2017 Rider of the Year: Steel Lafferty
By Jeff Mathis
To be named Rider of the Year carries a pretty large responsibility. With names like Parks Bonifay, Aaron Rathy, Josh Twelker, Randall Harris, Tom Fooshee, Raph Derome, and more populating the list of past ROTY’s, they’re definitely some pretty big shoes to fill. But if anybody has stepped up to the challenge this year, it’s Steel Lafferty. Steel has been charging it for years and has not only gotten his name out there, he’s garnered the respect from the biggest names in the industry. With a larger than life personality and a work ethic that doesn’t know the word “quit,” Steel has been turning heads for years with his hard charging riding. And with the year he has had, it’s not hard to see why he has earned the top honor.
Getting to be a part of some of the biggest events of the year and landing two of the heaviest tricks ever done (in contests no less), Steel has been lighting it on fire all year. He put together a banger section for X-Games Real Wake, competed in the Less Than Five contest, hit some of the biggest double ups that have ever been done at the Mastercraft Throwdown, and even made it onto ESPN’s Sports Center Top 10, putting wakeboarding in front of millions of viewers. With his busy schedule, he’s still able to put out fresh content on a regular basis and get more and more people interested in the sport we love. Even with all his success over the year, he’s managed to stay hungry and motivated to keep pushing his riding. Most riders would probably be happy to coast for a while, but Steel’s mindset won’t allow for it. He’s always after the next big thing and we’re definitely looking forward to seeing what he brings for 2018.
“I think Steel getting Rider of the Year is so well deserved! I love his pursuit and progression of the double up, in a day where not a lot of riders are hitting them. Steel has shown what can be done off double ups time and time again. And it’s amazing that at this point in his career when he almost seemed to plateauing off for a bit. He really just found a whole new gear deep within himself ! I’ve seen him commit to some of these tricks for hours at a time, sometimes 20 double ups in a row, and just get worked over and over again until he stuck them. It’s fucking crazy! To say I’m pumped for Steel would be a severe understatement! Congrats buddy, you deserve it!”
– Parks Bonifay, 2002 ROTY
Alliance Wake: Yo Steel! Congrats again on taking Rider of the Year for 2017! How does it feel?!
Steel: It’s rad dude! It might be one of those cliche things to say but it’s really one of those “dream come true” scenarios. To be recognized as one of the most progressive and innovative riders over the past year is just insane!
AW: You’ve been a part of some crazy events this past year. X Games Real Wake, Mastercraft Throwdown, Less Than Five just to name a few…overall, what was your favorite part of 2017?
SL: I would say the Mastercraft Throwdown definitely has to be the coolest thing that’s happened in my career. Winning an X-Games gold that way and landing some tricks that have never been done before in a televised contest is…dude I don’t even know! It’s wild!
“Steel progressed the sport of wakeboarding more than anyone else this year by being in a league of his own behind the boat. He landed tricks people have been dreaming of since Parks landed the first double mobe. Switch mute double mobe, indy double tantrum to blind and he did it when it mattered the most, at the Mastercraft Throwdown. Steel overcame all the obstacles that were put in his way this season and was able to reach his full potential. He’s got incredible natural ability and is one of the top athletic guys in our sport. I was coming up at the same time as him and was always surprised by the way he was never peaking the way I thought he should have. Well he showed his true colors and definitely deserves to be ROTY.”
– Raphael Derome, 2012 ROTY
AW: Speaking of Throwdown, you did an absolutely insane switch mute double mobe during the contest. What was it like not only stomping that trick but nailing it with Parks looking on?
SL: I called Parks telling him I was going to try it for “Trick of the Year” submission and I wanted him to be in the boat for it. He’s been in the boat for a lot of my crazy tricks over the years, like my toe back 9, backside 1080, and indy double tantrum to blind so I got him and Rusty to come out to hype me up to stick it. Rusty drove me about 30 double-ups and when I ended up sticking it, they were just as stoked as I was!
