This interview originally appeared on our partner website, WakeSurferMagazine.com.
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I have been following Josh Sleigh’s surfing career from the days of the Vans Air contests and the infamous 50-50 rail slide he did on the Rail of Death on a surfboard in the ocean…gnarly to say the least!
Josh Sleigh comes from a deep-rooted surfing background and he is known as a vanguard aerialist who takes creative surfing to a different level. As a progressive surfer, board shaper and, of course, wake surfer, Josh Sleigh is an individual that the wake surfing industry could benefit from in a big way as his passion for wakesurfing is only growing stronger. I got a chance to catch up with Josh through an interview and it is very obvious that he is stoked on where he is headed with his career, the progression of wakesurfing and being the best dad possible. I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of Josh as his best years are still ahead. Sit back, relax and enjoy the interview!
WSM: What path brought you here to this point in your life as a surfer, wake surfer and owner/shaper of JSleigh Surfboards?
JS: Where to start? Dad was a Hawaiian/International shaper for 40-plus years. I grew up between the Hawaiian islands and Dana Point/San Clemente surf scene and the action sports industry. Salt Creek, where I surfed, had Flame, the legendary photographer and editor to Surfing Magazine, so my surfing life growing up always had a script of the world's best surfers to mimic between Salt Creek and the North Shore in Hawaii.
Wake surfing was introduced to me in 1983 in Lake Elsinore. We lived on the lake for a bit back and Dad and his buds would take their surfboards from the ocean and get two boats next to each other and surf the bowl in between and I would watch. I was about 4 or 5 with faint memories. Later on, the glasser at one of the major surfboard factories brought me out to Parker on his Tige in 2002 and the switch went off. He made a specific board about 5’7" and made out of polyester, which was before we got into the EPS epoxy built boards.
My first wakesurf event was at Boardstock in Clear Lake, California and then the Centurion World Championship event. I was the only surf-style wake surfer and was forced to compete against the skim guys such as Drew Danielo and James Lovett. The next year I wake surfed against Colin Harrington and Drew Danielo, but they were on skims and I took third, if I recall, at both events, but this was a long time ago. Gotta find my trophies and check, LOL. So, I actually took first in my book.
I also went on a three-year filming spree wake surfing on the Delta and anywhere I could get on a boat. Fast forward to now and the sport has improved so much. But, I took a major loss in the form of cancer…it took my dad. I picked up his shaping tools and never looked back. Everything I ever wanted to design, I build it myself now and don’t have to wait for the shaper, glasser or fin guy. Life is good! I’m still learning about design and wake surfboards. I’m training hard to be the best still at my age with this new group of kiddos. Future is looking so good!
WSM: What are you known for in surfing?
JS: Vanguard aerialist
WSM: Do you have any habits?
JS: I say a prayer every morning to Jesus for everything I have in my life and a prayer to keep us all safe and ask for direction for the day ahead with my wake surf business.
WSM: What’s the most unexpected compliment anyone has ever given you about your style?
JS: Workhorse. It actually was an award given to me by my shoe sponsor back in the day, Osiris shoes. You might of heard of them. I just would surf every event I could and I would shoot every day. Only now I am actually eating and training and have the wisdom I did not back then.
WSM: What most excites you about wake surfing and the contribution you can make?
JS: Riding with the top wake surfers. Sharing my knowledge. What's knowledge if you don’t share it? I realize we must invest in our future. As well, being a man with power, training and health. Watch out!
WSM: What other things are you passionate about?
JS: Being a dad, building boards, food, BBQ’s and glassy conditions on a perfectly weighted boat.
WSM: Where can we find you when you’re not wake surfing?
JS: Hopefully on a boat coaching my son to be the next wake surfing world champ. He is 6 and already knows what he wants, so it is important to provide him with the right tools and partnerships along this epic growth of wake surfing.
WSM: What’s your favorite way to spend the day?
JS: Being on a boat. Seriously, I love seeing what and how I can shape the wave of the boat. I love watching people wake surf for the first time. That stoke of energy is contagious!
WSM: Where do you live now?
JS: Now reside in Oceanside, California and recently acquired land out by Lake Perris. Life is shaping up, literally, for my family's wake surfing ambitions.
WSM: What have been your greatest achievements?
JS: Becoming a dad. Being a part of the growth in wake surfing. Being a vanguard air surfer in the surf industry. I’ve worked hard at what I have achieved, but I give it all to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He has blessed me and carried me though my valleys.
WSM: What would be impossible for you to give up?
JS: Being a Dad.
WSM: How do you want to be remembered?
JS: That I was a hard worker and helped the kids with whatever they envisioned pursuing.
WSM: Anything else you’d like to tell people about yourself?
JS: I am training hard and still an athlete. Go try a Pilates/TRX/spin class… It will change your life! I believe my best yet is ahead.
WSM: Where do think wake surfing will be five years from now?
JS: Oh wow...I believe we are going to see so much growth. I believe the kids are going to rip even harder as well as the parents. I believe the boats will have an even greater range of wave shaping capabilities as far as size and shape. So much is ahead for the industry and the best is yet to come.
WSM: Would you rather watch someone with really good style and less tricks or someone with lots of tricks and no style?
JS: In surfing, style is everything. I would suggest watching surfers on WorldSurfLeague.com. Study the styles and stance approach those athletes do. Practice in front of a mirror mimicking those styles as kooky as it might sound. I’ve done it, LOL. With surfing, less movement is always more exciting and really makes the maneuvers sexy and really exciting to watch.
WSM: Does wake surfing help with your ocean surfing?
JS: Sure does! The balance between the two are amazing and beneficial, whether a surfer going riding behind a boat or wake surfer hitting the ocean. Either way we learn something new and meet amazing people in the water. I’ve seen it time and time again. Both party’s from both areas, lake, river and ocean, get so stoked with so much aloha and becoming a better a surfer.
WSM: What would you change about the wake surf industry?
JS: Change? Not looking to change a thing! I’ve been in action sports my whole life and as a professional surf athlete, I understand it's about selling product, especially now as a wakesurf board manufacturer (Sleigh Boards). The people I know are all top notch professionals. My dream is to bring them together through wake surfing and provide an experience new boaters and old will never forget. Honestly, if I can share my aloha through surfing with products and event knowledge, I am over the moon.
WSM: If someone reading this would like to order a board from you, what is the best way to get a hold of you?
JS: Right now jsleighdesigns.wordpress.com or #sleighlife on Instagram. But keep an eye out. Currently building a new wake surf specific website for my business and partnerships. The updates will be on those two media sources I mentioned and keep an eye out on WakeSurferMagazine.com or WakeWorld.com.
WSM: Josh, we appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. Is there anyone that you would like to thank?
JS: First off, I just want to thank you guys at Wake Surfer Magazine and WakeWorld for this opportunity. As well my boy Paul Berton. He got me into the sport way back! My Dad for being a shaper/surfer, my brother Christopher for coming on board to help grow Sleigh Boards, as well as the whole wake industry in general. You guys know who you are, if it worked out or not. I’ve grown and learned in the school of hard knocks you guys have given me to be a better person and businessman for the sport. So much is ahead and I’m not giving up on a sport I love.