I am the Joker: Tony Klarich discusses the history of kneeboarding and the genesis of the Joker

I am the Joker: Tony Klarich discusses the history of kneeboarding and the genesis of the Joker

by Tony Klarich


Tony Klarich. Photo Rick Doyle, 1994


Mike Murphy, co-inventor of the original kneeboard, 1972

Kneeboarding has been a family affair since 1972. That’s the year my uncle Mike Murphy co-invented the first kneeboard for waterskiing, designing the original production model Knee Ski. I was just 8 years old when uncle Mike threw me out of the boat with that first Knee Ski. He gave me a simple choice…learn how to do 360 spins or swim back to the beach! I nailed the spins and kept going from there, watching and learning from a master waterman. It took more than a decade to get better than Mike, and make my own mark in the sport.


Vaulting over uncle Mike in 1985. This was my first magazine coverage. Photo: Art Brewer.

I went on to do exhibitions on the Water Ski Pro Tour and competed in dozens of the first American Kneeboard Association (AKA) contests, winning Overall titles in 1985 and 1986. Kneeboarding was riding a wave of popularity as the hottest thing in towed watersports. It was the first time that recreational riders had access to a device that was easy to spin, jump and flip. In 1986 I designed HO’s first kneeboard, the Aerial 360, and used it to capture the AKA Overall title for a third time.


Taking the 1989 Overall Title on the Aerial 360. IT was my first design, and HO’s first kneeboard. Photo: Rick Doyle.

But a new ride was on the horizon, and it exploded onto the market in 1991 with the introduction of the world’s first compression molded wakeboard, the HO Hyperlite. It was later that same year when the thin profile and neutral buoyancy of compression molding was applied to the world’s first compression molded kneeboard. offre coque huawei Kneeboarding was loosing ground fast to wakeboarding, but the HO Edge 720 gave new life to a sport struggling to maintain market share. Several other kneeboard manufacturers quickly followed suit, and in a few years it was time for a new board at HO.

As a long time HO team member, 3-time National Champion, and established kneeboard designer, I was asked to design the new board. So I used all my skills in kneeboarding to design a board that would do everything. The result was the Joker. It was my best board ever and instantly became a favorite of kneeboarders around the world. The graphic team at HO led by Scott Cook deserves a ton of credit for the success. The Joker’s striking look used a comic book style character that was colorful, fun, and a little mischievous. According to Guy Filip, long time marketing director at HO, the name was inspired by my ability to act as a wild card rider for HO. It reflected the feeling of the sport and the graphics alone sold thousands of boards. I was also pleased with my redesign of the contoured pad, using knowledge of human anatomy gained from my Chiropractic education. Coque Huawei 2018 I redesigned the strap too; creating a 2-1 triple locking strap that was my favorite for 30 years!


At the HO factory with Herb, working on the Bondo plug for the contoured kneepad.

After sending my original hand shaped design to HO in 1994, it was months before the production board was ready to ship. I eventually learned my board was to be called the Joker, but the graphics were a complete mystery until the UPS trucked pulled up to my house. I tore into the box with great anticipation. The swash of primary colors even shone though the plastic wrap covering the new Joker. As I removed the plastic the striking graphics exploded into my eyeballs. They were unlike anything I had ever seen in water skiing – bold, colorful, and engaging. I fixated on the character in the center of the board. coque iphone outlet shop He stared back with red eyes, yellow cheeks, and a white face. Pointed ears peaked out from under his floppy jester’s hat. In an instant I knew I would transform myself into the cartoon character I was gazing at.

I told my wife Shonna about my plans to become the Joker. coque huawei nova With her full support it was a rush to get ready for my upcoming photo shoot. Here sister volunteered to sew the festive costume in record time. Shonna found the makeup and pointy prosthetic ears. It all came together like clockwork.


With my wife Shonna on the Parker Strip of the Colorado River. Photo: Rick Doyle, 1994

At Mike Mack’s place on the Parker Strip of the Colorado River, I got together with my longtime photographer Rick Doyle. The water was glass calm, the sun was golden, and Doyle took hundreds of slides of me as the Joker, laughing mischievously while I jumped, carved, and flipped. Back on the dock the man himself, Herb O’Brien of HO Sports greeted us with an ear-to-ear grin of his own. The Joker kneeboard was his creation too, and I was the living expression of his vision.


Hanging with Herb on the River. Photo: Shonna Klarich.

Everything about the moment felt right. I knew our morning shoot would result in some of the best images of my water skiing career. In the days before digital photography, it took several days to get the slides back and confirm my positive belief.

The Joker made a splash with a full-page ad in WaterSki Magazine, and scored the cover of South Africa’s Power Boat and Ski. Since I controlled the rights to my photos, I sent them out to publications around the world, and they were used far and wide.



WaterSki Magazine Ad. Photo: Rick Doyle, 1994


My mental picture became reality. I am the Joker. A wild card. Something unexpected. A guy who can fill in wherever he is needed. It felt great to be riding the wave one more time.

Tony Klarich has been an HO Team rider since 1985.

This story is an excerpt from Adventures in Water Skiing: Part 2, Kneeboarding. This is one of 3 current Adventures titles available for instant free download at TonyKlarich.com Each story is filled with dozen of classic photos and links to videos that bring the stories to life.


Free Downloads at TonyKlarich.com

50 for 50: 50 Different Rides in 1 Day!

On 8-22-15 Klarich will be riding his 2015 Joker kneeboard as part of his 50 for 50 event, taking place at the Long Beach Marine Stadium in Southern California Uncle Mike will be there too, taking a quick lap on his original Knee Ski. Klarich will spend the day demonstrating the complete history of towed watersports while riding 50 different objects to celebrate turning 50 years old. It is a free event open to the public.

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