An Interview With Emily Copeland-Durham

Sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Wake, Emily Copeland-Durham is more than a sidekick to wakeboarding’s best guys. With over 11 years in the sport, she has amassed a collection of gold that would make Mr. T jealous, including a Gold medal in 2002’s X-Games and several No. 1 finishes in WWA National and World Championships. You would think that after all of that success, she would just rest on her laurels and cruise, but she’s got big plans for 2009 that will make sure her name stays in the mix of top women with Dallas, Anna and Nicola. WakeGirls caught up with Emily on a chilly morning in Clermont, and Lauren Harf-Loveless was there to make sure no stone was left unturned in our quest to get to know this prolific rider.

WakeGirls: How did you get into wakeboarding?
Emily: I grew up in Colorado and my family had a boat. My brother [Bart Copeland] started getting into it through snowboarding. He saw that wakeboarding was kind of similar and he had to try it. He started getting really good at it; at the time, I was a gymnast and I didn’t have a lot of time for anything else and he was like “You have to try it, you have to try it”. My brother and my sister were coming to Florida for coaching, and they were like, “You should just take a lesson too”. I took a lesson and within that first week of riding I had had pretty much learned how to jump the wake and learned how to do a flip. I was like, OK, I guess I have a talent, I don’t know why but I just figured it out, that I could do this so I started pursuing it more, and that was in 97 and in 98 I started competing in the Amateur Tour.
WG: Do your brother and sister still ride, or is it just you that emerged as the star?
Emily: They did it for a while, my sister [Tammie Copeland] competed as an Amateur, and my brother was competing Pro but they both had families and kind of stopped. They do it recreationally every once in a while, but I am the only one who is still a full-time wakeboarder.
WG: We understand that you are moving back to Colorado, tell us more about that.
Emily: I grew up in Denver, and I’ve lived in Florida on and off for a long time, so I think it’s been six or seven years that I have been here on and off. So yeah, we’re finally making the move back to Denver. I’m excited; I’m still going to be riding out there, it’s definitely colder and the seasons are shorter, but it’s still doable.
WG: We’re going to miss you! Who do you usually ride with, both for fun, and for training?
Emily: I live on a lake and I’m neighbors with Keith Lyman, so I ride with Keith a lot and then I ride with Shaun Murray probably the most. I’m always over there and he pulls me, and it’s really cool to ride with him, I feel like I learn something new every time I ride with him. He’s just a great coach and he really gives me good motivation.
WG: What has been your experience working with Ronix?
Emily: It’s been very cool. It’s been three years now, and I’m part owner in the company, so it’s been a cool experience to be more hands on as far as board design and helping out with some of the girls’ graphics side of things. Being more involved in behind the scenes stuff, I never really realized how much went into being a brand. Seeing a company really grow from nothing and now people know like what Ronix is and they are excited about the product, it’s been really cool to be a part of it.
WG: How involved were you in the design of the Coy?
Emily: In the Coy I was very involved. It’s cool because it is a girl’s design board, designed specifically [for girls]. It is not just a guy’s board with girl graphics. So it was cool to be a part of that and I did have a lot of say in the shape of the board. I’m actually working on a new shape for ’10; I actually have the prototype that I’ll be trying [later] today. It’s kind of cool to be involved in that side of things.
WG: Other than the board, are you involved in designing any other gear?
Emily: Ropes and handles, I get to try out those and see how the wear and tear is on them and of course the bindings or boots, or whatever you are calling them nowadays! I think they are almost more important than the board, I think having a good pair of boots is so important. Ronix definitely is a step ahead as far as where the boots are going with the heat molded liners and how comfortable they are.
WG: Tell us about your other sponsors.
Emily: I’m sponsored by Nautique, so I have a Super Air Nautique 230.
WG: What color is your boat?
Emily: My boat is chocolate mint, and it’s going out to Colorado, which my whole family is so excited about because they kind of get a boat too. I’m also sponsored by Jet Pilot and Ronix.
WG: We saw you on the Claritin commercial. Tell us how you got hooked up and tell us about the filming of the commercial.
Emily: That was really cool. I’m actually the stunt double so unless you know wakeboarding you probably don’t know it was me, but that was cool. I just got a call from an agency and I’m not even with this agency, but they needed a professional wakeboarder that was a little bit taller to look like the actress and with blond hair, which is not hard to come by in wakeboarding! I fit the mold of what they wanted, and they wanted a pro-athlete so it was perfect. I was so excited to do it. It was definitely a huge production, hundreds of people there for me and this other girl that was doing the commercial. It was a cool experience, not something that I would take for granted, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was filmed down in West Palm Beach, Florida. I flew to Miami and drove to West Palm Beach, which didn’t make sense, but whatever!
