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Grit.org Podcast Episode #36 with Pro Wakeboarder and Entrepreneur Steel Lafferty is now live!

Updated: Jan 23

Steel Lafferty, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, began wakeboarding at age 10 and quickly displayed exceptional talent. He turned professional in 2011 and has since made significant strides, becoming the first to land the Wake To Wake 1080, Toeside Backside 900, and Heel Side Backside 1080. Lafferty is celebrated for setting records and expanding wakeboarding's possibilities. His athletic prowess has made him a role model in the wakeboarding community. Beyond sports, he has built a incredible personal brand through social media and has generated billions of views. His journey symbolizes passion, dedication, and grit in pursuit of achieving success. Lafferty's influence extends beyond his achievements, inspiring future wakeboarding generations and beyond. 


Be sure to check out the episode and let us know in the comments of the youtube video something Josh said that resonates with you.  Enjoy!




Intro: Welcome to the Grit-org Podcast with Colby Harris and Brian Harbin!

In these episodes, they speak to top achievers in athletics and business to understand the habits and mindset they apply in order to build more grit.

Colby Harris: All right, welcome back to the Grit-org Podcast!

My name is Colby Harris, and today we have a very, very exciting episode. I am in Orlando, Florida, with legendary wakeboarder. I hate to say it, but social media influencer, even entrepreneur ambassador. 

Steel Lafferty: Yeah.

Colby Harris: Yeah, maybe spin on it. People don't love that word that much anymore. But nonetheless, Steele Lafferty has taken a year to make this happen. So, Steel, appreciate you making the time, man!

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, dude, of course. Your whole thing just flipped. You just went right into it. Like, your whole demeanor went into it. That's cool to see. Yeah, you're good at this.

Colby Harris: It's funny why I hear from people, they're like, hey, man, we'll do the normal thing. I don't know if you saw the interview. Dion Sanders with the guy interviewing him, he's like, no, go back to your normal voice. He's like, he can't do it. 

Steel Lafferty: Right. 

Colby Harris: So for me, it's been a quiet thing. And that guy Sutton show, he's all -- [Crosstalk]

Steel Lafferty: I don't know, but that's how he is all the time. Yeah, there's some people that just are just wild all the time. You're like, okay, I can spend an hour with you, Max, and then people that can turn it on. And I just saw you turn it on. I like that. Yeah, that's great, baby.

Colby Harris: Well, yeah, it's been a journey. Now, like I said, it's like 33rd episode, but we're super stoked to make this happen, dude, I think I should go ahead and lay it out there about our history together a little bit. So back in the day, actually, Steel's mom married Jean, and my mom were sorority sisters at KKG. Not only sorority sisters, but my mom was a little sister to your mom. Your mom is my mom's big sister, so were even more connected. They got plans to hang out next weekend.

Steel Lafferty: Oh, really?

Colby Harris: Kind of funny. Yeah. So I've known of steel for a long time, and obviously it's been super sick for me to follow your journey and everything.

Steel Lafferty: I appreciate that!

Colby Harris: Go ahead and take us back to the game. I know you're Florida man, born and raised. Tell us about your upbringing there in Fort Lauderdale and everything from your upbringing.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, I don't know anything other than being a Florida man. I grew up here. My family's from here. Just like I think I'm third or fourth generation Florida, which is crazy. You don't hear that much, but, yeah. Grew up in Fort Lauderdale. Absolutely love it down there. That city is growing right now. It's wild, but, yeah, it's just an outdoor, good weather, always doing some activity area. And that's how my family was, and that's how I grew up. We didn't have cell phones, we didn't have iPads. We didn't have really much on TV either. So we were out in the streets playing either street hockey or football or soccer in the street. Right?

And then cars would come by, you'd pull the equipment aside and then come back out. That was our fun growing up. And all the way, even through high school basketball, everything. I don't think the iPhone came out until, like, when did I.

Colby Harris: Seven, maybe.

Steel Lafferty: Seven or eight?

 Colby Harris: Something like seven, eight.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah.

Colby Harris: I was, like, five years old.

Steel Lafferty: I was sophomore year of high school.

Colby Harris: Really?

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. So we didn't know that stuff. So we were just always just like, good old. Making our own fun. Right? Yeah, that's how it was.

Colby Harris: And I love that, too, because I was raised in highlands, North Carolina, from about four to ten years old, and I remember my brother Chase got the iPhone 4 something when it came out. But we had a GameCube back in, I feel like, because GameCube, right? Because I have older brothers. One of them chased me in 26. I feel super lucky. I grew up watching saved by the bell, and everybody hates Chris and these classic shows from late 90s, early 2000s that even people that are maybe a year, two years younger than me have no idea what I'm talking about. Right?

Steel Lafferty: Yeah.

Colby Harris: So classic shows, for sure. And tell me a little bit about sports. Like you said, you always were active. You just got here from a golf tournament today. I know you're an avid basketball player. What was it about sports that really just got you going?

Steel Lafferty: I don't know, man. I just want to be active. I just want to be doing something. If I go a day where I'm not wakeboard, I'm not golfing, I'm not playing a sport, I'll go a little crazy. I need to do something, and I don't love the gym as much, so I almost use my activity as how I want to work out. Right? But then I also, most of my gym work is recovery, just because with wakeboarding, they were so hard on the body, and it's just like, just pounding, pounding all over my joints. Everything just gets absolutely just destroyed in wakeboarding. 

So my recovery is the gym work where I'm doing all the stretching, the medicine ball work, all that kind of stuff. So the gym is not as fun for me of getting to pump weights and hitting personal best. I don't get to really use it as a sport like some people do. So I just try to fill it with pickleball. If I'm trying to get in shape, I'm playing a ton of pickleball every night, just running like crazy. I'm golfing every day, playing pickup basketball with my friends. Anything I can do to get my heart rate up, I'm doing it.

Colby Harris: Yeah. And that's even what I've tried to pivot to more this year is, like, I got real into lifting weights around 2020.

Steel Lafferty: Right.

Colby Harris: And it was really fun. It's really cool. I still enjoy it, but I love surfing way more, and it's hard to lift heavyweight and be a good know, like, oh, my gosh, I used to be way more flexible back in the day.

Steel Lafferty: It's crazy how that works.

Colby Harris: A couple years, you. So growing up in Fort Lauderdale, this is one thing I was wondering, driving down to do the show today, is you were in Fort Lauderdale. How did the wakeboarding start? And then how did it kind of progress, even though you were living in Fort Lauderdale?

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. So wakeboarding is not prominent in Fort Lauderdale. If you're not from, like, there's not lakes all over Florida. Like, Orlando, where I live now, there's lakes all over Orlando. A little north. There's a lot of lakes. But South Florida, you don't have a crazy amount of lakes. You have the canals. You have ski beaches and stuff like that. But we weren't in that scene much in Fort Lauderdale. But my parents had a lake house in Lake Placid, Florida, and we would go up there. 

Actually, when I was growing up, we didn't own a house. They bought a house years later. But, yeah, we would go and just have two weeks at a lake house during the summer. Those two weeks is, like, what we live for during the summer, and we just spend so much time on the water. And then one time, my dad brings a wakeboard home from, I think it was, like, sports authority. And it's an O'Brien wakeboard. It's 145, which is a massive wakeboard. Like, I ride a 139 right now. Right?

Colby Harris: Full grown.

Steel Lafferty: Full grown, yeah, full grown. But when I was nine, my dad had me on a 145. Just bought a board for the whole family, and I think the salesman might have sold my dad the board as, hey, this is the size for you, right? And then he just let the whole family use it. But, yeah, we learned wakeboarding when I was 9 years old, so that was 22 years ago, right? That was great. 2001, we learned it. Yeah. So my mom was the first one to figure out how to get up, and she wrote it sideways the whole time, like butter sliding.

Colby Harris: Oh, that's…..

Steel Lafferty: And just like, mom was like, this sucks.

Colby Harris: Lucky she didn't catch rail, bro. If she would have called her front rail.

Steel Lafferty: She's an athlete, too. So she figured it out, and I was just, like, riding sideways, and my dad was like, yeah, this is not fun. But then my dad found a DVD that came with the wakeboard. We threw it in there, and there was a bunch of pro riders on it, and we were like, whoa. They're writing it parallel, which makes way more sense, and they're doing all these flips and stuff. That's crazy. We didn't even think that was possible. 

