SBC Wakeboard Magazine
By Bryan Gardner
Five years ago, Darla Friday pulled into Florida's Orlando Watersports Complex hoping to find Mike Ferraro, the world's top waterski coach. She wanted wakeboarding lessons for her daughter. When she found the $200/hr coach, he was adamantly against taking on a green pupil. His schedule was already jammed with top names like Philip Soven, Meaghan Major and Emily Copeland. It was tough for him to justify allowing a beginner to purchase his high-priced services, especially when he was already turining away more seasoned talent. But Darla convinced Ferraro to at least give her daughter a look.
"She had her level 10 in gymnastics," Ferraro reasons. "So that said to me she has the work ethic, the training experience and the body awareness. Something few wakeboarders know or care about. Can she learn to ride a wakeboard? I'd know in one session is she was worth training."
So the following day Dallas arrived at OWC ready to take a set with the best coach in the world. Her only wakeboarding experience was riding with her older brothers, Robin and Chad, and even then it was a mere handful of times. when the set was over, the Fridays went to dinner with Ferraro to discuss his evaluation of their only daughter. It was at that dinner table where he made a blunt sobering prediction on 13-year-old Dallas Friday: "Your daughter is going to be the first female to make a million dollars riding a wakeboard."
Five years later, Ferraro's statement has come true: Dallas has won every major title in the sport multiple times. Five years later, she is so dominant that when she stands on the start dock at an event, it's quite plainly hers to win. Victory has become a table scrap to the rest of the field based solely upon the rare chance that Dallas might have an off-day. Five years later, she is coming off a nearly perfect season, winning all but one tournament.
Five years later, Dallas has carved a new level of success so big it seems there are no realistic contenders on the horizon simply because she worked too damn hard.
Acrobatic Training from age eight, personal training on a weekly basis and a wakeboard fundamentals foundation laid down over two years by the best coach in the world is a package no other woman has ever brought to the water.
TWENTY MINUTES EARLY FOR GLAMOUR
Dallas pulls into the tiny park 20 minutes early for the photo shoot, parking her grandfather's midsized Sedan on the grass beside us. Her Yukan Denali is in the shop for repairs, apparently not an uncommon occurrence. She's wearing hot-pink high heels to match her skintight minidress. Immediately she apologizes for the colour of her skin and begins to explain the situation to photographer Josh Letchworth.
"I tried this self-tanning stuff, and it didn't come out the way I thought it would," she says, standing pigeon-toed, hands tucked in her lap and looking down at her legs in a Marilyn Monroe pose. "Is it bad? Does it look too blotchy? she asks, looking for assurance that her mistake won't ruin the photographs.
"Not at all. Don't even worry about it. You look great." Letchworth tells her. "What else did you bring?"
She opens the back door to her loaner and reaches in to show us the items we requested. We wanted to snap some glamour shots to illustrate the fame of her athletic success. The "new" Dallas, as some call it. So she brings a selection of evening gowns that hang inside the car door accompanied by a tiara. Her wakeboard gear rests comfortably across the leather back seat, the tools of her success. On the floor behind the passenger seat stands her ESPY award. The title is given out annually by ESPN to recognize the top athlete of the year in all action sports. Dallas was the first pro wakeboarder, male or female, to win the honour, quantifying her talent among athletes in other more popular action sports. It's important to include the award in her pictures.
She reaches for the dresses first and begins to show us one by one. As she holds them up to her tiny frame, I notice how skinny she has gotten since our last meeting almost two years ago. I wonder how such a fragile-looking person could be so dominant and tough.
She stands on her tiptoes and reaches back into the car for another dress. Her calf muscles bulge out of her legs like a bodybuilder's, a sign of her off-water training ethic. It's clear that this tiny frame has durability. As she continues to show us her selections, I chuckle to myself. It's funny that we are going for glamour shots but don't have a fancy studio or complex set design for the shoot. No entourage, bodyguards or makeup trailers. Not even a wardrobe specialist. Just three of us in a modest neighborhood park one drizzly Friday afternoon in Orlando, ready to talk shop and take some photographs. Even when you are the best in the world, wakeboarding is still a blue-collar brand of fame.
GYMNASTICS TO WAKEBOARDING
It starts to rain as she finishes showing us her items, so we put the photo shoot on hold and jump inter her grandfather's car to stay dry.
I ask about her gymnastics career.
"When I was about eight years old I started," she begins. "My parents put me in it 'cause I as always jumping around, climbing on walls and stuff like that. I really loved it, and I was a natural, I guess you could say. So I started competing."
It was a good way to keep her busy and having fun while her parents worked hard to provide for their three children. Her father's career demanded he be away for long periods of time, working around the world with ocean marine life.
"He's like a marine biologist, only way better," Dallas says with a proud smile, slightly embarrassed that his official title escapes her. She explains that training the whale in the film Free Willy is among his more prestigious accomplishments. Her mom was also busy with a successful real-estate career.
But the gymnastics routine began to wear on Dallas as she reached her teens, a time when most kids are starting to put their social life on a short list of priorities.
"I got to Level 10." she continues. "But the last year, five years into it, I kinda wasn't having fun anymore and it wasn't something I saw myself doing through college. I wanted to try some other things. It was really demanding. It was every day right after school from three o'clock until nine."
Her social life was squeezed in on weekends and with the other girls at the gym. Just before her 13th birthday, Dallas began to look for something else to do.
"I was thinking about diving and swimming, which a lot of gymnasts do. My brother (Robin) was like, "Why don't you try wakeboarding?" His friends would come out and [wakeboard] with him, and I was like, "That's not even a sport.' I didn't know you could do contests and all that kinda stuff. So then I tried it, and loved it, and I've been doing it ever since."
