The Compleat Skier

Water skiing would seem a simple thing. Just stand on two pieces of wood as a boat pulls you over an open stretch of water at 35 mph or so. True, there is the question of learning to stay upright, a balancing act that involves two contending forces; the drag of the water and the pull of the boat. But still …

Learning to water ski takes some perseverance. I can?t speak of modern teaching methods although I am certain that there is a battery of instructors available to help the neophyte skier master this sport so that one is skiing in a minimum amount of time. Time was, however, when skiing was a matter of the blind leading the blind. Someone who had not been skiing all that long (in most cases the instructor had just learned the day before) was now in the water with you, telling your reclining form to keep the tips of the skis out of the water, keep the tow rope between the skis, let the boat do the work, and so on. The trick was not to have any slack in the rope, so the driver of the boat would edge forward. As you began to be pulled forward, you were supposed to yell ?hit it!? at which point the driver slammed the throttle forward and you felt yourself being pulled out of the water. Now, under ideal circumstances, this was a smooth movement and you are at one with the cosmos. But I get ahead of myself. Just learning, remember? What really happens is that the boat pulls you out of the water and continues pulling you, right over the front of your skis. Attempt one.

Well, we did learn from that. Remember to lean back. OK. All in position again? ?Hit it!? Well, you overcompensated this time, leaned back too far, and got a nose full of water. Attempt two.

Let?s see now. Lean back, but not too far. Ok, rope between the skis, ?hit it!? You?re up! Kind of. There is no grace in this stance which sees you hunched over your skis. Problem is, you are afraid to straighten up, afraid of upsetting that delicate balance which leaves you momentarily standing. You see, it is one thing to fall at the beginning, when you are just starting out and quite another thing altogether to fall now when you are moving along at 35 mph. The water has suddenly gotten hard. WAIT! WAIT! What is that fool driver doing? He?s turning the boat and circling back. As the rope begins to go slack, you realize you cannot stay on the inner arc of that circle. You have to go to the outer arc of the turning circle. To do that you have to cross the wake. An aside here. The water behind a speed boat, the wake, is relatively smooth. The water to either side is the reality of the lake and the lake is rarely smooth. There is always a chop, a chop that likes to dump novice skiers. Your posture, the wake, and the chop of the lake are too much and down you go. Attempt three.

Well, here you are, in the middle of the lake, treading water and pulling the skis back on your feet as the boat circles back to you, passing so that you can reach out and grab the tow rope. Hmmm. Getting into position is a little harder in deep water with no one standing by to help. ?Hit it!? You?re up again! And even standing a little better. And, by god, this is fun. But how do you land? Calm now, you have seen others do it. Swing out to the side toward the shore, careful the wake, let go when you are near to your drop off point and glide into shallower water. SPLASH! Well, maybe not quite. Letting go of the rope can throw you off balance. Attempt four and success (of a kind).

Future forays become easier. You fall less, become less timid at crossing the wake and soon you are swinging back and forth behind the boat, jumping the wake and, at the end of the run you shoot effortlessly to the shallow water. You?ve learned how to ski.

Emboldened, you graduate to one ski, the slalom ski, and your skiing becomes even more daring. The slalom ski allows for sharper turns, higher jumps, more control. You are impressive on the water, and you know it. Slalom skiers never get completely wet, unless they fall. They start from the dock, sometimes from a sitting position, sometimes from a standing position. Both entail having the boat go to speed before the slack is taken up in the tow rope. The maneuver is similar to a catapult launch from an aircraft carrier. Hard on the shoulders but necessary for the image. The end of the run was stupid and dangerous, but we did it anyway (image, you know). There was a pole at the end of the dock. The object was to swing out wide as you approached shore to build up speed. Releasing at the top of the arc, you shoot towards the dock, grab the pole and swing up onto the dock. Stupid, but very satisfying.

Some tricks you attempt but fail so spectacularly that you never try again. Barefoot skiing is one. Greater speeds are required and leaning further back is essential. The object is to step onto the water, one foot at a time. You go maybe 100 feet before it all falls apart and you literally roll and skip across the water until you lose enough speed to actually go into the water and stop. Mental note: never try that again.

You try the ski jump and, after numerous tries, are actually able to stay upright through the whole operation. There is a thrill to that, to flying off the ramp and to be airborne for a few seconds before landing with a smack followed by a few more seconds of unsteadiness as you seek to stand upright. Your are proficient, but others are better. You know that you will remain proficient and that is enough. Until … you decide one day to impress someone special to you. She?s in the boat and you?re on the skis. You see the ski jump ramp and you signal the driver to take you past. The ramp hasn?t been wet down, but you ignore that necessary fact figuring that it really isn?t that important. Without boring you with the specifics, suffice it to say that the ramp should be wet, soaking wet. But love is blind and you swing out to the side of the boat, pressing for the extra speed to take you up and over. Hitting the ramp, you lean back further than normal to compensate for the extra fiction of the dry wood. You are up and over and are unable to compensate for having to lean back so far and your feet continue going forward. Turning into a helicopter, you spiral into the water, making, you are told, a spectacular entry. Mental note: never try that again either.

Strangely, she marries you anyway.