So then I learned it with my brothers, and I don't really remember learning how to wakeboard. The big thing I remember was when I was ten years old, we're all trying to get good at wakeboarding, and there's some friends on the lake as well. And I don't know if they were competitive with it, but I was because I'm really competitive, and I just wanted to be really good at it and be at the top level with the people we were riding with. I didn't want to be way underneath anybody.

But then I blew out my eardrum when I was ten, my older brother accidentally kicked me underwater in a pool, and it popped my eardrum, and I had to get surgery because it was like. So I was out of the water for, like, a year, and all those people on the lake and my older brother got better than me at wakeboarding, and I hated that. And I wanted to train to get better than them. And I remember not wanting to ride with them until I knew I could clear the wake. And then I went out one time because I would, like, train with my dad. I'd be like, dad, let's go ride. 

Colby Harris: We're going to on the download.

Steel Lafferty: Let's go do it with anyone else until we get out there. And then I remember one day, I was like, all right, I'm ready. Let's go ride with the other kids. And we went out, and I was way better than them. I didn't know. I just pushed myself to this limit. I want to be better. And then I realized how much better I was than them. And then I was like that. It kind of clicked there where I was like, oh, I like this. This is fun. I enjoyed the process of getting to where that was, which was like, still super beginner level. I was ten or eleven and just clearing the wake and then started progressing from there. 

And one of the guys that was on the lake, western cotton, he actually went to Westminster, the school that I ended up going to for high school. He was a family friend and he was doing all these cool tricks on a wakeboard. And I looked up to him and he was like mentoring me a little bit and he's like, you should start competing. He taught me some flips. We went to a tournament here in Orlando called the Gravel tour, just like probably ten minutes down the road from where I live now and met, like a whole crew of people my age doing the same thing, having a blast. I end up winning the tournament and I was hooked from there. And my parents loved it, too, because they got to meet a bunch of families and they gained a ton of friends from it as well, of parents putting their kids through the same things that they were. Right? So it was really cool.

Colby Harris: Well, it's super fun, too, I think, when I first started surfing, same thing when it's like when you're enjoying it already, but then you see someone doing it at a higher level and you're like, that's got to be more fun than just clearing the wake, being able to do air reverse or like in wake boring 360. 

That's one thing I've always said about board sports is they're so progressive and people way underappreciate the long term time, effort, skill developed, you're at the top of your game. Right? I mean, 22 years, give or take, if whenever you quote unquote prime. Right? But same thing with surfing. I know dudes that surf for a decade and they never put the board in the air. And I know dudes that surf for two, three years and they're hitting error versus effortlessly.

Steel Lafferty: Right. It is wild.

Colby Harris: Talking about family, one thing I want to ask you about is, I know, too, your dad ran a company when you were growing up, and I'm very entrepreneurial. What was it like for you or what philosophies did they really push to you at a young age that you think made you who you are now?

Steel Lafferty: That's a good question. I think….. 

Colby Harris: We'll be getting deep today. There's a lot of philosophy, big life talk. You know?

Steel Lafferty: If you ain't talking about life, what you're talking about, right?

Colby Harris: Yeah, it's got to be big time.

Steel Lafferty: Yes. That's good. The deep questions are the right questions, man. They were the reason I am where I am today. If my dad and my mom didn't work towards giving us the best life they could provide. Wakeboarding takes some capital to get into. You need a boat. You need to travel. You need to go to a tournament. So they helped me get to that point, but they also made sure that I was putting in the work, because if I'm not putting in the work, then they're not going to support it. Right? They wanted to see that drive in me as well, but they never really were a strong, like, you have to be wake when you have to be doing this.

Colby Harris: Tiger parent.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, they were very like, okay, we're just noticing. Are you doing it or not? And then sometimes when I'm off, my dad's like, what are you doing? Do you not want to do it? Do you want to do it? And that's when I'd be like, oh, yeah, I'm kind of slacking a little bit, even at a young age of, like, 12, 13. Right? And him letting me know, like, hey, we're investing in you if you want to do this. And then at a certain age, if you want to do this, it's on you. Now they supported me all through high school to do it, and then when I went to college, they said, we'll pay for your rent, your gas, your food, and your school if you stay in school. In college. And my second year in college, I was making enough where I was like, and missing out on things, and I couldn't ride enough where I was like, you know what? It's not worth it for me to stay in school. I can easily support myself and more.

Colby Harris: I'm a drop out, too.

Steel Lafferty: Yes, I dropped out, and then it was all on me from there, right? And that's where they were good at. They're not going to just hand me everything and say, that's not how my dad or my mom was raised.

Colby Harris: You had to earn your keep.

Steel Lafferty: Earn it, earn it all. But luckily enough, I was in a situation where they were able to put me in a situation to succeed as well. Not everybody gets that.

Colby Harris: And that's one thing I always harp on. Like, in Jacksonville, there's a lot of big private schools and stuff, and I know plenty of people that no one's really hurting for money, right? But also with our camp, we run a sponsorship program so kids that can't afford camp can come to camp. 

So I see both sides, and I always say to kids, I'm like, the opportunity. You have to have parents that support you, not only emotionally, but when they can support you financially, it's literally the opportunity of a lifetime…..

Steel Lafferty: Oh, it's incredible! 

Colby Harris: To have that. And I love that philosophy, too, from your parents of having to earn it, because some people just get it and their days. Try this, try that. Try all this stuff. How much do you need? It's like, no, if you want it, you decide. Work on your keep. Right? And we're going to keep up with you throughout the process.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. They were like, that was all of us, right? Because I have two brothers. Whatever any of us wanted to do, they would gauge our interests in our determination, and they were really good at it. And they were like, if you really want to do it, we will support you through it to a point. You know what I mean?

Colby Harris: Yeah.

Steel Lafferty: And then you got to make sure you can make it on your own.

Colby Harris: And on that note of your brother. So I have two brothers, too. Where do you fall in the mix?

Steel Lafferty: Are you middle?

Colby Harris: Middle, yeah. I'm the youngest. Which is funny, because growing up, it took a lot of beatings, and it was funny. Everyone always send the family. They're like, you better hope Colby doesn't grow up to be the biggest. And sure enough, things worked out in my favor. But what about that competition aspect? I'm sure knowing how it goes, it didn't matter if it was Wi sports. Pickleball, wakeboarding. Everything's a competition. So I'm sure that sprouted that mamba mentality for you. But…

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. That came from my grandpa and my dad. And my grandpa was great at everything. I don't think he lost in anything to anyone ever.

Colby Harris: That strict winner. Strict winner.

Steel Lafferty: Pure thoroughbred winner. Right? Never lost. I mean, I hit a hole in one time, and I called him, and I was like, hey, I hit a hole in one. He's like, that's awesome. He goes, I have four. I'm like, cool.

Colby Harris: Wasn't a contest, grandfather.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, right. But at the same time, I love that story because it's like, I have that in me as well.

Colby Harris: That's who raised me. That's in my DNA to be that way.

Steel Lafferty: And my dad is very similar with competition. Like, anytime the whole family is together, somehow he's put a contest together for us. And my wife now is very the opposite of it, which I think balances me out. She's like, not like, I don't want to compete with you against anything. Yeah. I'm like, who can do the dishes faster? Start now. Go. I'm timing you right? And she's like, no, I'm having zero fun. And we'll go play pickleball with her. And she's like, she just wants to hit it. She wants to have fun. I'm like, okay, just to hit it back and forth. And she can tell, like, I'm getting antsy because I want to smash it, compete with, pick up the paint, help her get better so we can compete against other people. She's like, nah. 

So it's like, I think who I married was someone to balance me out perfectly. But my family is very competitive and in a loving way. But at the same time, I remember at the family, we'd have these egg Olympics, which is during Easter, my dad would put all these minute to win it games together. Right? And we'd have this whole thing. Maybe it's only in my mind, but it is so competitive. I'm not trying to lose. I'm doing everything I can to win it. And I'm, like, five time reigning champ right now. I'm not giving it up. 

