If Nicola Butler wasn't one of the greatest female wakeboarders to date, she would probably be in a band behind a microphone or playing an instrument. I think in a past life she was a rock star, but this isn't about how cool she is or her musical dreams. This is about a girl who at the age of 20 has won two Queen of Wake titles, multiple tour championships, three World titles and much more. Nicola has been to the top of the mountain and has built her own house up there!
At Nationals this past season, Nicola took a bad fall and nobody knew how she would recover. She’s now in the process of getting back to her place at the top of the mountain, but it's not going to be easy. A lot of pro women riders want to move into the void created by Nic's absence. I got together with Nicola to discuss her injury as well as her thoughts about next season.
WW: Nicola, you suffered a season ending injury at Nationals this year. Can you let us in on your injury as well as what happened to cause it?
NB: Yeah, unfortunately around the fourth stop of the PWT I noticed that my back had been bothering me a lot while I was out riding. It was bearable at first and I was still riding on it, but sometimes I would land hard and feel something pinch and then be unable to walk or move without it hurting for a day or two. I started to see Abby Delgoffe, a friend who competes in Pro Women and also happens to be a chiropractor, to try and manage the pain and keep riding. I was determined to finish the season strong as I was currently sitting in second place for the Queen of Wake.
I was in Ohio riding at Nationals and I went to do a heel 5, but I was so uncomfortable riding with the pain that I ended up just jumping the wake. I knew I was going to case the second wake so I let go but my body still kind of crunched on top of the second wake. I was completely immobilized and I don't remember much until I got to the hospital later that afternoon. After being there on a morphine drip for a couple of hours in the Ohio hospital, they told me that nothing was wrong and I was good to go.
All of my friends who were at the hospital with me were shocked as I couldn't put any weight or pressure on my back and I had to be pushed around in a wheelchair, so something was definitely wrong. Flying home the next morning was one of the worst trips I've ever had to do (big thanks to JD for giving me his first class seat). I got an MRI that day and the results confirmed that a disc slipped out of place between my L4-L5 vertebrate.
WW: How are you feeling now and what steps have you taken to get back on the water since Nationals?
NB: I am feeling a million times better since that moment, but it's still not 100% back to normal. For the first couple of days I wore a back brace and spent most of my time in bed. I was super bummed to miss out on the rest of the tour, especially being so close to winning another Queen of Wake title, and was in a state that only other people who have been through serious injuries can relate to.
Once I was up and moving again it was a lot of trial and error to see how far I could push it. I found that skateboarding was, surprisingly, a lot less impact on my lower back than walking, so I was stoked to be able to do something active again! In Mexico, water slides were okay, but diving boards were off limits. I was afraid to start working with my trainer as I was sure that it was going to make it hurt again.
But then my injury kind of took a weird turn and resting too much became a problem. I couldn't sit through a movie or in a car for very long, but being on a bike at the gym was no problem. Melissa Marquardt and I had a trip planned to go and travel around Europe and I didn't want to miss this trip of a lifetime. I was determined to go even if I had to just film and sit out on the riding.
Ten days into our trip we found ourselves in Langenfeld, Germany at one of the sickest cable parks I have ever seen and I could not go out and ride. I eased back into riding slowly as I had already taken two months off and didn't want to risk injuring it again. When I got home from Europe, I took my first boat set with Daniel Powers. It had been almost three months since I had ridden behind the boat and to be able to be back on the water doing what I love was the best feeling ever.
WW: Injuries, unfortunately, are a part of our sport. Can you let us in on the mental aspect of that? I mean, what went through your head after such an amazing season, to then suffer a devastating back injury. That seems pretty heavy?
NB: Yeah, to be injured at such an important time in the season was definitely crushing. I have been through plenty of injuries, but a spinal injury has been the most serious one. The spine is the main thing supporting your body, so pretty much every movement you do comes from there.
Almost every person I have encountered has told me to take care of it now as these types of injuries usually end up being lifetime problems which is pretty heavy seeing as I'm only 20 years old. I have tried to do everything I can to help it heal but it’s hard to find the balance between resting too much or putting too much impact on it. I want to get as fit as possible now in the off season so I can come back next year and push women's wakeboarding to the next level that I know I could.
