It’s been a while since we’ve had any major pro events thanks to the pandemic, and even longer for Mike Dowdy due to his knee injuries over the last few seasons. We thought it was a good time to catch up with Mike and ask him about his new venture, The Wake University (WakeU), and pick his brain about the current state of wake. I hope you enjoy our interview!
JL: Yo, Mike! How has the year been treating you so far?
MD: Justin! Great catching up with you. Our year has been great. Me and my wife, Darriane, are expecting our first baby boy in August! So were extremely excited for him to join us.
JL: Congratulations on the incoming little one! Has your focus towards your future changed with your family in mind?
MD: Thanks, man! Oh, 100%. I have always been a pretty focused individual, and with the way my career has changed over the last few seasons, it’s definitely adding a good pressure and urgency to my mentality. It feels nice to be motivated again.
JL: That’s really great to hear, dude. I see that you’ve been staying busy with your project, The Wake University! Could you tell me a little bit about your vision for WakeU and what you’ve been working on over the last year?
MD: Sure! Funny enough, WakeU started after my last knee surgery, right around the time COVID hit. I had already been a few months deep into creating a way to coach people virtually, and right when we went to release it the whole world got their lockdown notice. So, it was kind of the perfect storm and a reassurance that I was on the right path.
My long-term vision for WakeU is to create a platform that is focused on the riders and the actual art of wakeboarding first before anything else. From competitions to coaching, I want to help individuals pour their hearts and souls into their craft and hopefully set up a more successful future with more opportunities. Last year we held three competitions for the college athletes, which was really cool, and I would like to get into my own pro events. I’ve been talking about it (pro comps) for a few years now, but with WakeU gaining traction, I believe it’s the perfect resource to bring all the pieces together. As for coaching, we’re at around 400 people enrolled in our various virtual programs, and I work closely with a handful of young riders that have promising pro careers, so it’s fun to share my perspective and watch them grow.
My lifetime goal is to just completely re-sculpt the entire landscape of the sport. My opinion is that the sport itself has really ventured away from taking care of its athletes, which is sad because of how hard everyone works. When you look at other big sporting organizations, they are all centered around the sport first. In the NHL, 50% of the company’s income goes to paying the players, and then expenses, and finally your take home. Unfortunately, wakeboarding business is mostly done behind closed doors, which causes a lot of misinformation and gray area for riders getting paid what they deserve.
My approach is extremely cavalier, but I’m hopeful that I can bring the pieces together to really shake things up.
JL: The wake scene could use some shaking up! WakeU is obviously a great resource for trick tips, but I think you’re on to something much bigger than just wake instruction. Could you walk me through all the types of coaching you offer and what it takes to become a top-tier athlete?
MD: For sure! We have multiple ways that people can work with WakeU. We offer a 100% free version, which can be accessed by opening the URL and creating a profile. Once created you can post videos to a news feed that comes to my phone. I can reply with how to correct your movement and send it back instantly. We also have WakeU Surf version, which is completely free, as well.
Beyond that is a one-on-one profile that is a much deeper dive into the user’s particular goals. Once I understand the user’s goals we work on a daily plan and riding drills to help their progression. When the user rides and sends me tricks I can annotate over their videos and add voice recordings to help them with new insights. It’s all very simple and user-friendly.
Our most exciting launch is our new coaching platform; WakeU powered by Amazon Alexa. Because I can’t be everywhere at once, I needed to find a way to get my knowledge to anyone in the world at any time. We landed on utilizing Alexa’s speech recognition services to offer my coaching insights. Inside the Amazon app store, you can enable the “skill” WakeU, which will allow your Alexa device to access the content. Once is it enabled, you can ask any of your Alexa devices to “Open WakeU.” The user will hear my voice coming from their Alexa device. You’ll be directed to access one of our four channels:
- My progress – A personal wakeboard progress tracker. It lets you pick your skill level, which trick your working on, graduate or skip tricks, and gives you advanced mistake prompts to help you if you get hung up.
- Trick library – This is a database with almost every trick in it, where you can say the name of whatever trick you’re thinking about and gives you the audio and video tutorials.
- 3 key fundamentals – A breakdown of my three most important skills to help you progress your riding.
- Help – An overview of the skill.