Yeah, but I think being raised in a household like that, you either know that you're competitive or you don't. And then if you are, it just helps. You just continue to have that drive to want to win, and that's all I learned.

Colby Harris: Yeah, well, it's funny with me because we have a little sister who's got you. She's, like, three years younger than me. And what's funny about that is it's.

Steel Lafferty: Like, I thought you said you're your youngest.

Colby Harris: Youngest boy. Yeah, my bad. But with her, it's kind of like that x factor. Like you said, someone that's not into play and do whatever, but it gets way too intense, way fast.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, but intense is like, I thrive in intense. If it's not intense, if we're not betting, if something's not on the table, I'm checked out. I'm like, what are we doing? What are we doing? Yeah, you're just trying to put the ball in the hoop. Why?

Colby Harris: It's like golf.

Steel Lafferty: Where's the fun?

Colby Harris: Yeah, I can't play golf without a bet. Like, me and my roommate, we don't really put money down, but we do house chores. Like, no one wants to meal prep. No one wants to cook the beef or chicken. No one wants to do the dishes. And that's serious. When we meal prep, tons of food, we try to cook once a week. You spend an hour and a half in the kitchen. We do not want to do that. So our bets super serious always.

Steel Lafferty: Gotcha.

Colby Harris: All right, but let's. So let's, you know, you grew up, you get into wakeboarding, living in Fort Lauderdale, you naturally competitive in this environment, right? Where would you say this wakeboarding thing started to ramp up where you were really like, wait, I'm winning contest. I'm traveling for. We're investing in this. And it actually became possible where you realized I could be the best at this.

Steel Lafferty: It's a funny question, because. It's a good question. It's a funny answer because I never was like, I want to be professional, or I was never like, I want to be the best. It was, this is my path. That was it. I was almost like, a naive feeling of just, like, I have no other path. This is me. This is who I am, right? And I never had that, like, oh, I really want this. I just knew I'd do anything it took to get there. So it was never a want, it was just a win for me.

Colby Harris: Right. Just to be wakeboarding.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. At a young age, too, I was just, like, naively knew that I would do whatever I could to get there. I guess it was a mentality that I don't know how to explain where. It's just like, this is my path. I'll do anything it takes to get here. But I knew I'd get here type of thing. And I think that helps when you're a kid, too, seeing it and being like, okay, I'm going to do everything it takes to be that good done. That's it, right? That's how I looked at it.

And so I think when I was, like, 13 or 14, I dropped every other sport in high school and everything I was playing that I loved to play. I really love playing all sports, like I've told you, but I was like, this is my path. This is what I have to do. Cut. Now I'm way working. And from there, it really did turn into kind of a job, a job that I loved. I was getting paid at that point. I was sponsored by, like, I think….

Colby Harris: As a teenager?

Steel Lafferty: I was sponsored at 13.

Colby Harris: Really?

Steel Lafferty: By Nike, by Liquid Force, by Tommy's. I had, like, four sponsors. I was making decent, decent money for a 14 year old. Yeah, 13, 14 year old. I was crushing it.

Colby Harris: That's a different age, too. Before social media, those sponsorships and stuff, like, totally different ordeal than it is now. Anyone can go get a sponsorship with a following. Back then, it was truly like you were someone doing something in the sport.

Steel Lafferty: And they had to have eyes on the sport. All action sports is so different now because back in the day, all these companies want a piece of action sports, and the only way to get into it was to have someone get eyes in, figure out who is the guy, hire people in the sport sector of the business, has to be dedicated, right? And then grab people out of it or sponsor people. There was such a culture. It was so cool. And we've lost a little bit of that today because social media, but social media brings good things and it brings bad things. But what were we talking about?

Colby Harris: Sponsorships, dude. The fact that you were already so sponsored and that at that point, it did become a job. Like, you were representing other people. It was no longer like, I guess so say, I mean, you were doing something outside of like, oh, I just love this now. You represented company.

Steel Lafferty: Totally. And I still do to this day. Am like, you know how cool it is. It's amazing that I get to represent some of the coolest companies in the world and get paid to do it. It's the most rad thing ever. Obviously, I have put in the work to gain the credibility to get to where I am to do it, but at the same time, it's like, man, what an awesome, fun path. I'm so lucky.

Colby Harris: It's a special thing. I think, too, you took a big leap of faith with that also at that age, because that's really what I did, too, with surfing. And you catch. I don't know if this happened to you because I would assume you're probably very proficient in those other sports. Like, you were playing with teams, you had coaches, people that were like, Steel, you're getting ready for next year. I can't tell you how many times coaches and stuff called me out for giving up sports to know they're like, oh, Colby's a p****. Colby's this, Colby's that. I'll probably bleep that on the show. But all these things, you know, about I'm doing the wrong thing. And it didn't really wear on me, but it was just like, I got made fun of so much for picking up surfing compared to doing other sports.

Steel Lafferty: That's funny because I had the same thing, but I don't think I was made fun of. It was more like people understood my path, but I had coaches that I played one year of high school football in my sophomore or junior year because I was competing as an incredibly high level in wakeboarding. And I was like, I want to compete in football. I want to know what could have been type of thing, because I was fast. I ran a four three.

Colby Harris: Really? 

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Colby Harris: Wow, that is insane!

Steel Lafferty: Insane fast.

Colby Harris: The record's like four two now, which is NFL record.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. NFL record.

Colby Harris: Yeah.

Steel Lafferty: I was like, a four three eight. So, like, I was, like, really quick. I just wanted to know what I could do. And my high school coach, I played well. They started off good, and then a bunch of people got hurt in our high school football team. And I just remember my coach kind of being like, hey, what are you doing? Do you want to play? We could use your speed. And I was like, yeah, I want to play. And I told my parents, obviously, my parents are, like, not a good idea. If you get really hurt, your Wayfront career is over. But as a kid, I was just like, I want to play. I've never been able to play at a high level in any other team sport. So I told my coach, I'm in, and the first game, he made me play punt return, kick return, running back, safety, wide receiver. I was just, like, filling in spots.

Colby Harris: Yeah. Typical high school football. When you're a decent athlete, like, everything all across the board.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. And I ran a few punts back. I ran a few kickoff returns back. I had some decent runs.

Colby Harris: Dude, that's sick. I didn't know you played football, too. That was kind of out of left field right there. I heard you talking about other sports on some other shows, but it was like, I didn't know you actually gave the football thing a chance.

Steel Lafferty: I was good. My vision was pretty terrible because I wasn't used to it, but I could outrun anyone. I'd see someone on the corner, I could just run around them. And I had a really high standing leap, too. Forget the exact number, but I think my standing leap was, like, 36 inches.

Colby Harris: I was going to say anything. 30 plus is…. 

Steel Lafferty: 36.

Colby Harris:  Super solid. Can you touch rim?

Steel Lafferty: Yeah.

Colby Harris: Still. Wow. That's kind of….

Steel Lafferty: I'm not super tall.

Colby Harris: I barely get. And, I mean, I've probably got, like, four inches on you. I can barely touch it right now.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, I'm like, five seven. Good day. Five eight. But I've dunked a few times off rebounds, like when we're playing pickup.

Colby Harris: Little put back.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, just like a little put back. Right? I'm genetically gifted in that way. But I also think wakeboarding helped in that way, too, because it's such an explosive sport where you have to, like, everything is within a second of hitting that weight and getting kicked up. And I also was also really known for going really big on a wakeboard, too.

Colby Harris: I don't know.

Steel Lafferty: I had something in my legs. Still do.

Colby Harris: Got the bounce, right?

Steel Lafferty: Got the bounce. Yeah. So I did that, and my coach told me when I was like, hey, I'm not going to play anymore. He was like, if you decide to leave football, you make a mistake. I'm like, ah, and he's like, I could probably get you into a college if you decide to pursue this in your senior year. He goes, I'll get you a full ride somewhere. And I think he just knew that because of my speed, too. But I was like, no, I know my path.

Colby Harris: Was that midseason, too, like?

Steel Lafferty: No, it was at the end of season, and our team was terrible. I had to play four or five positions, and I've never played football competitively and a team ever, and they made me play five positions. So we weren't a great team, but our starting running back went down, our starting QB went down. So it was at the end of the season, I just like, hey, I'm out. And I just told my coach, this ain't my path. My path is, I know it, which way I'm going.

