It’s not easy being a loner in wakeboarding. After all, this is a sport that takes a minimum of two people at all times. But despite living in one of the most popular areas in Orlando, Florida, for pro riders , Jeff Langley has seemingly found a way to do so. It’s not that he doesn’t socialize or is an unfriendly guy — he’s one of the most humble and down-to-earth people you’ll meet. It’s just that Jeff has a strong conviction to do what he wants with his wakeboarding career, and he has companies behind him that don’t give him any unnecessary team or sponsorship pressure. He’s the single marquee rider for team O’Brien; he’s the franchise team rider for Ten-80, and he’s a guy that has never been caught up in the party lifestyle that so many pro riders get into. Jeff, although smack dab in the middle of the pack of talent on Clear Lake, has become the lone wolf. He still rides with everyone and continually kills it, making himself a better wakeboarder, but he’s doing it for all the right reasons.
Video: Patrick Wieland
Photos: Bill Doster
Interview: Shawn Perry
Where did you come from, sir?
It’s an interesting story actually. My dad was a waterskier from south Georgia. He was a competitive water skier, and he got a full ride to waterski at NLU (modern-day University of Louisiana at Monroe). And then in college, I was a “haunt” if you will.
Like a “whoopsie” or an “uh-oh.”
Oh! No way!
Yeah. So like for the next few years, I was basically the NLU ski team mascot. Somehow, by the grace of God and my mom doing his homework, he managed to graduate college, and then we all moved back to Georgia. That’s where I grew up and where he ran a ski school — Rome, Georgia. I guess around my middle school days are when he decided to get out of it. He got a nine to five, and I didn’t see anything from that world for a while.
So, you were skiing up until he got out of it?
Oh, yeah. I loved it. At a really young age I was going over the ramp. He would get me up on two skis and get me outside the wakes on a turnaround because I couldn’t really control where I was going, and he would just trap me on the outside and just sort of send me over the ramp.
So, after all that was there a gap in time from when you skied until you started wakeboarding?
Yup. After that I got into traditional sports. I went into soccer and kicked for the football team. I was meant to play college soccer, but my senior year in high school my best friend bought a boat. I started going to the lake with him and eventually found myself skipping practices, blowing stuff off and going to the lake as much as possible. My buddy somehow knew the guy that bought the lake that my dad used to train people on and started riding there and on Lake Allatoona. I skipped out on a scholarship for soccer and just went to a local college in Atlanta and rode for a wakeboard team there. I was coaching a lot at Gravity Research Center for Wes Bearden. He has a lot to do with where I am just for simply letting me coach and do that. I feel like I kind of came into wakeboarding as a rail rider from the very beginning at Wes’s place. It was a two-hour drive, so I would rip there and ride and do some lessons over the weekend and go back to school.
How did you make your way to Florida?
My dad ended up taking a job in Ocala, Florida, and I was going into my sophomore year at school in Georgia. I decided to move down with him and finish up school in Florida. I relinked back up with Travis — my dad actually taught Travis how to water ski and trained him, so that’s how I knew him.
How do you like riding in events?
I love it. If you would have asked me this two years ago, I would not have thought I would answer like that.
Just because of the way I got into wakeboarding and my approach to it. I never wakeboarded to go after a contest win; I only rode because it was fun and it just felt cool. In the last year or two, the judges started looking for things differently, and it just sort of played into my hand.
But you didn’t grow up doing contests did you?
No, probably like 2009 or 2010 were the first times I entered a pro event. I never really rode behind fully loaded boats even before then, and that’s a whole different level in its own. I’ve never done well in contests. Last year was my first full year riding the tour, it’s almost like my rookie year but fifth time around! (laughs).
Do you enjoy the feeling of riding in contests?
Yeah. I’m super competitive, and the fact that I know I’m not as good as Phil or Harley really gets to me. It really burns me, but at this point in my career, I still have to go to work every day, so I can’t afford to go ride all day long. I don’t know though; I think there’s a place and a time for me, and right now, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, so I’m happy.
What gives you the most satisfaction as a rider?
A shot in the mag is up there, and any video section where I get good feedback is definitely satisfying. The best thing for me is working at The Boarding School and teaching someone how to enjoy the sport as much as I do. It’s everything there too, from rolling up a rope to learning tricks and just being on the boat. I really enjoy being around people that are in the early stages of being excited about the sport.
Not every pro rider gets to have that perspective.
Yeah, it definitely helps me stay stoked on the lifestyle of wakeboarding in general to be around people like that. Not every pro rider gets to see it from that point of view.
But you’re also in a wakeboard boat for more hours than a lot of people. Do you get burnt out?
