirteen inches.
WW: And did this result in a shoutout from AJ Hawke himself?
GS: It did (laughing)! AJ Hawke retweeted a picture of my ponytail being cut off. I think I got like ten random followers from it, but I'm sure they've unfollowed me by now (laughs).
WW: Awesome! On that note, some people might have noticed that half your beard grows in white. Why is that so?
GS: Well, I have a pigment deficiency on half my chin. It's called vitiligo and I don't have any pigment there, so the hair only grows in white.
WW: That's interesting and pretty unusual. Okay, this is a classic question and I'm sure it's hard to imagine, but if you weren't wakeboarding, what would you be doing?
GS: I'd probably be going to school in Wisconsin and going into the family business of dentistry. My grandfather and my great uncle started a practice together back in the day. My dad runs that practice now and my uncle is a Dean at a dental school in Vancouver, so it’s definitely a family business.
WW: If you are such a scholar, why is your spelling and handwriting so bad?
GS: (Laughs) That is a good question! I don't know. I guess I wasn't properly taught as a child.
WW: Were you homeschooled?
GS: For a year in sixth grade and then I went to a private school after that. I think the private school failed me more than the year of home school.
WW: So mom's not to blame here?
GS: (Laughing) I think I was a pretty lost cause by sixth grade. Mom had nothing to do with that!
WW: Well, luckily handwriting and spelling is not a requirement to be a professional wakeboarder! Wakeboarding seems to be in a weird state right now. Where do you see wakeboarding going?
GS: I think boat is always going to be a relevant part of wakeboarding, but cable parks and 2.0 systems have really changed the game when it comes to running events. There are countless places you can now hold an event and they really allow the spectator to get close to the actual wakeboarding. I think The Wakeskate Tour is a really good example of that because you can actually be about 15 feet from the rider while the event is running. It makes it so much better to be that close to the action.
WW: Yeah, I agree. What board are you riding right now?
GS: I've been riding for O'Brien for the last four years and I've been riding the Format ever since I started riding for them.
WW: You haven't changed boards at all? Why do you like this one so much?
GS: The Format was the very first board I ever jumped on and felt like I could ride really well on. I've tried a couple other boards, but I always end up going back to the Format.
WW: Fox is another one of your main sponsors. How long have you been with Fox?
GS: I've been with Fox for 11 years now. I got picked up by them when I was 11 years old. I used to love watching Shaun Murray growing up and I was his biggest fan as a kid. My parents sent in an application with a random 'sponsor me' video to Fox unbeknownst to me. They had to send in a video, a resume, a letter of recommendation from a teacher and a report card and I had no idea. I remember coming home and getting a call from Todd Hicks, the team manager at Fox, and we worked out a deal right then and there. It's turned into a lifelong relationship, which is pretty cool and I don't really know anything other than Fox at this point.
WW: That's pretty neat. What would you like to accomplish in your wakeboard career?
GS: I think everyone's ultimate goal is to have a pro model wakeboard. I remember talking about what graphics I'd put on it as a little kid. I think that's what I would want more than anything in wakeboarding.
WW: It's no secret that wakeboarding is pretty hard on the body. What kind of injuries have you had over the past eleven years?
GS: Between wakeboarding and snowboarding, I've had broken ribs, two meniscus surgeries, broken wrists, split my eyebrow open and a handful of concussions.
WW: Wow, quite a collection there. What do you do when you're not wakeboarding?
GS: I spend a lot of time working around my house (laughs). I'm trying to build a beach right now out of a swamp basically. We've got like a foot of muck on the ground, but underneath that is good white sand, so for the last few days I've just been raking and weeding like crazy. I still snowboard quite a bit in the winter and I dabble in painting and drawing when I’m not out on the water.
WW: So the World Cup is on the TV right now and it keeps distracting us as we do this interview. Do you like soccer and are you rooting for any specific countries?
GS: Not particularly. I feel like everybody's played soccer at some point in their lives and lose interest by the time they are about ten. Well in America anyway (laughing).
WW: Did you know that the USA-Ghana game the other day had 14.4 million views on ESPN in New York? That's more than all of the Jets/Giants games last season on all the networks combined.
GS: Really? The rest of the world seems to be really into it. Maybe I'll get into it when they finish building this new stadium in Orlando. Someone great once said, "If I wanted to watch someone struggle for 90 minutes to score I'd take my friends to the bar" (laughing).
WW: Haha, okay. I guess growing up in Europe we have different views on it. Who would you like to thank and who's supported you the most?
GS: I'd like to thanks my sponsors: Fox, Nautique, O'Brien, Spy and Jammy Pack. And, of course, my parents. All summer long my Mom drove for us and has logged countless hours behind the wheel. She's the best mom driver around. I think she could outdrive any mom (laughing)!! And my Dad who has always been super supportive of anything my brother and I have done.
WW: Well thank you for your time and in honor of your German heritage, I say aud wiedersehen - until we meet again.
GS: (Laughs) Thank you, Nicola. I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow and thanks WakeWorld for the interview!