Colby Harris: You had mentioned worrying about getting injured, and that's kind of, like, what I wanted to allude to. And while the camera was off, we kind of talked a little bit about it. But you had a very serious injury at about 15 with your back. And I'll let you tell a story real briefly. You've told it a few times, so I don't want to get super deep into it. 

My bigger question is going through that process at that age of, like, you love sports, you love moving, you love doing these things, and it was pretty much all taken away from you at that time. So mentally overcoming that and going through that, how did you navigate it, and really, how did you end up coming back? Stronger, obviously, for the sport.

Steel Lafferty: So when I was 14, I was filming this show called. What was it called?

Colby Harris: Fuel TV.

Steel Lafferty: No. Yeah, Fuel TV, but New Pollution. Called New Pollution. And what basically it is, is each episode has three kids that are coming up in their sport, and I think my three kids were me and mine. And you do not hang out with other kids. They just go film them, and you get, like, splice at the… 

Colby Harris: 15 minutes.

Steel Lafferty: 15 minutes, 15 minutes, 45 minutes show or whatever. And I was wakeboarding, coco ho was like, surfing, and Sage Coxenberg was snowboarding. And now I know all of them just through the industries, which actually kind of turned out pretty cool. But, yeah, so, New Pollution. I was filming, and I was riding really good. I was kind of feeling the best I've ever felt on a wakeboard…. 

Colby Harris: Flow state. 

Steel Lafferty: Anything I tried. I was landing it. I was like, I'm going to be the best in no time. And then I learned this whirly five, which was a big trick for a 14 year old, especially back then. And I was like, I'm definitely getting this on film for Fuel TV now. I'm going to make it right here. I landed one or two, but then we came up here to Orlando, went to my coaches, and I did a whirly five landed. It's a trick where you have to land with the handle behind your back. 

So you come up, you basically throw the rope over your head, and you're, like, sideways to the boat, do a 360, and then you add a 180, and you land rope behind your back, cutting out on your toes and left foot forward instead of right foot forward, because normally I ride right foot forward, but you land this trick. Left foot trip. 

Yeah. So I'm riding like this, and I'm trying to make it look cool for the cameras and not pass the handle really quick. So I'm like, here riding, feeling I'm looking cool. But we're at the end of the lake, and the boat has to start turning. So the boat starts having to turn left, and it cuts me out on this edge, right? And I'm like, on this edge, I'm like, oh, and if I go here to grab the handle, it opens my chest up a little bit because I'm kind of cutting out with the bug. It's like the rope works like a pendulum, right? And it's like swinging me out, and I'm on an edge, and the fins on the board are, like, tracking, and I'm, like, stuck here, and I know I'm in trouble. 

So if I go left to open up, I take an edge like this. If I try to TikTok out of it and not TikTok, the social media app TikTok, wake this with your body and your board, I could get out of it. So I tried TikTok out of it, but my fins catch, and I just backed just completely blackout. I got knocked out. Fully knocked out. But it was like a quick knockout. It was like, out for 5 seconds. Come to and just get to the surface, and I can barely move. I'm like, every muscle in my body is so tight that I thought I'd paralyze myself. It was crazy. I could move right after the trick pretty much. But then I get to the doc, and everything locks up like crazy. I'm laying on the doc. 

Every muscle is so tight, it's like I could barely breathe. And what I realized then is I had a traumatic injury. My L5, I fractured. And when that happens, when you have such a big crash like that, your body just kind of, like, cramps up and seizes to protect that area. So I went to a doctor here and, like, an ER, and he was like, you're 14. You didn't get hurt. It's water. You're fine. Okay, but I'm in a lot of pain. And he's like, don't worry about it. He's kind of, like, rude.

Colby Harris: Sure about that, doc? Are you sure?

Steel Lafferty: I'm like, I'm in a lot of pain. I can't even stand up. Anyways, the doc says that, so everyone believes it. And now I'm not able to even bend over correctly without being in the crazy amount of pain. But I have to push through this because the doctor said I'm fine. So I went out and rode with a professional wakeboarder the next day, Rusty Malinoski. We were filming, and I'm like, I got to ride with Rusty. I looked up to these guys, so I went out, and I couldn't land anything because I was in the most insane pain ever. I'm riding with a fractured back and trying to push through it, but just like, dude, I couldn't do anything. It was insane. 

So then I try to ride through this for months, and I'm like, in class in high school, if I bend over to grab something out of my bag wrong, I'm like, I can't breathe in tears like crazy. And then if I sneeze or cough or whatever, I'm just, like, in the most insane pain, like, someone's stabbing you in the lower back. 

But the one doctor said I was good, so everyone thinks I'm good, and I think I should be good, but I can't do it. And then I don't really want to wait for it anymore, and I'm not pushing it. And my parents are like, what we talked about earlier, like, hey, are you still into this? Are you dedicated? Like, what's going on? Do you not want to ride? I'm like, I don't want to tell them I'm injured. I'm really hurting because it's not cool when you're a kid. You want to be not hurt. And then finally I'm like, I'm really hurt. I sneezing, and I'll start crying. It's that bad? I'm 14. 

So finally I tell them, and they're like, okay, let's go get you an MRI. Let's go to the doctor here. So he went to the doctor in Fort Lauderdale, who was the doctor for the dolphins at the time, Dr. Caldwell. And he takes an MRI, and he was like, yeah, your L5 is super fractured. Like, it's shaped like a wing nut and the right wing, he's, like, very close to being cracked off. And I think what he told me, if I'm recollecting this correctly, is he's like, I would have gave you two more weeks. 

If you take a really bad back edge again like that with this injury, and you crack that and damage the spinal cord, he goes, you're paralyzed from the waist down. They threw me in a back brace real quick. Took me, I think it was seven to eight months in a back brace, and then four or five months physical therapy until I could ride again. It was almost a year off the water. 

I think my mental more was not like, oh, when am I going to get back on a wakeboard? How am I getting back on a wakeboard? It's relief. Just not having to wakeboard in the pain, because I hated it. I was just trying to push through. So I was like, thank God. But then as a kid and as a competitor, you get antsy, and then at a time, you can't wait to get back on your board. But then when I got back on my board, I had hip issues because I was in a back brace for so long that my hips got weak. So then I just dealt with injuries for kind of the rest of my career and trying to open up my hips and work through it. My lower back actually was really strong because the calcium, what they say with bones, if you heal it really well, the calcium will almost cover it extra, right?

So my L5 was really strong, and I think it still is really strong because the calcium on the bones covered it even more than normal. But all the muscles, all the tendons, all the ligaments in my hips, in my lower back, my sciatic and my psoas muscle were just, like, insane. So I've dealt with that my whole career. I still deal with it, but, yeah, I think the mentality more is, like, can't wait to get back on my board. But I get back on my board, and it's still kind of a mess with my hips and just had to battle through it.

Colby Harris: Well, I didn't know you actually rode on it for a while. I thought that you just kind of went through that, and it was like a quick thing. Like, you shattered your back. You were knocked out. That's kind of like a given of, oh, I think something's wrong. I feel paralyzed in the moment because it's just insane that the first doctor dude that passes my mind all the time about, like, it's crazy how you could go to one doctor who's taken the same test, the same exams, had the same conversations, and…

Steel Lafferty: No MRI, no x-ray, nothing. He just kind of. He was the worst. I don't remember his name, but it was full malpractice.

Colby Harris: He's lucky you don't remember his name.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, I would make sure, he -- whatever. But he basically just pushes out the door, bro. It's like, get a second opinion. If you're going to learn anything on this podcast, no matter what it is, get a second opinion. Otherwise you'll be paralyzed.

Colby Harris: Well, when you come back, I guess at that point, you had so much momentum. I'm sure the injury was kind of like, within the industry. Everyone was just like, oh, we're wishing the best for steel. Nothing was pressing about. Maybe there were some questions about where your career would go, but I'm sure everyone was more just like, all right, we can't wait to see steel back in the water.

Steel Lafferty: I also was very young. I don't even remember. I wouldn't even think people would be thinking anything other than, oh, one of the guys got hurt. I don't know, but that's interesting. I never thought about it that way.

