At the final World Cup event of 2006, Dallas Friday was injured in a freak accident. As if having a rod shoved through her hip and down her femur to repair nine spiral fractures weren’t enough, the then-20-year-old went into acute respiratory distress during surgery, requiring two weeks of intensive care and, together with the leg, lengthy rehab. After five months away from a boat, the woman ESPN calls “the winningest female wakeboarder in history” was itching to get back to the water – and to add to her amazing collection of national and international titles.
Although Friday grew up in Florida, her first name is an homage to her father’s hometown of Dallas, North Carolina. Born in 1986, she had childhood dreams of pursuing a career in gymnastics, but when she found herself burned out at age 12, her brother Robin encouraged her to try wakeboarding. “I was hooked from that day forward,” Friday declares. “I found a sport I loved and was destined to do.”
In hindsight, it’s hard to dispute Friday’s claim to destiny. Still, the petite (5’2”) athlete reports, “My first year on the Tour wasn’t so hot.” That year was 2000, when as a 13-year-old she launched her pro career and – despite finishing first at the America’s Cup Championship, second at the X Games, and third at the U.S. Pro National Championships – disappointed her own high standards by ranking fifth on the U.S. Pro Wakeboard Tour.
Anything off the podium wouldn’t be good enough for Friday, as she proved in 2001 by elevating her Pro Tour rank to second and winning the World Cup Overall Championship, the X Games, and the Gravity Games. A broken vertebra made 2002 a quiet year (though she won Vans Triple Crown Nationals in the U.S. and Wakestock in Canada), but she made up for lost time in 2003 by reclaiming her World Cup Overall title and winning just about everything else, too.
The 2004 and 2005 seasons were similarly golden, and by October 2006 she had logged a third World Championship, her sixth consecutive WakeWorld Riders Choice Award, and her fifth consecutive Pro Tour overall crown. Then, when a fin on her board broke at the last World Cup event (in Singapore), she took a bad landing, and her femur snapped.
Although witnesses claimed that they’d seen Friday more freaked out about the airlines losing her luggage than about breaking her leg, the jokes ended when she emerged from surgery unable to breathe on her own. She came to almost a week later to find more than half a dozen tubes sticking out of her nose, her neck, her side… Even when, 18 days after she’d entered the hospital, she was allowed to return to the United States, she had so many blood clots in her leg that she had to give herself shots of blood thinner on the flight home.
Back in Florida, all Friday could think about was returning to the water. It would take work – she had to learn to walk again – but she’d always been a hard worker.
“You’ve got to want it to be a winner,” Friday states. “As a kid I worked my butt off to get started in wakeboarding. For two years I rode twice a day, almost every day, even if it meant going out in the freezing cold. I worked on my edging alone for a year straight.” She adds, “I think that’s where I got the fundamentals that let me go big.”
Friday put the same kind of effort into her physical therapy. Soon she’d gone from barely walking to simulating handle passes while perched on a balance board. By March 2007 – only five months after her injury – she was ready to jump back behind a boat.
Despite her seemingly driven nature, Friday claims to be laid back at home. “I’m not a downtown girl,” she smiles, noting that she loves gardening and lying in the sun. “My friends can never get me to go out, but my time is very important to me – in a good way.”
Time is even more precious because when she’s not training, this lithe athlete with a Pilates-honed physique and ready smile is in demand for sponsor photo shoots. She professes to love them, “as long as it’s not right before a competition, when I prefer to be concentrating on practice runs.”
Friday will be concentrating on practice a lot this season, as she faces an ever-expanding roster of talented women. “It’s great to see more chicks getting into wakeboarding,” she comments. “They’re hungry for it, and that’s really awesome.”
But now that she’s experienced the highs and lows of her sport, it’s safe to say that no one is more hungry than Dallas Friday. “Not riding made me crazy motivated,” she laughs. “I don’t just want to compete; I’m going for the number one spot.”