WSM: Let’s start with our typical interview questions. What’s your name, where are you from, and how long have you been wakesurfing?
Raya: I am Raya Walker from Crossville, Tennessee. I have been wakesurfing since 2012 and started competing that same year.
WSM: Prior to wakesurfing, were you doing any other towed watersports?
Raya: Yes, I learned to wakeboard at age 4 and began competing at age 5. I was Tennessee State Champ in the Mini Outlaws for two years and got to participate in Nationals in California.
WSM: We heard that you first got introduced to ocean surfing in New York of all places. How did you end up there and what was the trip all about?
Raya: My mom won an online contest with GoPro to attend the Quiksilver Pro in Long Beach, New York. The trip included GoPro giving us two cameras and us recording our trip. Along with the trip, we were given surf lessons with Roxy. I got to surf every day and fell in love with the sport.
WSM: We also heard that you were an extra in a movie, what movie was it? Anything we might’ve seen?
Raya: I have been with Talent Trek Agency since I was a baby and have been in several local commercials and a couple National campaigns. The movie I was an extra in was “The Song.” Since then I have been on the show “Tennessee Uncharted” where I got to teach the star to wakesurf and recently got to surf for a music video for Clark Manson.
WSM: Can you recall the first time you experienced wakesurfing? Was it love at first sight? Or did it take you a while to catch on?
Raya: The first time I was 8 and it was not love at first sight. At that time I was into wakeboarding all the time and didn’t enjoy surfing. I didn’t want to take away from my time on the wakeboard. Then after my New York surf trip at age 14, I decided to give wake surfing another try and I was hooked!! It was as close to ocean surfing as I could get living in Tennessee. Now, as all my family and friends can attest too, the love of surfing shows in my smile every time I am on my surfboard.
WSM: What was the first trick you learned and how long did it take you to get it?
Raya: I can’t recall the very first trick, probably an Ollie in the flats. I remember just riding and carving. I got most of the beginner tricks down pretty fast, I guess because I was just comfortable on the board. It took more time as the tricks became more technical.
WSM: Is the competition scene something you’ll be hitting in 2018? Or do you enjoy the online aspects such as social media more?
Raya: Yes, I will be hitting the competition scene. I do enjoy the social media part, but also enjoy being around the people at the contest. One of my favorite things to do is travel to different lakes giving lessons and meeting the people that are enthusiastic about surfing. I recently taught a Surf Clinic at Miami Wake Academy and loved the Florida sunshine!
WSM: Wakesurfing has probably taken you many exciting places. If you could pick just one as your favorite, where would it be and why?
Raya: We always take an adventure trip when we attend a contest so with 6 years of adventures it is going to be hard to pick just one. My very favorite would be hiking to Havasu Falls in Supai, Az because it is something really off the beaten path and absolutely beautiful. I also have to mention Punta Cana because I got to wakesurf in the ocean for my first time and the food was amazing.
WSM: Do you have any hobbies off the water?
Raya: I love to go out dancing and finding unique places to eat because I’m a foodie, if you consider those hobbies.
[Editor’s note: Absolutely we do!]
WSM: Your sponsor list is sort of a whos-who in the watersports industry with the likes of Hyperlite, Malibu Boats, and others. How did you get hooked up with them and what has life been like as a professional athlete?
Raya: I have been behind a Malibu since age 4 so I didn’t even question being behind another boat. With a lot of hard work, a lot of contests, a lot of podiums, and a lot of patience, I landed on Malibu’s team. When Hyperlite came out with the Varial board and it was like an ocean board I knew I had to be on it so here I am on their team. My other sponsor’s products are not necessary to wakesurf but they are very supportive of me and make for a fun lake/beach lifestyle.
Being a professional athlete is a lot of hard work. I have been working on this career since the age of 4. It has taken a lot of time on the water and some heartbreak just like any other job. The most rewarding part has been pulling up to a line of boats on the lake and the little girls all yelling “it’s Raya look it’s Raya” and them being excited because I’m talking to them. I took online classes through High School so I could wakesurf and travel and now I am taking online college classes in Marketing. Being a professional athlete is like any other job you have to do the work to be successful, but I would not trade this profession for any other.
WSM: What type of boat are you riding and can you clue us in on your ballast setup?
Raya: The Malibu 22VLX , full factory ballast and surf gate makes a great wave without having to do anything, but for me my set up is full factory ballast, 750lbs in both rear lockers, 1100lb in back floorboard not quite full, 550 in front walkway (this is my most important weight to make wave longer) 11 mph, wedge halfway down, and surfgate for goofy.
WSM: Since you’re riding the new Varial line of wakesurfers from Hyperlite can you tell us which model is your favorite? What are its specs?
Raya: I am on the 4’6″ Exacta and it is my favorite. The Exacta cuts quick and feels like an ocean board. The Varial foam makes the board lighter and stronger. I put a lot of hours on my board riding it every day and the Exacta glass has not yellowed. I have a couple dings that have not taken on water because the foam is waterproof. I’m usually worried about people trying my comp boards, but with this one, I don’t have to worry about anything because it is very durable.
WSM: You’ve also been riding skim as well on the Hi-Fi, how long have you been doing both styles? Do you have a preference?
Raya: I’ve been doing both styles from the beginning. I’m also the only female rider to podium in both divisions in many contests. Surf style is my favorite because I like the laid back smooth ocean style surfing. Although, lately I have been enjoying the Hi-Fi as I have been working on different shuvs. I also love to play on a longboard whenever I can.
WSM: If you could take one celebrity wakesurfing with you who would it be and why?
Raya: John-John Florence because he’s hot and I would love to see his style on a wakesurfer.
WSM: If you had your choice of music when riding, what would it be?
Raya: Reggae and old school R & B
WSM: Where would you like to see wakesurfing go in the future?
Raya: Wakesurfing is growing so fast and I am excited that I got in it at the time I did. I would like to see more grassroots contest. I think that beginners are being discouraged by going to comps where the amateurs are already doing 360’s and they have just learned to drop the rope. Maybe have a beginner category where you are only allowed to do beginner tricks like sitting duck, fire hydrant etc.
WSM: What advice would you give a newcomer to the sport that’s looking to progress and learn new tricks?
Raya: The best advice I can give is to spend as much time on the water as possible and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen overnight, everyone learns at a different pace. If you are trying to learn a specific trick, watch YouTube or Instagram videos or take some lessons from a pro.
WSM: What tricks are you working on? Anything you feel like lettings us know about?
Raya: I am not really working on any particular trick. I’m riding almost daily and working on making my tricks bigger and better. It’s a lot of fun riding right now because it’s the off-season and I don’t have to worry about putting a comp run together.
WSM: Do you have any sponsors, friends, or family you’d like to thank?
Raya: Malibu Boats, Marine Outfitters, Hyperlite, Charming Shark Jewelry, Flojos Sandals, Aloha Green Tea, Boardstix Paint Pens, and my own company RayaSun and Surf. Also, my mom for driving the boat and my dad for coaching and taking the best pictures.
WSM: Would you like to plug any social media?
We want to thank Raya for giving WSM her time and we look forward to seeing more from her as she continues to progress in her career and push wakesurfing into the future!