The Godfather of Wakeboarding

The Byerly family was photographed at their home on Lake Georgia in Winter Park. Photo by Katie Meehan

The Byerly family was photographed at their home on Lake Georgia in Winter Park. Photo by Katie Meehan

Scott Byerly is idolized in his industry.
But at home, the man behind the name is known simply as Dad.

Intro by Sabrina James Interview by Jana Waring Family Portraits by Katie Meehan Artwork by Son Duong

 

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

The wakeboarding industry has affectionately dubbed Scott Byerly the Godfather. The founder. The innovator. The star. Featured on FUSE TV and ESPN and having graced countless magazine covers (covered in tattoos and sporting an entire wardrobe of board shorts and oversized t-shirts), this 36-year-old looks like a kid himself. But behind his bad boy image is a down-to-earth family man.

It is no coincidence that Central Florida is now known as the Mecca of wakeboarding – after all, the Godfather grew up here. Living on a lake, right here in Casselberry, spending time doing water sports with his family,  cultivated Scott’s talent. From the age of four, he found his calling on the water, surfing and waterskiing.  Scott may not get the local credit that Walt Disney does for creating an industry, but he should. Now, talented riders from all over the world move here to pursue their dreams on the countless lakes and waterways that fill our area.

The Godfather of WakeboardingNestled in the midst of this “scene” is the Byerly’s home on Lake Georgia in Winter Park. Scott shares his home with his wife Kim and three daughters: Chelsea (15), Kirra (8) and Raina (2). Scott met Kim in 1996 and was immediately smitten. He asked her on a date and Kim politely declined. Later he courageously asked her out again. Kim wasn’t used to guys like Scott. At the time, his hair was dyed fire engine red. “He had this crazy colored hair and tattoos. I didn’t date guys like him,” Kim explains. She finally agreed, on one condition: That he dye his hair a different color. Scott obliged, and dyed it dark blue. “It looked black to me,” laughs Kim. “We got pizza, went to Rocky’s Arcade and have been together ever since. I married my best friend.”

Scott and Kim have turned the Byerly name into an empire. With the Byerly Toe Jam (an annual wakeskating contest in Central Florida) and the 2009 Byerly Bus Tour, Scott is increasing the awareness of wakeboarding and wakeskating across the country. He’s had his hand in designing signature Byerly versions of board shorts, t-shirts, wakeboards and shoes for well-known brands like O’Neill and Reef. In 2005 he took it one step further with the creation of his own board company – Byerly Boards. Scott has successfully evolved from star rider with raw talent, to hard-core, respected businessman.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

Scott may seem like an unlikely parent, but it only takes a moment to realize that wakeboarding is not the only thing that comes naturally to him. He was meant to be a dad. And his girls are his most important achievements. Even though he is living a life that every teenaged boy would envy, the legacy this Godfather will leave is happy children who grew up as he did: On a lake, together as a family … living the dream.

PLAYGROUND’S Jana Waring sat down with Scott and Kim to find out what the Byerly family is all about.

Tell me about your life growing up here in Central Florida?
I really just remember being outside all the time with my family – especially on the lake. That is what I did my whole life.

Where did you go to high school?
I went to Lyman. School wasn’t my passion. My “education” was being on the water. That is how I learned to be successful. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had gone to college.

What is the significance behind your tattoos?
I have my kids’ names on me, and my name tattooed on my back. Those are the most significant. Oh yeah, and I have my wedding ring tattooed on my finger-that’s meaningful, too. [Laughs] My girls are pretty used to the tattoos because I have always had them, but the other kids at their private school always stare at me when I drop my kids off. Whatever.

Tell us about your girls… what are they like?
Kirra has so much energy and is really athletic. She is on the volleyball team and wakeskates a lot. Chelsea is in high school. She likes hanging out with her friends and her boyfriend. She is almost 16 and is doing what high school kids do. She is the most like a girly girl, even though she likes to wakeboard. She always has her nails and hair done and looks really nice. The little one, Raina, is much more of a handful than the other girls were at her age, for sure. But she’s only two.

 

The Godfather of Wakeboarding“I want to be remembered as someone who put everything into a sport he believed in and who was a good father and role model.”

 

So you’re the only guy stuck in a house full of girls?
I guess technically I am, but a lot of my team riders come and ride at the house. We’re always riding, filming or doing something here. And my 5-year-old English Bulldog Deuce is the other guy in the house. He loves the water. He’s a really good dog.

What is the hardest part of being a parent for you?
Trying to tell my kids what to do, like the whole, “Don’t do what I did” thing. I wasn’t always the best kid. I also think the boyfriend thing is tough. I know exactly what the guys are thinking and I really want to teach my daughters to respect themselves. I don’t want to be that super strict dad, but … I guess it’s all about finding that balance. I am just going to take it one daughter at a time. Sometimes I feel though, that by having three girls, I am somehow getting paid back for something I did when I was younger.

Do you think any of your girls will follow in your footsteps?
I want them to be involved in the company, Byerly Boards, for sure. But not like what I did with contests and stuff like that. They should focus on education and doing something they are passionate about. But I do want them out there on the water enjoying it.

