Endless Wave – Johnny Stieg
Check out our Endless Wave segment with Johnny Stieg from our April 2018 Issue!
When did you start wakesurfing and how did you first get introduced?
I first got introduced to wakesurfing through Mike Daugherty who was the owner of Wakesurfing Magazine and Shoreline Wakesurf Boards. Mike was a neighbor of mine and I grew up friends with his kids. At the time I had been ocean surfing for a few years, and Mike knew that. I knew he wakesurfed and we frequently talked about getting out behind the boat to try it. It took a while but eventually he invited me to the lake and I took to wakesurfing instantly. So much so that he invited me to be a team rider on Shoreline Wakesurf Boards and I became one of the crew!
Where are you from and where is your home lake?
I grew up in Templeton California which is a small farm town turned wine paradise on the coast, half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. My home lake is Lake Nacimiento in Paso Robles, which is only a short 30 minute drive. It’s a beautiful area and there is a lot to do. I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been before.
How has surfing helped your wakesurfing or vice-versa?
Ocean surfing was my first love, and it became a foundation for wakesurfing. Surfing and skateboarding has had a direct impact on my style and the way I approach wakesurfing. My first time ever behind a boat I already knew how to pump to gain speed, and started doing airs day one with the ollie motion from skateboarding. After wakesurfing for so many years that translates right back into my ocean skills. It’s perfect because even though the wave is smaller you can still take tricks and motions that you can practice over and over all day behind the boat, into the ocean. I remember one summer the waves were horrible for months in the ocean, so all I did was wakesurf. When the waves finally picked up in the ocean again, my first ride I raced down the line and did one of the best airs I had ever done. Just from doing it behind the boat for so long with so much repetition it becomes second nature. They definitely compliment each other.
Do you see living in California as a benefit for wakesurfing? Meaning, technically you can wakesurf all year long.
Living in California is a blessing and a curse. The amazing part is the weather makes it rideable all year, and I have the ocean right down the road. Like I mentioned before the ocean has made my wakesurfing career what it is so without that I probably wouldn’t be wakesurfing. The bad part of living in California is the wake scene is not the best, although it has improved significantly in the past couple years. Sometimes it’s hard to get a crew together especially in the off season to go out and ride. A common misconception is that California is palm trees, white sand beaches and bikinis all year (laughs). This isn’t always true. During the winter where I live it gets down in the low 30’s/high 20’s at night and just a bit warmer during the day, so the lake isn’t always that appetizing.
What is your current set up? Boat, board, crew.
My current boat is a 2018 Axis A-24, which literally has one of the best wakes I have ever ridden. I know I say that every year but that’s because Axis Boats keeps stepping up the game. This year we have the Power Wedge and that is another game changer for getting the wake dialed. For my board I am riding a Rusty Snaggletooth 4’6”. It’s such a good board and does everything well. I really like that it has 5 fin boxes so you can dial it in for whoever is riding it, getting the board to feel how they want. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like it. Something new for me this year is foiling, I got set up with Lift Surf Foils. These things are so much fun. It feels like you are floating on a cloud. Everyone that knows me, knows I’m all about fun so this is a welcome item on my boat. My crew consists of whoever is off work for the days when I’m in town (laughs).
Are you still competing? Do you have any contests lined up for this year?
I still compete on a novelty level. If there is a cool contest that pops up or something that makes sense to go to I will be there. For the most part I’m all about spreading the love of the sport and having fun on the water, whether that be demos, contests, rider experiences, social media, or just going to the lake and meeting new people. I don’t have anything set on my calendar yet this year. I will just take them as they come.
How would you rate the progression of the sport from when you started, to today?
The progression has been so fun to watch. When I started it was who could stay in the wave the longest, then Chase Hazen came along and stepped up the air game, and then skim boarders took it in a skate inspired direction with shoves and flip tricks. Now you have kids like Noah and Keenan Flegel who just absolutely took it to a place I never imagined it could go. Integrating those skim tricks into surf style while keeping good style in the process. They have made it into a legit sport and I can’t wait to see how the new breed keep pushing it to the next level.
Did you look up to anyone during your years of wakesurfing or get inspiration from any athletes in particular?
So much inspiration. From guys like Josh Sleigh, Chase Hazen in wakesurfing, Tom Curran, Dane Reynolds, Taj Burrow in surfing, Randall Harris, Trever Maur, Josh Twelker in wakeboarding. All these guys who have crazy good style. Style is so important to me. And of course I keep getting inspired all the time, I don’t think that ever stops.
Who would you like to thank for getting you to where you are?
There are so many people to thank. My family who always supported me. Mike Daugherty for getting me started. Josh Sleigh and John Lotter from Mob Group productions, Lani Farmer, Bryant Thomas, Chris Loomis, everyone at Malibu Boats and Axis Wake, VS Marine, Clint from Rusty Surfboards, Lift Foils, Hank Snap at Exile Skimboards, Nick Wiersema, Chris Muehl and all the boys from NSW. Literally I want to name everyone but my list would go on forever. There have been so many people who have been influential in my wakesurf career from sponsors to other riders to followers. It’s not something that I could have ever done on my own and I am so blessed to have met everyone who has impacted my career and supported what I do.