I definitely find myself in the middle of the season wanting to play more golf (laughs), but I don’t know, man. This might offend some people, but I didn’t come from money, so I never had the opportunity to ride every day, train with Mike Ferraro and be at every contest. I enjoy every day right now. To come from working 40 hours a week for minimum wage and not being able to pay my bills to wakeboarding and being in a boat every day, I’m pretty thankful. It’s tough to complain.
What keeps it fresh?
I do what I have to do to get away from it a little bit, especially in the winter. I’ll go visit family and go snowboarding, but a week into every “vacation” or whatever you want to call it, I’m ready to get back home and get back on the water. I like structure.
How do you feel about the wakeboard scene in Orlando, Florida?
For us, it’s great. You can ride more months of the year than anywhere else and there are tons of people to ride with.
How do you feel about where you ride?
I love Clear Lake. I know it’s not in the best part of town, but we have a lot of close neighbors and good friends. Even those who aren’t in the wakeboard scene or whatever are all super cool. It’s a hidden gem in the middle of the ghetto.
Do you ride anywhere else?
Other than the occasional set at The Boarding School, not really. I ride on Clear Lake, and that’s pretty much it. It’s just too easy to go out the back door and ride at home. Especially since I work all day, when I get home, there’s not a chance I’m driving somewhere else in traffic to go ride. I’m just going to walk out the backdoor and do my thing. It’s such a cool vibe on Clear Lake, even if I don’t choose to ride, I can always go kick it on the other side and watch the boys hit rails or just hang out with whoever is out. It’s a rad place.
Are you bummed you didn’t win Move of the Year at Wake Awards a couple years back with the mute double roll to revert?
I was pretty bummed. At times, I wanted to lash out, but I knew it was only going to set me back further. Going into it, I didn’t think I was going to win it, but then so many people beforehand were telling me I had it. It was in the limo ride on the way, and it hit me that I could actually win. When I didn’t, I was kind of bummed out, but we were all partying and hanging out, so it was whatever. I knew it was only the beginning for me, so I enjoyed the recognition and moved on.
Did it affect the way you approached your career?
No, I still give it 100%. Anything that has ever happened to me negatively has fired me up to do something positive with it. I’m here for the long haul, whether I would have won that award or not.
So you don’t think winning would have changed your path in the sport?
It may have, but it wouldn’t have changed me. I let it fuel my fire, and I plan on having a lot more moments in my career.
What do want to do better as a pro?
Double flips. Especially after watching what Dowdy’s been doing, he’s crazy. All the spins are great, but it doesn’t look as cool as doubles I don’t think.
In what ways do you want to impact wakeboarding?
I guess it’s always been style for me. That comes way more naturally than the contest side of things. I would much rather people acknowledge that I make wakeboarding look cool.
What do you think about the future of the sport with the juniors out there? Are you concerned?
No. People can always mature. They’re kids, and just because they may not have great style now doesn’t mean that they can’t figure it out. They are all good wakeboarders, and they’re good on the water; they just need to take a season and work on stuff that looks good. That’s all it is, but right now in their careers, they are so worried about learning a certain trick to put it into their contest pass that style is never even thought about.
Did you ride in juniors?
No, I was in college trying to figure out how I was going to wakeboard as much as I could.
What do you get out of coaching?
It’s a good feeling to know that I motivated someone to stay in our sport and enjoy wakeboarding. It’s great.
What kind of influence has Travis had on you and your career?
Travis has separated me from the pack — creditability from being a coach at The Boarding School to introducing me to so many people along the way that have helped my career grow. It would be hard to pay a guy like that back. He’s done so much for me. I feel like so many people are so good at wakeboarding, but Travis has always been there to put in a good word for me, and that goes a long way coming from him.
Why did he take you under his wing? Is it a Georgia thing?
Well, I think the early connection with Travis and my dad was a huge factor, we all go way back. I’ve got photos of my dad and Travis coaching with me in between them in diapers. I’ve known Travis all my life, but there was a huge gap between then until I met up with him again when I was in college.
What are your short-term plans just for 2014?
Well, if I can work things out to ride on tour this year, I’d love to. I was sitting pretty good at the end of last year, but I had an injury set me back. I was happy to make top 10, but I could have done better. I think I can do it. A couple more double flips would be great too, and I know I’m capable of them.
What’s your recipe to make all this happen?
A lot of hard work. I’m going to expect the worst and hope for the best. That, and some good old double-ups. I hit them every set; there’s not a set that goes by where I don’t hit a few. That’s my favorite part of wakeboarding for sure. I’d do everything off the double-up if I could. I’m serious. I’ll take all-double-up sets sometimes, just lining them up.
What about the long haul?
Still doing what I’m doing now. A 10-year plan would be doing my own school somewhere. I don’t ever want to get away from this lifestyle. Whether it’s some sort of coaching or whatever it is, I’ll be doing something in our industry.