The 2009 Byerly Bus Tour started in May, promoting wakeboarding, wakeskating and Byerly Boards across the country. What’s it like?
You wake up to being in a new place every day, new lake, different people. Everyone wants to ride behind the boat, try all the new products and hang with the team and me. That’s pretty much the typical day. Just being out on the water all day. It’s cool to wake up in a new city, new lake, new atmosphere, and everyone’s there for the same reason.

What age groups are coming out to ride with you?
Last year, we had younger kids, from the age of 7, to guys in their fifties come out. Anyone can do the sport. There are people who have been following me since I first started. They hear that I’m coming to town and turn out just to see me. Then there are people who don’t know who I am. They have a Byerly board because it was at the shop. You get all different types of people.

With the creation of Byerly Boards with Scott Bouchard in 2005, your name has become a brand. How does that feel?
It feels really good. I have been in the industry a long time as a rider, and this was the next step for me. It makes me feel good that people still like to see me out there in their towns and in the magazines. Now I am trying to make the best boards and have the best team. It just feels really cool to see my stuff all over the world everywhere I go. I never would have dreamt that I would have all of this.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

Your wife helps runs the business. What is it like mixing business with pleasure?
In marriage, you are partners in everything you do, so it’s only natural to partner with her on the business side.

Another event you have coming up is the 2009 Toe Jam right here in Orlando. Can you tell us about that?
I used to wakeboard a lot, wakeskating was something I did on the side. Then I started wakeskating a lot more and got into it. So, Sean Dishman and I started The Toe Jam. It’s a wakeskate-only contest that started out at The Projects [a privately-owned lake in Bithlo]. This is our sixth year coming up. It’s grown larger every year, with more and more people riding in it. More tricks are getting landed. It’s even on FUEL TV now. It’s been really good.

Kevin Michael, Editor of Wakeboarding Magazine, dishes on why Scott is known as “The Godfather” of Wakeboarding:
“Scott stormed onto the scene In the early 90s with a relaxed “wakeboarding” style that resembled what was happening in skateboarding and snowboarding. He was really focused on grabbing his board while in the air and tweaking his moves into a true art form. That, combined with his long hair and tattoos, created an industry image that drew a lot of people to the sport. As time went on, Scott’s style became universally accepted as the most appealing way to ride and he invented moves that are still some of the most respected. That’s when people started to look at him as a type of ‘Godfather to wakeboarding. Outside of his celebrity status and contributions to the industry, Scott’s reputation as a loyal and genuine person has transcended the sport and really added to his legend.”

How did wakeskating evolve from wakeboarding?
You ride on a wakeboard strapped in all the time. It kind of got repetitive. I started wakeskating to get away from it. We always kind of copied skateboarding stuff when we wakeboarded and now wakeskating is more like skateboarding, but in the water. I enjoy wakeskating more, I think. I used to skateboard when I was kid. Wakeskating is more free form. You do fall more, and it requires more practice, but it’s a nice change.

Are families welcome to come out and watch The Toe Jam?
It’s definitely a family-oriented contest. All of my kids will be there. Half of the kids entered in the contest are under 18 years old.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

What direction do you see these sports heading?
With the economy like it is, people are doing more family stuff. I think we’re going to see a lot more people going on the boat with their kids, which is a good thing since the kids are the future, especially in wakeboarding and wakeskating. As for me, I just want to keep doing the contest, keep it simple, and keep it to the roots. I want to progress the sport and the awareness of it.

What is the legacy you hope to leave?
I want to be remembered as someone who put everything into a sport he believed in and who was a good father and role model.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
No way. I like my life just the way it is. If I didn’t have kids, I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without my wife, that’s for sure.

Kim: You’re sweet.

[Scott laughs] I’m serious.

 

Local Byerly Favorites

Places to shop: Home Depot and Publix. I don’t have to shop for clothing because I get clothes and accessories from my sponsors. We usually wear O’Neill clothing, the whole family does. I’ll go to the mall, but I don’t really like to.

Date Night Spots: We go to the Orlando Magic games a lot for our nights out. The last place we went to dinner alone was the Ravenous Pig, and it was for Valentine’s Day.

Family Dinner Spots: Fujiyama Sushi on University Boulevard. The girls love sushi. We don’t go out to dinner very much with our toddler, but we do a lot of take out from Outback and Thai Villa. Kirra loves Kobe Steakhouse.

Places to go as a family: We enjoy going to Lake Eola. Chelsea really likes to go shopping at the mall. And Raina loves Sea World.

Theme Park: We like to go to the Not So Scary Halloween and the Mickey’s Very Christmas at Disney. It is great to go to the park when the crowds are so much smaller. But the rest of the year, we love Sea World.

Place to go unwind: I unwind at home and on the lake with my family, but the beach is probably the only other place that I get to unwind.

Family Travel Destination: We love the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Texas. But we also went snowboarding a couple of years ago in North Carolina and had such a great time getting the kids to try and ride.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

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