Let your mind drift from the anxiety and stress of the impending finals to a glistening lake — cool and placid in the crisp September air. Grabbing your lucky life jacket and trusted slalom ski from the beach, you head to the dock amidst cheers from your teammates. After hopping off the dock, you float for a few moments, composing yourself before the ski run. Before you know it you are whizzing atop the water, slicing back and forth across the boat’s wake. You settle into the familiar feeling of the wind in your hair and the adrenaline pumping throughout your body. Not too long ago, you began competitive water skiing. But thanks to the recently received training, you pose a threat to most others out on the lake.
Each fall, the Michigan water skiing team travels to several parts of the country to participate in tournaments. These tournaments consists of 10 to 25 different college teams competing in three events — slalom, trick skiing and jumping. Points can be earned in each of these events based on completion of the course, form and skill. The overall winner is the team that compiles the most points by the end of the competition, which usually spans two days.
The objective of the slalom event is to maneuver around a course of six buoys set on alternating sides of the boat’s wake. The skier must quickly cut back and forth through the wake to pass around each buoy. Traveling anywhere from 26 to 36 miles per hour makes this a tough task, but for team captain Matt Vivian, tournament slalom skiing is a rush.
“The sensation of carving turns in the water with the boat going 36 miles per hour through the slalom course — and you (going) even faster — is awesome,” Vivian said.
Trick skiing is an event where the skier travels atop a smaller ski than in the slalom and must complete surface spins and flips to receive points. The boat travels slower for trick skiers than for slalom skiers to make turning easier.
The other event in which a skier may compete is jumping. Skiers are pulled up and over an inclined ramp that, at its tallest point, is five feet above the water’s surface. Less experienced jumpers at Michigan can fly a total of about 40 feet, whereas more experienced skiers, like Vivian, can soar up to 81 feet, which is his personal best. But, there is still room to grow for the Michigan waterskiers in this event. Some schools boast skiers who can fly up to 100 feet.
“The idea of flying over 100 feet, like some of the jumpers in our conference, really makes me want to get back on the water,” Vivian said.
As exhilarating as the performance aspects of these tournaments are, the most fun for the skiers is in the bonding that goes on within the team and between the other participating schools. Every team pitches tents and camps out on the shore of the lake the night between the two days of competition. During this night, it is a tournament tradition for the skiers to get to know each other and celebrate their previous day’s performances. Often, the parents of some of the skiers bring in food and hire a DJ for the night.
The participants have the same laid-back attitude during the competitions. Since only up to six skiers can be on the lake at one time, those who are not competing enjoy relaxing on the shore. Some choose to catch up on some rest while others toss around a football or a Frisbee.
The water skiers also enjoy practicing, a time for the skiers to experiment with new techniques and ways to score points. The practices are also a much needed break from school work and the stresses of college life.
“What could be better than driving to the lake after class or work and sitting out in the sun with skiing, your friends and some good tunes?” Vivian said.
The waterskiing team is always open to new skiers regardless of skill level. The team encourages new skiers to practice with them and get individual instruction, or to just to hang out on their new, pristine Mastercraft ski boat.
“We are just here to have a good time,” skier Angie McLeod said. “Any skier is welcome to join us. And even if you don’t know how to ski, we will teach you.”