At age 27, Darin Shapiro is currently ranked No. 1 in the sport of wakeboarding and considered a legend. As the most decorated man in the history of his chosen profession, he's won the season championship six times by handily pounding the competition into pulp. Shapiro counts Toyota, O'Brien, Neil Pryde and No Fear among the ranks of his sponsors. Does he have anything left to prove?
"No," says the pro wakeboard champ, a Florida native and two-and-a-half-year resident of Orlando. At this stage, "There's not a huge thrill in winning an event." Instead, he gets his thrills reaching people through riding.
"Sometimes you get these kids watching you ride and they just get that shocked look on their face. Reaching a few people that way just seems to really matter a lot more these days than winning a contest," he says.
Surely Shapiro isn't ready to hang it up just yet. Why bother? With tour purses rising (the top five riders can win $150,000 a year or more), sponsors lining up and fan interest growing, there's plenty of money to be made and fun to be had. And thanks to the multitude of lakes, Orlando is the wakeboarding capital of the world -- the top riders all live here, Wake Boarding is published here -- so Shapiro also gets plenty of takers for his private wakeboarding camps.
"I love what I'm doing," admits Shapiro, who plans to stick with the sport as long as he can. (Injuries are frequent). Besides, "It's the only job I got."
Still, for the past 10 years -- the amount of time he's been wakeboarding -- Shapiro has been writing and recording music at his home studio. "I spend a lot of time on the road traveling, doing the wakeboard thing," he says. His hour-a-day practice schedule includes a couple of 30-minute runs on the water and/or cross-training on a mountain bike or hitting the gym. "I can't wait to get home and have some time to spend in the studio because it helps me be balanced. ... It's kind of like my release, whereas wakeboarding is my buildup."
Good thing that buildup pays well, giving Shapiro the means, motive and money to release "Acidcascades," his self-distributed, full-length debut. The dreamy electronica is a bubbling blend of ambient disco and trip-hop, demonstrating that Shapiro indeed has the skills to shape the soundscape.
"That disc ... is just what I've been into the last couple of months," says Shapiro of his debut, which routinely sells 20 to 30 copies each weekend at wakeboard events and another 10 via his website www.darinshapiro.com.
Shapiro's musical output may baffle followers of other extreme-sport athletes who've made the move to music. Usually these high-risk maniacs delve into punk or DJ pounding techno.
"There's so much high-energy, uptempo stuff out there that I swung over toward the lounge thing. ... That disc has three or four different types of music. ... I'm just really feeling out these textures ... seeing in which direction I get pulled toward."
But that's not Shapiro's only digital diversion. On June 12, video-game giant Activision released "Dan Shapiro's Big Air Wakeboarding," a sport simulator that lets players dive headfirst into a myriad of wet-obstacle courses, hitting the water as the world champ or as a bust-your-ass rookie. There's also a variety of boats and terrains to choose from. And, adding a dose of realism, your wakeboarder actually gets better as you play. ("Grinding" is the key.) While the game isn't the most advanced or thrilling title to hit the shelves -- it does retail for only $19.99 -- it still proves that sports stars are a sought-after commodity in corporate America's brand-happy climate.
"It's kind of weird," says Shapiro of having his name on the game. "I just think it is cool that the sport seems to be expanding, and I have my foot in the door when it's really, kind of, seeming to count."
The game indulges Shapiro's love for freestyle riding, something that is shared by many of his board-riding brethren, all of whom will descend on Orlando Aug. 22-26 for the Mountain Dew WWA Wakeboarding National Championships at Orlando Watersports Complex. (The "Nationals at Night" DJ event is planned for Aug. 25.)
"More than anything, we want our sport just to be completely about self-expression without any constricting rules. We'd rather take it in an artistic direction rather than things being so directed toward competitive venues."
After all, wakeboarders, Shapiro says, "just want to ride ... blow up ... and hang out with their friends."