Colby Harris: Well, just thinking out loud, because that's even, like, with college athletes these days. If you're a top ten draft pick and then you get a torn ACL, it's like, market value. It's a business.

Steel Lafferty: How bad do you feel for those people, though, when you see a college guy go down, you're just like, especially before NIL. Before NIL, I would want to puke for that person. I would get sick to my stomach seeing a top 50 person go down with an ACL or something. I'm just like, bro,.

Colby Harris: Yeah, there's so much good talent, and it gets lost in the mix through all sports, like, in that aspect.

Steel Lafferty: So sad. Injuries are the worst.

Colby Harris: Well, I know you said you kind of had some other injuries, and I'm sure we might come up later on, but you come back and I'm sure you're fired up. I'm sure it was a kind of slow burn to get back into things. You had these hip prompts and stuff. But arguably, you were claiming your spot in the industry at that time. You were starting to take over, and I think I had heard you signed your first boat deal around like 16 with Mastercraft.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, still with them.

Colby Harris: Nice.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, strong, baby. 15 years.

Colby Harris: We talked a little bit about the brand deals and things like that, but talk about that point in your career. So you've signed the boat deal, I'm assuming. Are you kind of like on the pro tour at this point?

Steel Lafferty: So 14 to 18 is where you're supposed to compete in junior pro men and you're on tour still with the pros and with the women. So like the pro women, pro men and junior pro men. That's the tour. Right? And the junior pro men was basically doing the same exact tricks as the pro men. You're just almost gaining your credibility at that time back in the day. And the goal was to win junior pro men before you go pro. 

And I actually never won junior pro men. I think I got second one year, third one year. I don't know what happened, but yeah, never won junior Promenad, but that's how you would do it. So I went pro when I was 17 and when I was 14, I was competing in junior promen. And when you're like the big sponsors don't really start paying you crazy money until you go pro. But back in junior promen, they started seeing how good we were and they started really going after the junior Promenad.

Colby Harris: Want to get in early?

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. So I was in a really good spot back in the day. You would never get that nowadays. It's crazy. Even some of these pro guys that are incredible aren't getting the deals that they deserve. It's just a different space back then. But yeah, I 14 get back on my board when I'm 15 and 16, I land the first ever wake twig 1080 before I'm pro. And this is a trick that everyone's been thinking, is it possible to go wake wake 1080? Is it not possible? It could definitely be done. Who's going to do it first? And they have their bets on Danny Harf. They have their bets on Aaron Rathi. All these already pro guys. And I decided I'm going to be the first to do this.

Colby Harris: 16 year old steel coming through.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. And I was really bad at landing blind, like toe side blind where you land left hand behind your back, right foot forward, like my normal foot riding towards the boat. And I don't know why I wasn't great at that. I just never really worked on it much. But that's how you have to land at 1080. But I was like, I can spin the quickest nine, Tosai 900 nine. I have the right, axis. Like, I go off this little bit of axis where you're not really off axis, but I'm like, just barely off axis. So I spin faster and it's way more control. So I know that I have the Tosai 900 to do a 1080. I just got to get lucky one time and land it. 1080 wise, I can get around every time. So for about a couple of days, I start trying this 10:00 a.m., so close. And back then, the wakes weren't insanely big.

Colby Harris: Not same.

Steel Lafferty: This is 2008, I think. 2008. I'm in high school still. I'm a sophomore or a junior or something, and I piled all my friends from high school into the boat to get the wake big. Took like 45 seconds to get on plane because we didn't have the crazy engines back then. The wakes just weren't that big back then compared to now. Now the wakes are almost three times the size. So back then we were like, I don't know, could you do a 1080 off this wake? Who knows? 

And, yeah, I made sure that I made it happen, and I landed it. And right then everything changed my mind. Landing that trick was the most awe moment I've ever had in my life of, like, I just did something no one else in the world has ever done. That's a crazy feeling. There's 9 billion people in this world, and I'm the only person that was able to hit awake, spin a 1080 with a handle and a wakeboard, and come down and land on the side and ride away from it. It was, like, hard to cross in my mind, but it was like this awe inspiring moment. All my friends jumping out of the boat. The boat driver that was driving the boat jumped out of the boat, right? 

It was just insane. One of the passengers in the boat had to go take the wheel. It was like one of those just incredible moments. And that changed my path in wakeboarding to go from I want to be the best wakeboarder in the world to I want to do what has never been done.

Colby Harris: Innovate.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, I want to innovate, dude. So that pushed me hard because that feeling of, I've won contests before, and it was like, this is great. That feeling was never be able to explain it completely to anybody unless you've done it. So then I went that path, and then I think I've done six tricks that I've never been done before. Wakewick 1080, toe side backs on 900. So I won trick of the year with toe side backs on 900 and then I won trick of the year with double mute mob or double indy tangent blind. I don't know which one they gave it to me for, but I did both of them in the same year, but they just gave it to me. I think it was the double mute mode. 

Then I was first one to do a backside 1080. And the first one to do this is a weird one, but I still count it as the first to ever do it is a double half cab roll, mute roll off the double up, but way into the flats because I don't think anyone. No one's ever done that since because it's a psycho trick. You got to cut in hard, switch into a double up, which is sending you 20ft up, and just huck a double flip into the flats. It's a scary trick. I don't know how many I named, but that six or something. 

And those moments are the moments I'll never forget. Winning a contest. I've forgotten a lot of those moments. But landing a trick that's never been done before, the grit that it took. The grit that it took to get there, right, that is what drove me in my career, is like, man, the determination to land a trick that no one's ever done. Stamp my name in waypoint in history forever. That's what I want and that's what pushed me. 

Colby Harris: Yeah. What's so cool about that, too? You're talking about that now is when I was just at that event last week, the running man. They had a guy there. He's the best ultramarathon runner in the world. He ran 450 miles this week.

Steel Lafferty: 450 miles in a week?

Colby Harris: In less than a week. In like four days. I think it was 108 hours. So he was the best runner in the whole world. And the guy on stage was introducing him. He was talking about. He's like, I don't think you guys realize to be in the presence of someone that's either done something for the first time in the world or is the best in the world. It's like the best in the world. That is so crazy to think about. Or like, first trick in the world. We had that world champion Powerbar on the show and he said the same thing. He's like, it's just that high for hours and days and such a big moment to lead that out. 

But I do want to bring it back, too, to that. So you did that trick. That was 16 the first time you did a 1080? Yeah. First trick in the world. So clearly. Right? It's funny because normally this is where it would be like, all right, things are getting exciting. Like, steel is taken off. You're taking over, right? The whole wakeboring space. It's about time for you to go pro. You go pro at 17 college, you mentioned you went to college for a little bit. I'm just interested real quick. I know you ended up leaving, but why did you go in the first place? What do you think drew you into going to school? And did you go, like, UCF, or where were you at when you went to school?

Steel Lafferty: I got into UCF, but I ended up going to Valencia College, which is the sister. Like, it was a community college when I went the second year, it was a state college that got the promotion or whatever. I don't know. But when I went and I talked to UCF, I was like, hey, my schedule's crazy. Like, I'm going to miss classes. I have a career. And they weren't very willing to work with me. I think now they would be, because they see how the world's changed. But back then, it wasn't really wakeboarder.

Colby Harris: Who is this guy? One special treatment.

Steel Lafferty: And then I talked to Valencia, and they were way more open to the fact because the classes were smaller, and I was able to talk to my professors and say, hey, it was like a high school. It was like going back to high school, where there's 30 kids in a room, and I'm able to talk to my professor and say, hey, I'm not able to come to class. For the next week, I'll be in Thailand competing for the world championships or whatever it is. That's awesome. Let us know how it is, and we'll make it up when you get home. 

So that's where I went to Valencia, and I did two years. The first year I went to school, I went to class, and it just took up so much time, and I wasn't being able to ride. I was missing some events, some photo shoots, and I just wasn't able to give everything into wakeporting. The second year, I was doing it because my parents were still providing for me, and I didn't want to disappoint the family, and I don't think they were disappointed anyway of me not going to school. I think it was instilled in them and in everyone at that time that if you don't go to college, what are you doing? 