“Steel went absolutely crazy this year. At the North Carolina Xstar shoot, he stomped that indy double tantrum to blind. And it was a battle too… he got hammered over and over and never gave up. Then we go to Worlds and he double halfcab rolls to the flats 1st trick in the semi finals was nuts. Sticks the switch double mobe the week later and wins “Trick of the Year” off that one. Then at Throw Down, he was practically levitating, those three hits opened a new door to what’s possible. I love this kid man, he’s one of my best friends, I couldn’t be happier to see him win ROTY.”
– Aaron Rathy. 2015 ROTY
AW: Speaking of your other tricks, you also had another major move with that indy double tantrum to blind. Which one were you more stoked on and why?
SL: They were two very different feelings. The indy double tantrum to blind was something that I just decided to try on a whim at the XStar shoot. I broke myself off probably 40 times before I stuck it but having the whole MC family in the boat definitely kept me going. The switch mute double mobe was something I’d been thinking about for a year so to finally put down something I’ve been imagining for a bit, I’d have to say that one would be on top.
AW: With with all your reach, ability to stand out, talent behind the boat, and the fact that you were a part of, and won, some of the heaviest events our sport has, why do you not have a board sponsor? What’s up with that?
SL: I love it, it’s kind of laughable to me. I have other incredible sponsors that support me and push me to do what I do and if in the future I decide I want to sign with a board company then I think that is still on the table.
AW: With all the events you did, sponsor obligations, and other things this past year, how did you find time to handle everything that was on your plate?
SL: Meditation…(laughs)…just a little jab at T-Sode, sorry buddy! To be honest, it was stressful this year. A lot of ups and downs but at the end of the day, I got to do what I love and that’s when it all clicks and you realize that you shouldn’t be stressed doing what you love day in and day out. Meeting deadlines and fulfilling obligations can be tricky but when I just focus on pushing my riding, that’s when things fall into place!
“No one went bigger behind the boat this year than Steel. He was really fun to watch. It was good to see a rider charging at double ups again and doing new stuff. To me, double ups are such an important part of what wakeboarding is and where it came from. He will mostly be remembered for the new double flips he landed but he has also undoubtedly raised the bar from here on out.”
– Brian Grubb, 2001 ROTY
AW: Not everyone understands your spirit, some may say it’s over the top and a bit forced. How do you cut through the bullshit and continue to always be so positive?
SL: Ha, I just don’t let it get to me. It seems like people can get upset seeing me do my thing and have a good time but I feel like it helps grow the sport. The people out there who look down on it, that’s their opinion and I’m just having a good time on my board.
AW: How did you manage to stay healthy and injury free while consistently going so big? Gym, diet, hot yoga?
SL: Honestly, it’s about knowing where your body is physically and being in tune with how you’re feeling on a day to day basis. A lot of it comes down to preparation and making sure you’re ready to go whenever. I like to stay active and play a lot of sports like basketball, skating, surfing, and soccer to name a few. I combine that with some gym work, eating healthy, and knowing what’s right for my body. Also, it’s a lot of confidence. When I cut into a big double up or something like that, I make sure to stay confident because I know my body will react better if I’m in that right state of mind.
AW: Well thanks for talking with me and again, congrats! I know there’s some people and sponsors you’d like to thank so let’s hear ‘em!
SL: God first, family, friends, Mastercraft, Red Bull, OneWake, and Ethika. Thank you all for helping me keep the froth so high!
“Steel stayed true to one of the most core and unique aspects of our sport, double ups. Not only did he stay true, but he pushed the boundaries of what can be done on a wakeboard and did it in the most proper fashion, off the double up. He put down some of the most progressive tricks ever done and did them huge too! Props to Steel for not only landing these tricks in his backyard, but also putting them down in a contest for a major TV event. You can’t have a better year than filming an X Games Real Wake part, putting down some new innovative doubles, scoring a cover and getting wakeboarding out to the masses with his ESPN Top 10 coverage amongst all of his national social media attention. Steel has definitely laid down a solid foundation as to what progressive and modern day wakeboarding should look like.”
– Tom Fooshee, 2010 ROTY