WG: How long did the shoot take?
Emily: Seven hours of actually wakeboarding…
Lauren: For six seconds.
Emily: [laughing] Pretty much for six seconds! There’s like a 45-second commercial, a 30-second one, and a 15-second one. On the longest one I maybe get like six seconds [laughs].
WG: Is there anyone that influences your riding?
Emily: It’s definitely different people throughout my life. I think when I was younger it was definitely my brother and him molding me. Then it was Mike Ferraro, [he] was my coach, and even Lauren through that time was a huge molding part of my wakeboarding because we were always riding together…
Lauren: Be serious!
Emily: I’m serious, Lauren and I would ride together all the time, and now I would say it’s probably Shaun Murray, so it’s been different people throughout my career.
WG: What are some of the challenges of being a pro-wakeboarder?
Emily: Challenges for me, I would say, sometimes fear can be a challenge, you have to overcome fear when you are trying a new trick, and you know, getting up and trying it again after you fall really hard. I think fear is a huge one to get over. Another challenge for me personally is to continue to learn new things, and to not get complacent with just what I can do, and to constantly continue to push myself because it’s easy, after you’ve been doing this for eleven years, to just get comfortable. Just to continue to learn, when you’re learning you’re having fun, and when you’re having fun you want to continue to do it.
WG: Being a wakeboarder is a really cool job and you get a lot of opportunities, so what’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Emily: The worst job I’ve ever had? I’ve actually had quite a few jobs; I would say the worst one was being a hostess at Outback Steak House.
Lauren: I remember that, that was before you got married, and you were saving money.
Emily: It was! I also worked at Victoria’s Secret and Starbucks.
Lauren: Tell them about your experience at Starbucks when Scott Byerly came through the window and you messed up his order.
Emily: [laughs] It was my first day at drive-thru at Starbucks, and it’s insane. I give those people a lot more props than I did before, because, I mean, it’s crazy, there’s thirty people in the drive-thru, there’s people inside, and I pretty much messed up Scott Byerly’s order and I didn’t even know it was him until he came to the window. I asked him “Did you have a mocha?” and he’s like, “No, I had a vanilla latte”, and I thought, “Oh, Scott Byerly drinks vanilla lattes!” [laughter]. Anyway, I totally messed it up, and then he’s like, “What are you doing working here?” It was just a really funny [experience]. I pretty much saw Scott Byerly every day whenever I worked at Starbucks. It was funny.
WG: Are most of your friends wakeboarders, or is your circle of friends outside the wakeboarding community?
Emily: A lot of my friends aren’t necessarily wakeboarders themselves but they used to wakeboard, or they are friends or spouses of wakeboarders, so it is all within the industry. But then, also like my sister, she’s one of my best friends, and she has really nothing to do with the industry anymore. It’s good to have friends outside because it keeps you grounded and it’s an escape from it all.
WG: What do you like to do with your free time outside of wakeboarding?
Emily: In my free time I like to read. I’m kind of like a nerd now; I love to read books, so when I have a chance I’m reading a book. I just do normal stuff, I go shopping, I work out, I really enjoy Pilates, I’ve been getting into Pilates a lot, it’s fun.
WG: When you got to the mall what’s the first store you want to go to?
Emily: The first store I want to go to at the mall would probably be Forever 21 because they have a lot of good clothes and they’re cheap!
WG: What’s the last book you read that you really liked?
Emily: I read the Twilight series along with probably every teenage girl in America, but it was really good, I couldn’t put it down. I read those really fast and I could probably read them again. So that was the last really good book that I enjoyed.
WG: Music wise, what are you listening to these days? What’s on your iPod?
Emily: Nothing really that new, I’m kind of a country fan. I love Kenney Chesney and I listen to Z88.3 a lot, I like Christian radio, so that’s pretty much what I listen to a lot in my car.
WG: What mark do you want to leave on Wakeboarding?
Emily: I think, on the water I want to be remembered as someone who was innovative in the sport as far as the women’s side of things, and I want to be remembered as a good wakeboarder. On the other side of things, I want to be remembered as being a positive person and having a good attitude. Even if I had a bad day I was always smiling. I think that’s so important, it’s not just what you do on the water; it’s how you carried yourself everywhere else.
WG: Do you consider yourself a role model for the younger generation?
Emily: I don’t know if I consider myself one, but I do know that girls look up to me, and being in a position of a professional wakeboarder, you definitely get put on a little bit of a pedestal, so I think it is very important how you hold yourself and how you act everywhere you are at. You’re constantly being watched, so to be a role model for girls is I think a huge responsibility.