And I made a huge decision to not go to college at that time because that's unheard of at that moment of, like, someone's dropping out of college, and they're going to do a sport, all right, good luck type of thing. And my parents had trust in me. I told my parents that, like, okay, it's on you now. Every expense, anything you do, it's on you, right? I still have my dad's Goldmegger express, and I'd charge it every once in a while for some gas when I was just like, I don't want to pay for it.

Colby Harris: He'll never notice.

Steel Lafferty: You know what's crazy, though, is he never would charge me that month, but at the end of the year, he'd be like, hey, you owe me, like, $11,000. And I'd just write him a check and be like, here you go. I definitely spent it. You know what I mean?

Colby Harris: Yeah. That's funny.

Steel Lafferty: He got his money back. He wasn't on it every month, but at the end of the year, he'd be like, that was on Steele's card. You're writing me a check? He would come back around.

Colby Harris: When they get those tabs in the mail every month. He was just stockpiling them all the time, highlighting his deal credit card, right?

Steel Lafferty: Totally. Totally. And I knew I probably thought I was getting away with it, and then at the end of the year, make me write him a check. But I was never arguing him because I was like, I spent it, and I'll pay you. I was being like, whatever. But anyways, I dropped out of college, and I provided for myself, paid for myself, everything. Travel. Luckily, at the time, I had sponsors paying for all my travel. I was with Red Bull at the time, and Red Bull paid for any travel I did anywhere. 

All the hotels, all the planes, anything I want to do. They paid for all travel, which is crazy. This is like 16,000 to 20,000 a year. And at that time, that's a crazy amount of money in 2012, right? That's a wild amount of money to be traveling with. And they paid for everything. So that was awesome. I got to do a lot of cool events and projects with Red Bull. They were great to meet.

Colby Harris: That was, like their creative heyday, too. I love Red Bull, don't get me wrong, but they were such a sick company in that era.

Steel Lafferty: And I still think they are. I really do. I think they are maybe, like 10% less cool because I'm not on the brand anymore.

Colby Harris: Yeah, they lost some value right there. Face value.

Steel Lafferty: No, but they were great, man. Every sponsor that I've been with has been able to, like, that's my college, is the travel I got to do around the world. I got to learn the world, right? I got to learn contracts. I got to learn business through all the deals that I was doing. And luckily, my dad is a businessman, my grandpa is a businessman. They instilled that in their generation of kids. And my dad is still in me, and he taught me how to do all my own deals. So I've never really had a full agent.

Colby Harris: I was going to ask you about that.

Steel Lafferty: Or anything because my dad taught me all of that.

Colby Harris: You didn't need one.

Steel Lafferty: And I learned that relationships are way more valuable than having an agent to find you anything. I think agents are incredibly valuable, and I would still sign with an agent if they wanted to bring something crazy to the table or whatever it is. But I think it was more about me enjoying it. I enjoyed the business side of it, of gaining a relationship with a sponsor, having a bond with a sponsor, rather than just having a business deal with a sponsor and growing a relationship. 

And I think it gains you trust. It gains you. I think they are willing to pay you more because they trust you more to do stuff for them. So there's so much to gain on top of that, rather than having someone that's speaking on your behalf where they don't feel like, hey, where's this connection? If times get tough…

Colby Harris: Straight the source.

Steel Lafferty: If times get tough in the industry, right? It's easier to cut someone with an agent than cut someone that you have a relationship with. So there's a lot of that. But I'm not trying to get into agents. I love agents. I have a lot of agent friends that I really love, and they do insane work that I'm not able to do for myself, for their partners, for their athletes, and whoever they're endorsing at the time, I think they crush it. 

But, yeah, I just thought that was my college was. I learned the world through traveling it and doing sponsorship deals and being able to work with some of the most incredible companies in the world. Like, I got to work with Red Bull for nine years. I got to work with Nike for nine years. I got to work with small companies for a long time to see how they were building. Right? I got to get all this insight and knowledge to learn, man. And it was so cool. And then they're sending me contracts, and my dad's making me read all of them. He's like, read them or pay a lawyer to read them. If you have the money to pay a lawyer and then still read them, you know what I mean? He's, like, making me make sure that all the deals make sense, right? 

And I thought that was really cool because that made me very savvy in this world and understanding where my value is and how to create more value and how to hold a relationship with a business partner where someone's paying me. But we also are friends and have a relationship. How to manage that college. I think high school definitely doesn't teach you any of that. I don't know about college because I didn't do the full curriculum or the full thing about it teaching you that. But, man, like, money was on the line. Things were on the line, you know – [Crosstalk] -- I'm not even thinking about my wakeboarding tricks at the time. I'm just thinking about, like, what's a good business deal? Yeah, right? Well, it's cool.

Colby Harris: Even when I decided to drop out, I didn't even make it that far. I only did one semester. So it's funny, even my girlfriend's like, Colby, you're not even a dropout. Like, don't call yourself a dropout. You didn't go long enough. 

Steel Lafferty: Oh, you didn't do college? I mean one semester.

Colby Harris: One semester.

Steel Lafferty: You're a dropout. 

Colby Harris: Thank you. That's what I say.

Steel Lafferty: I appreciate dropouts!

Colby Harris: They want to say, you can't call yourself dropout. Like, but that's got to be your chapter in the book.

Steel Lafferty: You're a dropout for sure.

Colby Harris: Well, I tell everyone for me.

Steel Lafferty: What else would you be? If you don't go to college, where do you.

Colby Harris: You never went to college, I guess.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, I guess you didn't drop out, but you're just.

Colby Harris: No, I take drop out. I take drop out. Dude, that was long enough. I paid for the classes. I went to college, right? Yeah. I was in geology, and I'll never forget, just, like, having meetings and podcasts and trying to push the envelope in the business and being like, the f*** do I need to know about rocks for for the rest of my life? I don't need to know about rocks for anything. So I was fed up. I dropped out. But one thing that you really kind of brought up right there talking about. Okay, so not only are you wakeboarding.

Steel Lafferty: Wait, I want to talk about college for a second, because I don't want to discourage people from going to college.

Colby Harris: Let's hear it.

Steel Lafferty: Because I do believe in college. I think that some people have a path that doesn't need college, and they are able to do it without college. I think some people have a path that college is what creates their path for them. And I think college is a great thing. My little brother went to college and crushed it, and now, he has an incredible job, went that route, but he would never have got that route without college, right? 

So I'm not saying don't go to college. Drop outing, drop outing, that's a verb. Now, drop outing is the best thing to do, but I'm just saying, for some people, college isn't the way, and it might put you in debt. And if you're able to create a path outside of that, do it and make your money. But if you feel like you need that extra four years or you want to be a doctor or whatever it is, dude, college is amazing for that.

Colby Harris: Right. It's the same thing I've always talked about when I'm speaking at schools is it's right for some people, 100%. It's great. And even if you don't know what you want to do, I say this all the time. Again, if you're in a situation where your parents, they might want you to go to college, you don't know if you want to go, but you don't know what else you would do. Go to college.

Steel Lafferty: Go to college.

Colby Harris: Take the time to learn to adult and live on your own while in that environment where there's a bunch of other kids that are just kind of going through that same process, although they're living on their own, it's new steps. Everyone's just kind of vibing. It's very low pressure. I feel like. I think when people talk about college and high pressure, high stakes of college, I'm like, for some degrees, don't get me wrong, extremely challenging. But for some, it's like, dude, you're in college right now. Go to class, learn, study, pass test, you're going to get by. Right?

Steel Lafferty: But college tests and college pressure is real. And same with high school. Some of the most pressure I've ever felt in my life is studying for a test. I'm just like, this is terrible because it's almost like one of those things where it's like, I hate everything I'm doing right now, but if I don't do like, it's like I'm going to get shunned.

Colby Harris: Yeah, terrible. I think it's tough for me because I was never a huge school guy, right? I've told people before. I've known people are like, well, my mom is always like, what are you doing? Whatever. My mom would be like, Colby, did you do your homework?

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, I didn't do my homework.

Colby Harris: She wouldn't want to check it or, you know, I just think that for my sister, even who's about to graduate high school next year, so she'll graduate 2024. She's kind of figuring out, and I'm like, look, just know that by going to college, essentially, you're in this incubator for a bit of time, especially if you live on campus. I don't know if that's what your situation was at the time, just all the travel and whatnot.

