Learning to Water Ski
I was about 10 years old, almost the perfect age for that quintessential summer experience, aka: learning to water ski! We were visiting the summer getaway of Allen and Catherine Young at Lake Greenwood. Allen had taught a thousand kids to ski, and I was anxious to be 1001.
I wrestled with those long boards, which wouldn’t behave in front of me because they kept floating to the surface. They stretched my legs into a split and then one ended up behind me, hitting me in the head – then the boat came by, and the rope threatened to strangle me! I had a little panic attack trying to follow all of Mr. Young’s instructions: put the rope between your skis; grip the handle wide; keep the skis parallel and shoulder-width apart and keep the tips high out of the water; then keep your knees bent and your arms straight, and let the boat do the work… Are you ready?
I was not ready, but then I was up, and… OMG, summertime magic. Like, really. Magic! I was on top of the water. It was the coolest thing I’d ever done. The first moments were wobbly as I maneuvered balance and rope tension, waves and turns, but slowly it came clear, and I was in and out of the wake, back and forth, mastering the water. The sun, the wind, the speed, the thrill… It was incredible.
It still is.
Over the next decade I skied about once a summer. My parents had bought a little cabin at Greenwood, but we didn’t have a boat so my brother and I would sometimes sit on the dock and wait for no one to come by and not offer us a tow! Once a year the church youth group would spend a day at the lake, so I had one day to perfect my skiing. Then there was that week of vacation with Scott Cornelson’s family at Lake Summit in Hendersonville. Scott and I earned our waterskiing merit badges for Boy Scouts that week, and I’ll never forget it. Summers were made for weeks like that.
Then I saw Reggie Burnett slalom ski… oh my! Reggie was our neighbor at the lake, and his slalom skiing was another thing altogether. He skied faster than anyone I’d ever seen. Fred and Velma Burnett had a little tri-hull with a Johnson 65hp outboard. Reggie once asked me to pull him behind it. He said, “Floor it – and don’t let up!” I watched Reggie lean in the turns like he was lying down on the water, and when he turned toward the wake he’d throw up a hugely-cool, massive wall of water and then pull with all his might and just sizzle across the wake. Because of Reggie, I had to learn to slalom.
And then… I saw Ben Pitts, and he was not wearing any skis at all! Ben was the first barefooter I ever saw, and I knew I had to learn. I was almost 30 years old when it happened, but Amy and I were working at First Baptist Church, Clemson, and our colleague, James Bennett, had been raised in “a water skiing family.” We grew to love James enough to name our second son after him, and because he was a “footer,” one day in 18-mile Creek on Lake Hartwell, James taught me. (Which just means he was willing to pull me – and keep pulling me – as I stepped out of a ski and face-planted on the water about a dozen times at about 40 mph. Finally my brain communicated with my feet and… talk about the coolest feeling ever. Barefooting is the coolest feeling, ever. I’m 54 and I still can’t get enough.
James Bennett said the boat his family bought was the best money they ever spent. The Deans are now on our third Correct Craft, one of the best inboard ski boats on the market, and the hours and (hundreds of) hours we have spent with our sons in a boat have proven James to be right. I built a little trainer ski contraption and had both of the Dean boys skiing, literally, before they could walk (11 and 10 months). By 4 years old they were skiing, legitimately, behind the boat. At 6 they learned to slalom, and at 9 both of them could barefoot, not by stepping off a ski, but by deep-water starting (coming up on your feet without the assistance of a ski).
As I started teaching my nieces and nephews, I insisted on an “all ski” during each annual family vacation. We kept adding to that number, and before the college “Freshman 15” (which is just a euphemism for “beer gut”!) became a factor, I had pulled 10 at one time behind our boat. The boys started building pyramids a few years ago, and have insisted their girlfriends learn to love the water, too. I can’t imagine our family without the memories we have made at the lake.
I’m not trying to sell you anything. Boats and skis and water toys are sinfully expensive these days, but I don’t know a better way we could have kept toddling and pre-adolescent and teenage sons honestly- and enthusiastically-engaged with their parents. I don’t know a more healthy or wholesome past time. I can’t imagine another sport in which mom and dad and two boys could all participate, fully, at our own ability level. And for years, we’ve done it all… together.
On second thought, maybe you ought to consider investing in your own Ski Nautique.
(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He and his wife, Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, also a CHS graduate, are co-pastors of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.)