WG: If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see play Emily Copeland-Durham?
Emily: Probably Miley Cyrus [laughs]. I don’t know, someone who’s still pretty innocent [laughs]. Maybe Cameron Diaz, I don’t know. I have no idea, that’s a tough question!
WG: What do you think about the next generation of women coming into the sport and are there any standouts that you think will have a big impact?
Emily: With the upcoming girls, there’s some good riding going on right now, which is pretty cool. When Lauren and I started we were 15 years old coming onto the Pro tour, we were both pretty young, and now I see these other girls that are the same age and I’m almost 25 and I go “Oh, I’ve got to watch my back”, but these girls, definitely Nicola Butler, she’s already been on the Pro tour one year but she’s doing awesome, Raimi Merritt, she’s going to be really good I think. Anna [Hajek], she’s going to be amazing, she just had an injury so as long as she can come back from that injury I think she’s going to be one of the top for sure for a while.
WG: Do you have anything that we should be looking out for in 2009?
Emily: In 2009 I still want to be on top of my game as far as competing goes on that side of things, so hopefully I’m going to be winning. In order to do that I need to be having some new tricks down, and I’ve been working on a 7 and I’m so close! I’d love to have a 720; that would be definitely a huge goal of mine. I just want to keep pushing myself so I’m never satisfied with just being where I’m at, being very complacent.
WG: What’s in your refrigerator right now?
Emily: Hmm, I don’t know! I just went out of town, so I have orange juice and rice milk [laughter] because we don’t drink dairy, and I think I have some carrots and apples, and I think three eggs [laughs].
WG: What sort of advice would you give young girls coming into the sport who may be feeling a lot of pressure from the media and peers to be really skinny and that sort of thing?
Emily: With wakeboarding you’re in a bathing suit, you’re in board shorts hanging out, and there’s a lot of pressure to be thin. Luckily wakeboarding takes a lot of physical activity to do so as long as you’re wakeboarding it does get you in really good shape. A lot of the wakeboarding girls, we’re pretty buff, we’ve got some arms on us, we’re not stick skinny girls so that side of things is good. As long as you’re healthy and you look athletic, that’s fine. You don’t have to be a stick. I really think it is all about feeling confident, and as long as you’re wakeboarding you’re going to be in good shape because it takes so much effort to do.
WG: What do you do when you’re not wakeboarding to make sure you’re staying in shape?
Emily: I do a lot of Pilates because wakeboarding takes a lot of core exercise so I think doing a lot of abs and a lot of stuff for your core is really important. I’ve had a lot of back trouble so as long as my stomach stays tight, that’s good. I think lunges are really important, you have to keep your knees and legs strong. I do a lot of stuff on the cables [pulley machines], like the wood chopping motion. I think it’s important to continue to train your muscles, not to be lifting a ton of weight but to constantly be working these muscles that you can’t work while you’re out there wakeboarding. And really, wakeboarding targets muscles that you sometimes can’t get in the gym. I just do it [work out] to refrain from getting injured, that’s a lot of the stuff I do.
WG: How have you seen the women’s side of the sport progress since you started?
Emily: I’ve been wakeboarding for about 10 years on the professional side of things. Women’s wakeboarding has definitely come a long way. We’re seeing a lot more girls doing a lot of the tricks that guys are doing and that’s been cool to see. You see the girls doing harder tricks, even the style is different, they used to wear board pants, the whole style of wakeboarding has changed.
Lauren: People don’t even know what buttcheckers are, we’re so old! [laughs]
Emily: [laughs]
Lauren: They were little wetsuit shorts that the girls used to wear so that if you hit your butt you wouldn’t get an enema. You shouldn’t hit your butt that hard anyway in wakeboarding, [if you do] you’re definitely doing something wrong [laughs]. That was a fad for awhile.
Emily: If you watch the old video Beyond 3, the all girls video, and watch the riding now, it’s just progressed a lot more.
WG: Where would you like to see wakeboarding in the next five years?
Emily: I’d like to see wakeboarding continue to grow and not die off like waterskiing did, I’d love to see it get back into the X-Games and to have it be part of the extreme sports. I’m involved with all of those. Whether that takes hitting more rail slides or doing more rail jams like they are doing everywhere, whatever it takes I think we need to keep our sport fresh and not get into a rut with it. I think there have been some pretty good ideas like the Red Bull Wake Lab in Downtown Orlando. That was really cool because a lot of people who maybe had never even seen wakeboarding could come down there and see that, so, I think doing stuff like that, we’ve got to keep it fresh.



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