WW: Pro women's wakeboarding has become a melting pot of talent over the past few years with you being a huge part of that. What are your thoughts about the division now and has that changed your approach to training going up against girls like Meagan and Raimi at every tour stop?
NB: Pro women's riding has definitely progressed and I am excited that I have been able to be part of that. I think that the level of riding kind of plateaued for a while and only really started to pick up over the past few years. I believe that if anyone has been in the forefront of this progression of women's riding, it is Amber Wing. She has been landing tricks that most girls haven't dreamed about trying. Living with Amber definitely made me push my riding and made me always strive to achieve bigger and better things from myself.
I think that Melissa Marquardt is a great representation of the freestyle side of women's riding. Yeah she kills it in contests, but her stalefish grabs and winch hits make some guys embarrassed to be strapping on a wakeboard.
Raimi has always been a strong rider and pulling her name in a heat is never a good day.
Meagan is quite possibly the most driven and naturally talented young rider I have ever seen. I don't think I have ever pulled into the Orlando Watersports Complex and she is not there riding. This reminds me of the days when my parents would drop me off at OWC and I couldn't drive yet so there was no choice but to ride there for eight hours straight and progress my riding. Meagan is already an incredible rider and if she stays on this track I only see really good things coming from it.
WW: Speaking of Meagan Ethell, you two gave the fans a reason to be stoked over the Pro Women division this past season with some of your battles. Is that something you got into or did you just stick your runs without any thought of the other girls?
NB: I think that just naturally came about. We were both riding very strong and have competitive mentalities. I don't really think of going out and beating my opponents. I just try to compete with myself. I know what I can do on the water and I know if I stick my run it's going to be tough to beat.
WW: At the age of 20 you have accomplished a lot already in the sport. What moment are you most proud of?
NB: There are way too many moments to pick, so I'm going to have to say the top three:
- Winning almost every contest in my rookie year in 2008 and then buying my first car in cash.
- Being 3x World Champion at 19 years old, in the space of 4 years.
- Working with Justin Stephens and being part of Company Wakeboard. Besides my dad, no one has ever believed in me or supported me as much as Justin has. When I got my first pro model board and I wanted a dinosaur on the tail, Justin gave me the dinosaur (haha)!
WW: You are riding for CWB now. What setup are you riding and how is it going being part of that team?
NB: I am currently ridding the Kink with Twelker boots, but we are actually testing some new shapes right now. It's awesome to be a part of a team that I get along with so well. I ride with Daniel and Dowdy almost every day, so being teammates is pretty convenient. CWB also works very closely with MasterCraft so that's another bonus.
WW: MasterCraft team rider, that's a pretty serious tag. Can you tell us how cool it is to be part of MasterCraft as well as your thoughts on their boats?
NB: MasterCraft has supported me since the beginning of my career and I couldn't be happier to be part of such a solid team. People always think we just agree with whatever product we are getting paid to ride, but I truly believe the MasterCraft X-Star is the best wakeboard boat on the market. Whenever it comes down to whose boat to ride behind, my X-Star is usually the general consensus. Same goes with photo shoots or videos. That's why people who ride for other boat companies are always getting in trouble (haha).
WW: You recently took a European trip with Melissa Marquardt. How was that and what did you do while you were there?
NB: It was the most amazing trip ever! It randomly came to us that it would be cool to travel to Germany in the off-season and hit up all the cable parks. We basically had a month with a rough outline of where and what we wanted to do. We started in Amsterdam, moved from the north of Germany all the way to the South and ended up with some snowboarding in Austria.
The highlights of our trip would have to be the amount of trains we missed, driving with no speed limit on the Autobahn, the Burton 13 premier in Amsterdam, Oktoberfest in Munich and the Hintertux Glacier opening day in Austria. We met so many incredible people that made our trip unforgettable. Check out the little edit I made...
WW: You are competing in the World Cup in Indonesia for you first contest since being injured. Are you a little nervous?