The speech recognition technology will understand your requests, process them, and deliver you to your requested location exactly how normal Alexa would, but you’ll be talking to me the entire time. The great part about this project is that it’s not just my voice coaching. Most athletes are visual, meaning they need to see what I am explaining, so each trick comes with an auditory response and a video tutorial, as well. If someone is working on a heelside 360, for example, they get the audio prompts along with a text message link to the video tutorial.
This project is by far the most advanced, cheapest, and accessible learning tool in all of sports. It’s accessible 24/7/365 and available everywhere, from the mobile app to your in-house devices, for only $9.99 a month. This platform has the potential to put wakeboarding at the fingertips of thousands of riders at once, and we can’t wait to watch its impact unfold.
As far as being a top-tier athlete, it really just takes initiative and anticipation. Anticipating what will need to be done and then taking the initiative to get it done. Initiative is extremely difficult to teach, maybe because sometimes we just don’t know what to do. I just try not to waste too much time where I don’t know what to do and just start moving forward. Movement keeps you thinking differently and allows your perspective to be open to new ideas.
JL: That’s incredible, thanks for sharing all of the info! I understand that you work with riders of all skill levels, from first-timers to double-flippers. How would you describe your average member and their goals?
MD: Our average virtual member is between 25-35 with an intermediate skill level. What’s cool to see is how many international clients I’m coaching. We have clients in the USA, Italy, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, and Russia. So, it’s been pretty surreal to see all the people it’s reached in its first year.
JL: Wow, that’s huge! Good thing you can be everywhere at once with Alexa. From your experience, how important was your training and diet regimen to maintain an edge over your competitors?
MD: It’s everything. There are so many good riders out there that don’t come into their full potential just because they wouldn’t commit to the things that needed to done off the water. That’s what really separates good from great, being able to dissect the off-water activities and figuring out what’s helping and what’s hurting your performance. Everyone who puts the time in can learn a double flip, but the next level is looking at your life like a performance and figuring out how the pieces add up to the picture.
JL: At what point in your wakeboarding career did you start taking your training more seriously?
MD: After my first surgery. Once you realize you are not invincible, you really have to take a look at yourself and figure yourself out. That’s when I started paying attention to more than just wakeboarding.
JL: Would you say that wakeboarding is just as much of a mental sport as it is physical? How much of wakeboarding is mental vs. physical? How much is it discipline vs. raw talent?
MD: It’s mostly mental. I’d say 10% is physical. But, it’s not mental in an over analyzing way. It’s mental in a calm way. Where you can be under stress, but still stay calm. Your mind can do some crazy things, especially when stressed, so it’s important to understand who you are as a person and what does and doesn’t get you into your peak performance mindset. Like I said, anyone can learn the tricks, but that doesn’t mean everything under the hood is operating properly.
JL: Have you had any major setbacks throughout your career? If so, what happened, how did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
MD: Tons, haha. Each experience offers different insights and a chance to know myself a little more. Every setback has always had something great come with it. My first surgery was when my wife and I bought our house. The second, we got engaged, and the third we got married and then started WakeU. So even though it’s hard to have something you love taken away from you, it always offered me something in return, and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anyone else’s. It definitely cemented a feeling of resilience and helps me believe I can get through any hurdle that I may encounter along my journey.
JL: It seems like there is an endless supply of talented riders these days, especially for such a small industry. How much of wakeboarding involves talent and how much involves discipline?
MD: Honestly, I don’t really believe in talent. I think some people may have a predisposition to understand the foundational concepts of a given activity better than someone else, but you still have to grind it out to see how easily you can apply those concepts.
JL: Sometimes the best wakeboarders don’t end up having the most successful careers. What do you think separates talented riders from the ones with sustainable long-term careers? What makes them more marketable than the next person?
MD: I think a lot of really good wakeboarders go through stages of extreme self-centeredness (myself included). When you are completely dedicated to your craft, it’s all about me; my riding, my diet, my schedule, my training, and so on. Which is what you need to do to be at the top of your game. It’s really about putting your needs second from time to time. People marketing you need their needs to be met, otherwise the relationship will be short-lived, but you need to be selfish for a sustainable athletics career. I think you have to try and align your goals with the goals of the people you’re working with so that all of the standards are met. When there is a miscommunication about the expectations, that’s when needs aren’t met and feelings get hurt.
JL: Well said. Communication is key. Well I really appreciate you being candid with us and we all wish you the best of luck! See you soon, buddy!
Check out Mike Dowdy’s latest motion picture with Alliance Wake: