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.
Day 2 of the Red Bull Wake Open went down in a big way in downtown Tampa because all day long the riders were going nowhere but up. The big air aspect of the Wake Open brought out some unbelievable progression from some of the best riders in the world. Put it this way, there were ten guys in the event who could all throw variations of double flips (and all landed them in practice leading up to the event). Riders are using the System 2.0 and kickers to push their riding to new heights. Red Bull bottled that in the big air event and with the shore around the Tampa Convention Center filled with spectators, the show was one heck of a spectacle. Lots of big air, some big falls, and some insane maneuvering.
Raph doubling down on his way to 1st place
In the end Raph Derome took home the title, putting himself firmly in first place for the overall title headed into the third and final event – wake park. Raph threw down is signature smooth mute double half cab roll throughout the event, but his unbelievably stomped heelside 1080 put him over the top for the win. Brenton Priestley and Aaron Rathy took home second and third place respectively with their own insane versions of mute double half cab rolls. Fourth place went to the 14-year-old phenom from Thailand Daniel Grant, whose mind boggling rewind spin variations had spectators and riders shaking their heads in disbelief.
Needless to say the Wake Open is setting a new standard for wakeboarding events and the riders are stepping up to the plate. If you want to catch the final event, head to Tampa and get ready for a treat.
For the third and final event of the three-day Red Bull Wake Open, riders took to the entire Unit park setup in Tampa Bay and put on one hell of show for the thousands of spectators who were there, and the hundreds of thousands more who were watching from home on NBC. Despite being tired (and in a lot of cases beat up from big crashes) after two solid days of competition, every rider put it all on the line to take home the title of Wake Park champ.
After an intense semi-final round, the final came down to four of the best wake park riders in the world: Nico Von Lerchenfeld, Raph Derome, Dominik Hernier, and Daniel Grant. These riders not only represent the future of park riding, but they also represent the amazing growth wakeboarding has experienced around the globe in the last decade. Lerchenfeld is from Germany, Derome is from Quebec, Canada, Hernier is from Austria, and Grant is from Thailand.
Each of the riders threw down their best lines and the riding was amazingly progressive and insane to watch. Each rider’s control and precision throughout the park was on display for the world, and it was easy to see why the four of them were in the finals. After taking a 3rd place finish behind the boat and a 1st place at big air, Raph was a lock to win the overall title by just making the final of the park event, but that didn’t mean he was going to go easy. He continued to push himself and his fellow riders with his smooth half cab double mute rolls and heelside 1080s. That drive pushed Raph back to the top of the podium, proving to everybody there and watching, that he is a force to be reckoned with in all aspects of wakeboarding. Given how young he is, that drive is going to push him to some pretty incredible places in the future.
The Red Bull Wake Open has come to a close, confirming one thing: Raphael Derome is an absolute beast on a wakeboard. He dominated most of the event this week winning two of the three disciplines, and proving to everyone that he’s one of the most stylish wakeboarders out there as well. Here are the full results and some images from the event, that brought thousands of spectators to the shores of Tampa Bay, and was live on NBC for millions of viewers to watch. This was a huge step for wakeboarding and I hope you all were able to enjoy it with your fellow wake brethren in some capacity.
OVERALL WAKE OPEN RESULTS
1. Raphael Derome
2. Aaron Rathy
3. Harley Clifford
4. JD Webb
1. Raphael Derome
2. Nico Von Lerchenfeld
3. Daniel Grant
4. Dominik Hernier
BIG AIR FINAL
1. Raphael Derome
2. Brenton Priestly
3. Aaron Rathy
4. Daniel Grant
Liquid Force’s BBQ BROdown rolls into WOW Wake Place July 14th!! Come on out to ride for free, demo all new LF boards and bindings, get tips from Obscura teamrider Grant Roberts, and go home with a bunch of free swag! If you’ve never been to WOW or have never even ridden, this is your chance to try everything no strings attached! Come on out, bring your friends, and have some fun in the sun! Big thanks to Monster Energy, Spy Optic, Axis Wake Research, New Era, GoPro, Sanuk, Frends, and Alliance Wakeboard Magazine for the support! See you at WOW Wake Place July 14th!
Western Oasis Wakeplace
2900 Highway 395
Minden, Nv. 89423
July 14th, 2012