In this Winter 2020 edition of SkiTips, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a guy that I become more impressed with the more I get to know. He runs 39, runs a pro tournament, runs a podcast, and has already psychoanalyzed you in the meantime. For the 1st of my new interview format titled Forthcoming, meet Matteo Luzzeri:
So what's up? You are a pretty busy guy right now.
Hey Pete. Yeah, quite busy at the moment. I was just cleared to defend my dissertation, which will take place on March 12th. Five days later, I am moving back to Italy for good after almost 13 years living in the US. So right now, life is a juggle between boxes and PowerPoint presentations.
Tournament organizer, waterski coach, pro division skier, podcast host, and PhD. What would you like to be most recognized for?
Probably as a strange combination of the first four. Throughout the years, I have always tried to keep my skiing separate from my career. However, after I started the PhD program in Sport Psychology here at Florida State University, the connection between the two sides of my life became stronger. I am trying to be what you could call an ambassador for the sport of water skiing, trying to grow the sport and promote it the best way I can.
But the podcast is consuming the most amount of your time.
I would say it became a strong component of my scheduling. Trying to fit time in for travel, learning equipment, recording, post-production, promotion… I knew it was going to be an adventure when I started, but you always end up underestimating the time commitment.
What's your favorite part? Post-production / editing, the interview itself, developing your notes and questions?
I must say the interviews themselves. I am fortunate to know a lot of people in the sport, from all sides. I have been selecting guests partly because I believe they have something interesting to say, but primarily because I wanted to sit down and talk skiing with them. My first interview was with Ashley Stevens, the President of the Clemson University Ski Team. I didn’t know her at the time, but I wanted to hear the story of Clemson’s rise in the NCWSA rankings.
A close second in favorite is definitely how this podcast has been received. The emails, calls, social media posts… they have all been very encouraging and a sign that the sport is healthy and on the rise.
Loaded question, but who has been your most interesting guest so far? If you had to pick one.
Eh, that’s a tough question. I’ll tease it out to make it easier on myself. In terms of the most interesting guest in the moment, I’d have to go with Wade Cox. His conversation style is so unique and intense, and the stories he shared are just a testament of his great, honest character.
If I take the question as the most interesting or informative content, I think the second part of the interview with Jay Bennett is the best so far. We talked about his coaching philosophy and method for one hour. Jay has a wealth of knowledge and experience that is unique in the sport, and takes his coaching very seriously. On top of this, I had some targeted questions informed by my field of expertise and by having been around him and skied with him for years. If you care about anything coaching, that episode is a must.
Can we look forward to anything special or different in this year's San Gervasio Pro Am? It's always such a killer contest.
Quite a lot actually. As I have said elsewhere, my dad taught me most of what I know about tournament organizing. He always said “a small step forward every year, but EVERY YEAR”. This year we literally made a leap forward and added a Pro Men Jump event to the schedule, the “San Gervasio Jump Jam”. We invited the top 15 jumpers in the World to battle it up for a $12,000 purse. Also, this year we are bringing back the San Gervasio Jr Challenge, a head-to-head tournament for the best 4 Junior Girls and Boys in the world.
What skiers should we definitely be watching out for this pro season?
Beyond the confirmed names on the scene for a while now, I think Jaimee Bull will win her first pro tournament this year. Last year she knocked at the door a few times, culminating with the 2nd at Malibu Open. I also think Brooke Baldwin, Sam Dumala, and Allie Nicholson will continue their rise to the top spots.
As far as Pro Men, I’d love to see what is in store for Rob Hazelwood and Jakob Bogne. They have put up some great scores in the last two years, and now they are transitioning out of Under 21. With six Pro Tour stops in Europe this summer, I am excited to see how they can stack up against the field.
Let's talk about the recent growth of water skiing. USA Water Ski membership has been up year-over-year the past two years, 2019 Nationals had more competitors than in the past 10 years, and there were a bunch of pro slalom events world-wide last season. In your opinion, what is driving the resurgence?
The growth of the sport is a multidimensional question, so a simple answer wouldn’t give justice to the complexity of the task. One of my a friends told me a few days ago that “Skiers are going to be skiers”, and for the most part those who are involved with water skiing will stay passionate about the sport for the rest of their life. I think now more skiers are getting excited to see other people on the water and more competitive skiers are happy to see tournaments filled up. I think water skiing is losing the exclusivity vibe that the people in the sport kept up for too long, and the sport benefits as a consequence. Of course other factors are at play, including the slow decline of the wakeboarding base in favor of wake surfing, more media content online for skiers, gear that make is easy to approach the sport, and a myriad of other things.
Where do you see the sport in 10 years?
I see more traditional water skiing back on public water. That has to happen to enlarge the base. I see ski schools being busier and more ski schools rising in bodies of water that are closer to larger metropolitan cities. I see the sport of water skiing as a truly professional sport, with a serious and organized tour, where athletes primarily represent themselves and the sponsors that back them up.
Growing up and skiing in Italy, do you see any aspects to the European side of of the sport or culture that you'd like to see in the US? I come from a snow skiing background and many of the large ski manufacturers are from your side of the pond; do you think we'll see more international brands making a stronger presence in the water ski market?
Definitely more clubs and ski schools. A lot of water skiing in the US happens in “isolation”, losing the communal aspect that comes with staying around people while waiting for a set. All the relationships we form in the sport occur away from the actual ski set. The more we can congregate people around a body of water with the same passion, the more people are going to ski and keep skiing.
In terms of industry presence, I think more international brands are arising in the industry, yet another sign that the sport is healthier. At the same time, I hope these brands will try to make more courageous steps and compete against the American brands. Prices will drop, quality will increase… the usual advantages of competition :)
Hardshell or rubber?
Hardshell in the front, rubber in the back
Toe plate or rear boot?
Funny. I definitely believe toe plate is the way to go, and I went that way for 20 years. Then, three years ago I started testing some back boots and now I can’t go back to a toe plate to save my life (I have tried, believe me).
Pizza or pasta?
Favorite site in the US?
Lake 38. The skiing and the people are just unbelievable. I also have to say middle lake at Travers’ Ski School, as my last three PBs were there.
Jolly Ski in San Gervasio (BS). It skis well, it is home, and a great hub to meet new skiers and be surrounded by friends and family.
Thank you man.
My pleasure. I’ll take the opportunity to thank my dad Fedele for giving me the ski bug and my coach Claudio for shaping me into the skier I still am today. Also, a shoutout to my sponsors, HO Skis FluidMotion Sports and AquaFlyer Wetsuits Finally, a huge thank you to Keith and Karen Albritton for having me at their house every day (Lake 38) for some skiing. They are true ambassadors of water skiing.
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