It’s barely 20 years old. It won’t be a sport at the upcoming London Olympics. It wasn’t featured in the recent ESPN X Games, where it was once an extreme up and comer, filled with big air, fashion air, 960s, 1080s, backside doubles, whirlybirds, tantrum to blinds — until it was apparently eliminated in a budget slash.
Your typical wakeboarder would be bummed over this, only your typical wakeboarder never truly gets bummed. They’re busy having fun.
Take my new friend, Steel Lafferty. That’s his real name. His brothers are Bob and Daniel. “I got the cool name,” Steel said. He’s also barely 20 and a professional wakeboarder. Here’s a typical Steel day on the lake behind his house near Orlando:
“I wake up and I look out my window. If it’s nice out I go ride. If not, I’ll play Xbox until it gets nice and then I go ride,” Lafferty said. “This is the life.”
If you want a slice of that, come to the waters near the Tampa Convention Center this Friday and Saturday for the Red Bull Wake Open, where the world’s top wakeboarders, Steel Lafferty among them, will compete in three events, pulled by cables or boats, flying off waves, wakes, ramps, hurtling every which way, hanging it out over the hedge. NBC will broadcast live for two hours Saturday afternoon.
“You’re going to see wakeboarding like you’ve never seen it before or, if you’ve never seen it, well, you’re going to see wakeboarding,” Lafferty said with a laugh. “Double flips, 1260s in front of crowds. Faces 15 feet away.”
Sometimes the edge wins. At a recent wakeboarding exhibition, I met Steel, currently in third place on the pro tour, rookie of the year last season, one of the best — and his left arm was in a sling. He caught it in his line handle at an event in Seattle. He says he’ll be back this weekend.
“I broke my back when I was 14,” Steel said. “… All I remember is waking up on the dock, not able to move, I got movement back after about 30 minutes. The doctor said it was just muscular. I said, ‘Cool.’ ”
Steel added, “Look at Dallas’ knees when you get a chance.”
Dallas would be Orlando’s Dallas Friday, 25, the top female wakeboarder going, a four-time X Games gold medalist, an ESPY winner, a veritable pin-up for the sport. And, yes, Dallas Friday is her real name.
Five years ago, Friday was in a frightful wakeboarding wreck in Singapore. She fractured her left femur in eight places, her lungs collapsed in surgery and she was in a coma for two weeks. Two years ago, she tore her right ACL, MCL, PCL and all the other L’s you can rip. Oh, those Dallas knee scars.
“But I never thought of not doing the sport,” she said. “Our sport is about pushing our level and our limits.”
One more thing:
“Hell, yeah, I’d love for it to be an Olympic sport.”
“An Olympic podium would be sick,” Steel said.
He was asked about his signature moves.
“I’ve invented, or landed first, three different tricks. The first one, when I was 15 or 16, was a wake to wake 1080. I was the first one to land a backside 1080 off the double up and I did a toe side, back side 900.”
Forget it, he’s rolling …
“I’m mostly known for throwing it all on the line,” Dallas Friday said. “Even if I’ve got an easy heat, I’m going to throw down that finals run. It doesn’t change in my head.”
Steel Lafferty grew up in Fort Lauderdale. When he was 9, his dad bought him a wakeboard and it was on.
“Right now, it’s super young, it’s a young sport,” Lafferty said. “The guys who invented it are still alive. It’s just growing right now, getting more legit, now it’s getting more recognized as one of the top extreme sports.”
Dallas Friday attended Boone High School, where she pole vaulted. Central Florida, by the way, with all its lakes, “It’s like the Mecca of wakeboarding,” Friday said. She’s one of the legends, up there with wakeboarding great and Polk County resident Parks Bonifay (Where do they get these names?). Top boarders can earn six figures annually, but there’s no pecking order on the world tour.
“Everybody is just chill,” Steel Lafferty said. “How can you not be this chill when this is your life?”
He shares a lake house in Clermont with two other pro boarders, and overflow boarders.
“Any given day, they’re strewn all over the house,” Steel said. “I woke up this morning and there was a dude on the couch, another dude on another couch, a dude on another bed, a dude in one of the folding couches and two more upstairs.”
They dream of the sport back at X Games — or in the Olympics. Meanwhile, they’ll play Tampa this weekend.
“I can promise entertainment, gnarly falls, and double flips,” Dallas Friday said.
Note: Gnarly Falls is not a wakeboard competitor’s name. Not yet, anyway.