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James Metcalf: Keeping it Alive

By: Chad Beery
August 27, 2004

The U.K. has its share of extreme kneeboarders. When I set out to interview one of the most talented U.K. riders, the first man to come to mind was James Metcalf. In my opinion, James is a master of the sport. His deck of tricks like the Layout, Front Somersault to Revert, Invert, and combos are as smooth as they come. James has been the best resource for me when it comes to learning new tricks. He has an incredible ability to explain in detail of how to perform a trick. James is also the webmaster for Sport; a site dedicated to the extreme sports, which includes kneeboarding. His sister site,, has been in existence for many years. Even when kneeboarding started to fall in popularity to wakeboarding, James' site has held strong. His parents have also helped tremendously to keep kneeboarding competitions alive in the United Kingdom. Kneeboard World shares the forum with Sport Net-UK in order to create a larger community of kneeboarders to swap tips and ideas.

I went dockside with James to gain a perspective from this veteran of our sport.

Can you give us an overall view of kneeboarding in the U.K.?
Not really - I believe it's beginning to grow again after a recent lull but I tend to keep away from the competition scene these days.

I spent many years of my life dedicating almost all my time to the sport. Working hard for the development on the UK Committee, competing, coaching and doing demonstrations at various events, I feel it’s appropriate to let new people take over working the scene to keep the passion alive. It never dies in you but, as I have gotten older, my priorities have changed. Meeting my wife and getting us a secure future is now top on the list. I love to just free ride now. I have done the work aspect of it and now I think it’s my time on the board and not a couple of minutes in a tournament. I guess it’s quality riding I am after now, not the pressure of competing. Not that I didn’t enjoy competing, I loved the atmosphere, waiting on the dock ready to go, now it’s my time out there on the water.

What other sports are you involved in?
Pretty much anything apart from fishing! I did catch a fisherman once on my ski line, so that may count as fishing. The guy didn't like waterskiers, so he decided to cast out as I went past. I got the hook, worm, and most of his reel on my line.

You said you're married? How about kids? Pets?
Most definitely married. 2 years this month and loving every minute - one of my best decisions. No kids yet - we want to travel and do stuff before they come along. We do have a Pug (dog) who will be two years old this Christmas. She is really cool and a real character.

What is your most impressive trick?
Hmm, surface 180? (laughter) Tough one, people usually like my front flip back as I let go of the handle with one hand half way through. It’s not good technique but it looks cool. Or my layout back as the layout kicks butt. Jonathan McDonald used to like my invert back as I used to stall it right out but that has its down side when you get it wrong. My front flip combo also looks pretty cool when I hit it right, board to board. It’s nice watching the reaction of the faces in the boat when you spring a second flip after landing the first.

Can you give some tips for someone attempting a combo trick for the first time? What should he/she try first?
The easiest combo to start with is the back roll combo. You should be happy throwing your back rolls consistently and in any water condition. Start by learning an air back roll. This is done by jumping the wake, landing the other side slightly nose heavy and popping up into a back roll. You must wait for the pop off the water. The first time you try, you will throw the flip too early. It seems like an eternity waiting to throw the trick. Once you have the air back rolls down, you can start putting them together. Throw your wake back roll nice and big, spot your landing, wait for the pop off the water and go for the second, third, fourth and fith air rolls of each bounce.

For a front somersault combo. Go really big on your wake front somersault, land slightly on the tail, wait for the pop and throw your second off the pop.

In both instances keep the handle in close to your body and waist.

How did you get involved in kneeboarding?
My grandfather bought me a kneeboard for Christmas one year. I found it real easy to ride and start spinning and jumping early on. My folks then spotted some kneeboard training days and took me along to one. The coach, Keith Ruffell, was awesome and I owe a lot to him, as I wouldn't have gotten to the heights I did.

Do you have any kneeboarding titles?
No current titles. In 1995 and 1996, I was British champion and unbeaten throughout all the U.K. tour stops of the kneeboard tour. Well, actually, without blowing my trumpet too much, I won every competition (kneeboard tour or not) that I entered throughout a two year period. I don't think anyone has done that again. In 1996, I took part, unofficially, in the U.S. nationals, which was awesome. They let me do a flip out run and I came third behind Yates Perry and Dave Jennings. Mario Fossa was the official third place, but when he found out I had managed one more than him, he handed me the trophy, which was really cool. Something I'll never forget; standing on the dock with the guys I'd only seen on TV and competing with them.

Do you coach?
Yup. Keith Ruffell taught me how to kneeboard and then passed his coaching skills on to me. I spent 4 years as the British National Coach. If I wasn't competing on a weekend I'd usually be coaching or doing demos at other events for TV, etc.

When did you start Sport Net-UK?
Sportnet-uk sort of evolved as I started buying web names up. I started a kneeboard site about 13 years ago and it's grown from there.

Are there other aspects of watersports that you are involved with?
I write a lot for Wakeboard and Waterski generally doing boat tests and reviews of events. I love my photography (You can see some pics on the site and the site). I would love to do that full time but it doesn't pay quite as well.

What do you think about riding sliders with a kneeboard?
Bring it on. I’m working on adapting one of my boards to make sliding a little easier. Being on your knees is a disadvantage when sliding as you cannot compensate if you find yourself going off one side. I think sliding and hitting kickers is the next progression for kneeboarding and that’s what I aim to go for. I believed when wakeboarding emerged that we should head down that route to keep the popularity of the sport going. But the powers that be decided against it; one reason for the lull in the sport. I do think that we can push the sport on again and in the direction of the wakeboarding to make it “cool” for the kids once again. That’s where the future lies. I hit my first slider with the South Town Riders in the Carolinas. It started off more of a bet from the editor of the wakeboard and waterski magazine. After a couple of attempts I was running 360’s over it. In the UK I rode the Beetle slider at Thorpe Ski which was a challenge, this comprises of a slider that goes over a car (beetle) floating on the water. It was difficult as being up so high and towed by a jetski meant the rope was pulling me down and off the slider. I made it 90% the way across. I’m going to build some sliders and kickers at my ski club as soon as I can get the materials together. Then I hope to develop the board and start doing some cool stuff like gaps.

Where is your favorite place to ride?
Currently my favorite place to ride is in the Carolinas. I don’t get to go there as often as I would like but that’s the top of the list at the moment. I ride at Hazelwood Ski World in Lincolnshire in the UK and hope to find somewhere in Brazil pretty soon where I can strap my board on. Then that may become the favorite.

What’s the best advice you can give to a kneeboarder just starting out?
Keep focused and enjoy your time on the water. If you stop enjoying it, then it’s game over. So, that’s the most important thing.

Well, I can tell you that James certainly enjoys the sport. He also enjoys helping others to experience the thrill of kneeboarding. If you would like to talk with James, you can contact him through the forum.

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