Steel Lafferty: But I lived at a professional McBurg's house. We were living the dream.

Colby Harris: But it's a good chance to slowly move into your next chapter, especially when you don't really know what you want to do. I just don't think that unless you're prepared to go balls to the wall and take on that extra stress and diligence, then just take the time to go to college. If I could go back and do anything a little bit different, I wish I would have had just a little bit more patience in the process of coming out of high school and being like, okay, I'm going to learn right now. I'm going to enjoy it and just kind of go through the process. 

And I think college is the best place to do that. You don't get that same experience just being at home or kind of going through that. So right there, you said it. You are living the dream. All right? So you're managing deals, you're at college, you're living at this pro wake borders house, being in the surfing industry, surfing background. The philosophy is shred hard, party harder, right? And you're a young guy. I don't know, at that time, you might have been 20, 21 at most. You're traveling alone early on all these things. You really just have kind of life in the palm of your hand. Tell me about navigating that while also running your business as Steele Lafferty.

Steel Lafferty: It was hand in hand. I was just learning the world, wakeboarding at a top level, learning how to party with all my friends and just being self-sufficient, man, you're either going to not make it because you want to party too much, or you're going to be able to handle it, or you're going to be able to party as much as you want and handle it. And those are the unicorns, man. You see some people just absolutely get after it, and the next day you're just like, how are you not dead, right? 

So, I mean, you got to just understand who you are and how to do it and how to get through it. Man, luckily, I was raised in a family that taught me my morals, taught me where I stand, and I kind of found myself before, but I wanted to learn the world and figure it out. Yeah, man, I did my fair share of partying, figuring out, hey, you can go to this level, but it's going to hurt you in this level. So I had a very, very good balance of how to stay very top level at my sport and also have fun.

Colby Harris: So we're going to kind of move things along here. I mean, we could do this all night. We're eventually probably going to have to squeeze in, like, a part two at some point, so I want to fast forward right now. You've been on the scene for years. We'll move up to, let's call it kind of like, maybe even just the last, like, five years, and in social media takes over the game, and I think that's maybe where we should start. Clearly, we talked a lot about your wakeboard accomplishments. Aria, I know you won a national title. Is there a higher rank than national title in the wakeboard?

Steel Lafferty: World champ. I never world champ. You remember when I was really competitive, want to win everything? And then I went the whole landing new tricks route, and so I pushed competition hard, but it was never my goal was to win everything. It was more so what could I do that has never been done before? I was definitely a competitive wakeboarder, but I never won a world championship. I won a tour. I won the X Games throwdown with Mashcraft. That's where I did, like, two tricks that had never been done before in a contest. I didn't win a crazy amount of things. It was more so of what I was able to do on a wakeboard, and that's where I thrived.

Colby Harris: Well, just like you mean, it's stamping your name in the history books for you when you do it. That mean it's like Julius Irving with the sky, right? You know what mean? Like a trademark. They're like, I don't even know if that guy won a championship.

Steel Lafferty: I think, who cares?

Colby Harris: But doesn't matter, right? That's not what you think of. But when we're moving through this now, you've seen so many different scenes, right? Coming on the scene at 10, 13 years old, growing through sport boat sponsors by 16, living the good life, going to college, winning these events. And this is probably just how it went for another six, seven years, up until you're continuing through your career, even pushing 30. Tell me more about really when you started to progress in social media. I feel like it was kind of, correct me if I'm wrong, but kind of around COVID, maybe when everyone was kind of at home. I feel like that's when I saw some of your most viral stuff come out. 

So tell us a little bit more about your journey in social media and really how that's kind of helped you leverage within what you do now in the wakeboard space, but also really just what's done for your brand and your opportunities outside of wakeboarding and in it.

Steel Lafferty: So social media, I was professional in a sport before social media, and I got to see that life, which is amazing. There is so much more culture in action sports before social media because you had to be there to be there, you know what I mean? Now you can be there on your phone, sitting here on a couch. So there's that. Like, I don't know. I love social media, and I hate social media because it did kill a lot of culture in a lot of industries because you don't have to be there anymore. You don't have to be the, I don't know. It's a touchy subject for me because I'm really good at social media and I know how to create incredible fun content to share with a ton of people where they don't have to come out because they're not able to be there or they can't get there or fly there or whatever. They can watch it on their phone and feel like they're there. 

So there is that side of it, too, that I love. So in 2017, 2018, I started seeing this like, it wasn't a decline in wakeboarding competitions, but it was just kind of stagnant. And I was like, I've won a lot of things I wanted to win, done a lot of tricks I wanted to do what's next? Because I didn't see the sport ripping up. Like, I saw a lot of sports doing…. 

Colby Harris: Pickleball. 

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, like, pickleball. Being business minded in that, I kind of just saw a different path. And I said, I'm going to push social media really hard because there's data, there's analytics. You can sell that back to the people that are sponsoring you. Just be like, hey, on my page alone, getting you 50 million views on your product, there's value there, right? So I pushed social hard, and at the time, a lot of the other athletes, not like my friends or some of the OGs that were good, but just like, other people in the industry that didn't understand what I was doing and made fun of it or not, like, made fun of it, but was just like, I don't know if it was like, a bitter or just like, what is he doing? Or so stupid, or whatever it is. 

There was definitely a little bit of that for like a year or two, and then they saw it and they were like, oh, catch up, you know what I mean? And now everyone's on social media pushing content, pushing analytics and data, and creating a vibe on content. So I decided that I wanted to create a page where people would watch what I do and want to wakeboard. So it wasn't really about me being like, oh, I want to just make more money. It was more where I just see an opportunity to get more people into the sport.

Colby Harris: Bring attention to it.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah. And if I can get a million people to see a video of me doing something fun behind the boat, how good would that be for the sport? You know what I mean? I thought that was cool. So I started doing that and it just started building and building and building and building.

Colby Harris: I mean, I would say it's fair to probably estimate that you've probably gotten, if you consider how many times your things are reposted. I would go as far as, like, you've probably gotten a billion views.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, for sure. I think I saw something online that was like around 3 billion views, really, of content that I've created.

Colby Harris: That's insane. Yeah.

Steel Lafferty: Which is wild to think of because when you say that number, I think like, Mr. Beast or whatever, they have 20 some billion views or whatever it is on content, and their stuff is viewed insane amounts of times. I got to relock it up, but I was talking to this marketing manager guy and he was doing all the research, and he's like, yeah, your content is 3 billion views of all the content you've produced that has been repurposed and reshared and whatever, which is wild.

Colby Harris: On that note, are you completely self-operated on the social media side of things? Have you ever sat down with someone to be like, hey, man, I want to take my content game up a notch? What would fully self-operate, really?

Steel Lafferty: I've talked to some people and been like, hey, how do I grow here? Why is this stagnant or whatever? And they've helped me break through the algorithm, whatever. And be like, oh, you need to post more reels or you need to do this or you need to do that. You know what I mean? And they've helped me there, but I am the one responding to every DM, responding to every comment, posting everything, coming up with every creative idea. I'm curating that on my own and making sure it gets out there. 

Yeah, it's a lot of work, and I post it. Imagine your work being put on blast. Every time you finish an email or finish whatever it is, it gets posted to everyone that follows you, and then they get to critique it or whatever it is, or they get to see it, or they're always trying so hard. There's a lot of that. You got to find that line.

Colby Harris: I mean, I thought it was cool because I don't get crazy reposts and stuff. So I've counted up before, and I was stoked to see. I think I've gotten about two and a half million views now between the grit stuff and my personal stuff. But I'll never forget the first time I made a couple of TikToks. One of them did decent, maybe like 10, 15k. And there were a bunch of people in the comments just, like, making fun of me. 

And I remember being in the car with my brother, and I was like, dude, yeah. I was like, they're just making fun of me. And he was like, well, is it bothering? I'm like, they're pumping the algorithm. Like, I couldn't care less what they comment. And he was like, dude, honestly, I'm just glad you feel that way, because this is when most people would be like, all right, I'm not doing this social media thing, right? 

And I would imagine, too, you're at a way broader scale. It could definitely be hard sometimes. But whenever I get something negative like that, sure, I know that it's kind of like doing me well, but at the same time, it's like, they don't understand. Most people don't. When you're putting yourself out there like that.

