Fall 2014

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92 Venice One of the world's top wakeboarders, Steel Lafferty has long dreamed of taking the sport to bigger heights. BY CONNOR HANSEN PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYAN SODERLIND 70 Venice MAN OF STEEL teel Lafferty is a self- described "goofball," who laughs easily and often, and doesn't seem to possess fear of anything, which serves him well as he pushes the boundaries of wakeboarding. An ath- letic kid by nature, Lafferty grew up in the Rio Vista neighborhood playing virtually every organized sport. But it was wakeboarding that grabbed his attention when he first tried it at 8 years old during a family weekend at Lake June, Florida. "It just clicked, and I stuck with it," the 22-year-old says. "I thought, 'This is what I want to do when I grow up.' I didn't even know at the time this was actually something you could do professionally." His dreams supported wholeheartedly by his par- ents, Chip and Mary Jean, Lafferty began competing and winning. He joined the MasterCraft Pro Wakeboard Tour when he was 14 and began to travel the world, wakeboarding in countries such as Russia, Spain, Aus- tralia, Germany, China, Malaysia and Canada. His par- ents went to every tournament they could, and his school worked with his schedule to make sure he didn't fall behind in school. A Fort Lauderdale boy at the heart, Lafferty at- tended Bethany Christian School and then Westmin- ster Academy. These days, he splits his time between Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, the latter dubbed as the "wakeboarding capital of the world," where he shares a house he recently bought with two other pro wake- boarding friends. He has won multiple competitions, but his proudest moment was when he received the Trick of the Year Award in 2011, given to the rider who pulls off the hardest, most in- novative move for that season. He was the first person to do a Wake- to-Wake 1080, an aerial twist that actually requires the rider to fight against natural momentum and gravity in order to complete the trick. "It's been my biggest accom- plishment so far," he says. "To get recognized for doing something no- body else can do is amazing." It's also amazing that this ag- gressive athlete is still in one piece. He has suffered through a broken back, broken vertebrae, multiple concussions, torn ten- dons, a dislocated hip and countless blackouts. "People think water is soft, but when you are going that fast, are 25 feet in the air, and are coming down hard on it, water feels like concrete," he says. Though he has several years of wakeboarding ahead of him, Lafferty acknowledges that wakeboard- ing is not a sport he can compete in forever. It is, how- ever, a sport he will remain dedicated to. He hopes that once he has exhausted his competitive days, he can support and promote wakeboarding and other ac- tion sports, much like former pro skateboarder Tony Hawk's efforts, organizing tours and exhibitions to bring international attention to the sport. As acclaimed as surfing and skateboarding have become, Lafferty hopes that wakeboarding will one day receive the same notoriety. "I am super-competitive and want to be the best at what I do," Lafferty says. "If I can become the best and keep learning new tricks, then I can continue to push wakeboarding as a sport to a new level. That is what inspires me." S

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