Dallas's matter-of-fact approach to hard work is exactly what convinced Ferraro to train her.
"You take someone who is already used to the pain of hard falls, the strain of working hard every single day and the mental ability to be coached, and it's a formula for success in this sport, "Ferraro says. "All the girls are afraid, but Dallas is the least afraid, and it's because of her previous training."
"Coming from a gymnastics background, I had to do a lot of crazy stuff," Dallas recounts. "The falls were hard even when there were mats. I've hit my teeth on the bars before, landed on my neck doing a double backflip. But when I started doing stuff on a wakeboard, trying new tricks, I was kinda like, It's water, ya know? I could do a double backflip on the ground, so why not on the water?"
For two straight years Ferraro trained Dallas, rarely taking a break. Her parents invested enormous amounts of money in their daughter, funding her on tour while she was without sponsors and paying Ferraro's coaching fees.
She was still fairly unknown at a time when women's wakeboarding was getting its third facelift. Mexican pioneer Andrea Gaytan paved the way for women by competing against the men until a women's category was created in the mid-'90s. She retired after winning the Gravity Games in 1999.
Tara Hamilton was next to carry the torch, as a protege of Darin Shapiro and Travis Moye, who back then trained at Okeeheelee Park in West Palm, Florida (where Dallas would eventually win her first pro tournament, in 2000). Hamilton ht the scene with a gymnastics background and helped get women noticed outside the industry with a lucrative Ford endorsement that only expired recently. but her learning curve would flatten and open the door for new blood.
In walked Copeland from Colorado and Major from North Carolina. Both women brought a refreshing vitality for wakeboarding in its third facelift. Major learned a Tootsie Roll and a Wrap KGB, and Copeland started stomping Off-Axis 5s. Major, the wild-eyed competitor, and Copeland, the sweet girl next door, gave fans personality and fresh competition.
Because Ferraro was already training Major and Copeland, Dallas had the last important piece to her puzzle of success: access to top athletes. And Ferraro was ruthless in his methods, often pitting the girls against each other in a push for perpetual improvement.
"They were better riiders than me at the time," Dallas remembers, "and I got jealous and wanted to get to their level, and Mike knew it. He would mess with me and say, 'Emily learned a Raley today.' I'd go out thinking I had to learn one too, and I did. Then I'd find out he was just messing with me."
Ferraro claims his methods were necessary to keep Dallas motivated. He says even though she's virtually untouchable in wakeboarding at the moment, no one really know how talented she is because she only puts out 60 percent of her capabilities.
THE "BAD" STAGE
As Dallas began to rise in popularity, she admitted that, behind the scenes, things got out of control.
"I was going through a really bad stage. I wouldn't come home and wouldn't call, and [my parents and I would] fight all the time." Dallas's face turns blank as she stares forward. She's openly remorseful about her relationship with her family back then.
"Going to contest, they'd always come with me. I as like, 'Lauren Loe doesn't have her parent come to contests, why should I?' I'd get so pissed. I'm making a living; why can't you leave me alone? So I kinda pushed them away. And we didn't get along for awhile.
"I still love them," Dallas blurts out, as if she feels she waited too long to state it for the record. "I think I was just selfish for a little bit. I haven't fought with them since before i turned 18. I think I have a good attitude now, and I get along great with my parents. I look back at how much they've done for me, and I didn't realize it. I was kinda spoiled and selfish and didn't think about them. Now I love them. i really do.
"I get put in a lot of bad positions all the time. I think when I was 16 I would fall into it. But I look at what I have right now, and nothing is worth me going downhill or letting down all those little girls, or my sponsors. And I think that would ruin my career and case me to lose my friends and something I loved doing. I look at that when I get put in a bad position and have to make a decision. I'm pretty smart now, I think."
SEEING OTHER PEOPLE
There is a a possibility that all this success could be damaging. Acrobatic training from age eight, personal training on a weekly basis and a wakeboard fundamentals foundation laid down over two years by the best coach in the world is a package no other woman has ever brought to the water. it's a formula that took 10 years to build. It also means it could realistically take that long to happen again. Or at least two years if someone were to show up on Ferraro's deck the way Darla Friday did.
So how on earth is it possible not to coast on this success and collect easy money now that the hard work has been done?
"She needs more. All I know is that for those first years she worked harder than anyone has every worked in this sport. And with how good she is right now over the other girls, they'll never catch her, "Ferraro says. "it'll take another Level 10 gymnast with her work ethic and love of the sport to get there. And it's a shame because she needs more competition to keep her motivated."
"It would be good to have someone pushing me," she says. "You know, I could do the same run for the next two to three years and still be on top. i have slowed down a little bit, but I think las winter I wasn't really motivated at all, and I wasn't riding a lot before the season started. That's why I'm going to ride in some men's events this year. And I'm riding a lot with other people. Sean O'Brien and I rode one day, and he did a Big Worm. He's going to teach me next time he's back. That kind of stuff gets me pumped."
"I'm trying 313s, Blind Judge, and I'm almost landing a Batwing to Blind," she says. "I rode with Mike for so long, and he really taught me the foundation and basics. Now I'd rather be riding with Josh Sanders and Daniel Watkins and Cobe Mikacich and Gregg Necrason instead of going for a set and going home.
Maybe a new pace is the next ingredient in the Dallas Friday success story. Maybe it's time for Dallas to savour the benefits of so many years of hard work. Who wouldn't take some time to play on the water a little, especially with the tools she has to choose from?
Perhaps now, 10 years later, a full trophy case and a bank account give her the right to ride on her own terms and coast a little.
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