Steel Lafferty: It's not the one off comment that I get frustrated with. If someone, just some random person, has said something, it doesn't even faze me. I'm just like, okay, you don't get it. Don't know you. We'll never meet you. Doesn't matter. Thanks for pumping the algorithm. But it's when it's like, someone that you know or someone that's in the industry or someone that's like, whatever. That's constantly giving you shit, and you're just like, what? I don't even know you that well. 

Why are you coming at me like this type of thing? You don't get it. Or they think they have a say in something. That's when you get frustrated. And that's when I get frustrated. But really, the people that really matter in the sport all are super supportive of what I do, so that's all that matters. It's just like some people that are bitter and that's okay.

Colby Harris: One of the best quotes I saw not too long ago said, if you have a problem with me, call me. If you don't have my number, you don't know me well enough to have a problem.

Steel Lafferty: Right.

Colby Harris: That was just stuck, especially at a younger age. And you're older now, but I'm sure you remember. It's definitely hard when you're coming up to just opinions of others. And it's very different now on social media and stuff.

Steel Lafferty: Everyone has an opinion now.

Colby Harris: Yeah, I think it's even worse. It's great for everyone to have an opinion, but not everyone needs to think their opinion matters that much. It's like, do we don't need to all get into this?

Steel Lafferty: Well, they have an opinion on you of what they see in the surface level.

Colby Harris: Right.

Steel Lafferty: And then they might have got ticked off in a way where you didn't even mean it one way, but they just saw it some way different. Yeah. Social media surface and you can get a little deeper if you really, truly are a fan of someone or appreciate someone's work. Totally. But if you're a hater on someone, I think it takes so much more effort to hate someone than to like someone. It's like, what are you doing?

Colby Harris: No, I totally agree. And I've just got two more questions for you. And then we're going to wrap things up and we're going to have to make another one of these happen to you. Like, I could go full Joe Rogan right now for 3 hours.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, I don't know how long these ones go. I thought we were Joe Rogan in it.

Colby Harris: No, I mean, I 100% would. Cameras on eleven right now, which sucks. Okay, we'll rip through because I really would love to, but yeah, we're on a little trial run, so appreciate you being easy on me because we're just messing with it. But we were kind of talking. So this house. We're at your house recording this episode and you've had this house for a number of years now. Almost a decade. But board, sports, you've grown your brand, I would imagine, like being someone who's familiar with social media space, you do well for yourself. 

But I think really, for someone who's in a similar position to you or someone that's starting to make money at a young age, clearly you've been very smart with it. Like you're into investing in real estate. If you give one piece of advice to young people that are, whether they're making decent money, great money, bad money. What do you think everyone should try to do more of or should pay attention to? To try to better set themselves out financially.

Steel Lafferty: Get what you're good at, figure out how to make money on it, whatever it is. You can make money almost doing anything nowadays. Once you start doing that, be smart with your money. Invest into things that are going to make you money long term and diversify. That's the biggest thing is you just don't put everything into one basket. Like get stock, get some real estate, get some crypto, get everything that you believe in that is able to get your returns. That's not just like.

Colby Harris: Watches.

Steel Lafferty: Watches. If you know what you're doing right, there's ways to make money and everything, but the market is crazy. So even right now, with the economy, no one knows what the economy is going to do. All the stocks could just fall out from under. But if you have some real estate, you have some assets, you'll be okay. There's a lot of making sure that you're diversified in different places to make sure that you're set for the long run because as myself, I'm only going to make money. I started making money young when I was 13, 14, but my lifespan of making money with wakeboarding is only until you're like 35, 36 competitively. 

But I stopped competing a long time ago and have learned that, well, really not a long time ago, and I still compete a little bit, but I've learned that you can make money how you want to do it. So find value, create value, provide value, make money, diversify. And that's the way to do it in my eyes.

Colby Harris: Quick follow up to that one, because the big conversation right now is like, invest in yourself, expand earning potential, or like, you have your long term investments, you started making money at a young age. Your parents are savvy, right? Like, I would assume they were really helping you out through that process. Growing up, was there a time you started investing for the long term compared to investing in yourself to build your career? Was there kind of a split where it was like, from 15 to 20, I was just putting everything back into the brand and growing and my wakeboarding. And at 21, I started to want to expand a long term investment portfolio. Were you more just trying to build yourself up for those earlier years?

Steel Lafferty: That's a really good question. I bought my house in 2009, no, no, 2014, and I've owned it for nine years. And that was an investment that I didn't know was an investment at the time. It's more like I just wanted to own a house at 21 or whatever, I made a good decision. But knowing, like, when to, like, take money out of investing yourself is when you know you've made it, when you know that you can continue to make money without having to worry about paycheck to paycheck, how to provide for yourself. That's when you can start diversifying, and that'll come. And it takes time. It took me a long time wait for it to make enough to buy a house and then to be able to afford the house and know that I could not lose it for a long time and then build a portfolio after that. Yeah.

Colby Harris: Well, despite all the problems, all the this, that and the other with the cameras, dude, I mean, this has been super cool. And what I'm really stoked about is, like, I feel like we did spend a lot of time today talking about what you went through the early stages of your career. And as you know, we run a summer camp, and we've had a lot of business professionals where we get real deep into a lot of professional stuff. And I think this has been awesome today to talk about your journey through those early stages, through college. Well, you're 32.

Steel Lafferty: 31.

Colby Harris: 31 now, so there's still so much more to tell about the story. We have to come back in another five years. But again, just really appreciate you coming on. Savannah. The history I think, of this one's really cool to me. I've always appreciated. Obviously, my mom means the world to me and haven't had a chance to really meet your mom formally since way.

Steel Lafferty: Back in the day.

Colby Harris: Right. But really appreciate you making this happen. Like I said, we always ask our guests one final question on the show. So it is what part of the great creed resonates most with you and why?

Steel Lafferty: The one that really stuck out to me, but I don't know why it did. It was, I'll never ask someone to do something I'm not willing to do. I think that was because for me, I'm always willing to go the extra mile and provide for someone or help in some way or do something that it was less about what I'm asking and more about what I'm willing to do. And that I will always see someone that I want to push to be the best that they can be. Right?

And if I know that I was able to go through it and do it, and if I see someone you, I like to see other people succeed. And if I can help anyone in any other way, I want to push them to be the best that they can be in what they're doing. And I love seeing that almost more than I love seeing myself succeed. I don't know what that is, but I love that I would never push someone harder than I know that I could be pushed, but I could be pushed really freaking hard when I was young. So sometimes I'm aggressive, but it's because I want the best for whoever I'm pushing.

Colby Harris: I love that, too. To see other people win when, you know you played your part is a super special feeling. And like you said, I think you clearly set an example in the water, and I think everyone should feel that. The last line of the great creed is, I will lead by example because my purpose is larger than me. And that's what I've always said is my favorite, just because it kind of goes hand in hand with that one. If I'll never ask someone to do something I'm not willing to do, and I will lead by example, it's like almost that one could come first. Yeah, that's true. That's just so powerful.

Steel Lafferty: Right?

Colby Harris: And like you said, that's what I always say. Grit is that high tolerance for misery. So when you have that and you for a purpose.

Steel Lafferty: High tolerance for misery. For a purpose.

Colby Harris: Exactly. Technically, by definition, the grit is passion, perseverance in pursuit of long term goals.

Steel Lafferty: Right.

Colby Harris: I've always said, like, misery, such a powerful word. You got high tolerance for misery, but nonetheless, Steele, I appreciate you coming on the show today, man. Hopefully the audio is still working. All right. We're going to have to make something happen here again soon. Get on the water one day. It's a quick little drive down here, but it's been a lot of fun being able to do this tonight.

Steel Lafferty: Yeah, of course. I appreciate you coming down.

Colby Harris: Yeah, bro, for sure. So that's a wrap for us here at the Grit.org Podcast. Follow steel. I'm pretty sure it's just Steel Lafferty on all platforms. You can also go to steellafferty.com, keep up with him, support him and all he does. We really appreciate see him coming out. If you enjoyed this episode, share it with someone you think it would resonate with or impact. 

As always, we appreciate you tuning in for another episode of the Grit-org Podcast!

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