NB: Yes, I am a little nervous for my first contest back. I have high expectations of myself, but we will see what happens. I'm probably more nervous about the 90 hours of travel time it takes to get there and back!
WW: A rider like you has done a lot of traveling. What destinations has wakeboarding taken you to?
NB: I have been to so many different places and am so grateful because next to wakeboarding and surfing, traveling is my favorite thing, so it's pretty perfect that they go hand in hand. The most interesting places would have to be Moscow, Russia and Lanzhou, China. Anywhere in Asia is exciting because their customs are so different to the rest of the world. I would have to say the south of Germany and Austria are the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The little villages there look just like postcards.
WW: What was the last song you downloaded?
NB: Pursuit of Happiness, Steve Aoki mix.
WW: What was the last movie you saw in a theater?
NB: Looper. It was good except they mixed Bruce Willis' and Joseph Gorden-Levitts’ faces together, so that was pretty trippy.
WW: Do you have any pets?
NB: No I'm not allowed to have any pets at my apartment (not that I would be home enough to take care of it anyway). My two awesome Siberian Huskies live with my parents in England.
WW: Who is your favorite wakeboard legend?
NB: Zane Schwenk. Even though he keeps insisting that he's not my official team manager for MasterCraft or CWB, I can still call him with my problems and treat him like he is. He is a really fun guy to be around and he gave me $20 today to get some soup because I was sick, so that was pretty nice.
WW: What's your favorite thing to do when you’re not wakeboarding?
NB: Since my injury, I've found that I really enjoy editing. So it's a hobby that I am starting to learn more about and could very well be a career direction that I purse after wakeboarding.
WW: Which rider, as of late, makes you say, "Wow they rip!"
NB: I would have to say Mike Dowdy. Firstly, you can yell at him from in the boat to try a trick he's never done before and the chances of him landing it are pretty high. This makes you pretty powerful as a spectator. Secondly, everything he does is so original. He recently invented a trick that can only be described as mind-bending.
WW: What would you say to a young "cable rat" at OWC that wants to become a pro like you someday?
NB: I would say to stick with it. The public sees a lot of the upsides to being a pro athlete, but there is also a lot of downs. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to perform so your heart and soul has to really be in it to succeed. Don't go out and wakeboard for anyone else but yourself.
WW: Let's talk next season. You’re coming off a season-ending injury and all the girls are stepping it up. How do you see the 2013 season playing out for Nicola Butler?
NB: I plan on training hard, on and off the water. I can't wait to be riding behind my new 2013 X-Star every day and trying new tricks. I also want to be involved in a lot more trips and film projects. Melissa and I have been having a lot of fun with our GoPros lately. I want to continue to do that and involve some of the other girls and help push that direction of women's wakeboarding.
WW: Time to spread some love. Who do you want to send a shout out to?
NB: Have to thank my parents and sister for their unconditional support and sacrifice to get me where I am today, Mike Ferraro for being one of the best coaches in the world and taking the time to teach me how to ride a wakeboard, MasterCraft for providing me with the best wakeboard boat there is and letting me be a part of their family. Thanks to Oakley for backing me in everything I do, CWB for welcoming me to such an awesome team. It's been a great first year with many more to come. Thanks to Orlando Watersports Complex for supporting me right from the beginning and letting me ride at one of the best facilities in the world. Thank you iWake.com, BuyWake.com and BOOM Headphones for supporting me this past season. Huge thanks to all my fans that make living this dream possible!
So not only does Nicola completely shred on her wakeboard, she is a true professional in every sense of the word. The fact she was even down with this interview was amazing with her schedule. When we started all this she was fresh out of rehab from her injury and just getting back on the water again. Since then she has been to Indonesia, Japan and is currently shooting in Mexico, all the time staying in touch and doing all she could to work with me for this interview.
I take back what I said earlier. She's a rock star in this life! Nicola finished third at the World Cup in her first event back. I spoke to her after and she said "she felt great!" So don't start packing yet girls. Nicola Butler is back and I think she's going to move right back into that empty house up on top of the mountain!