Krista Rodgers Schipner Dear Water Skiing

Dear Water Skiing | Waterski Magazine


Dear Water Skiing, It’s Not You. It’s Us.

Krista Rodgers Schipner Dear Water Skiing

Image: @waterski_mag

By Krista Schipner

Waterski Magazine

April, 2017

I urge the water-skiing community to remember where and how they fell in love with the sport in the first place. Many of our current die-hards are third generation water-ski babies. Where did their parents or grandparents first fall in love with the sport?

For most of us, it was having fun under the sun and on the water with family and friends. And the skier was more concerned about getting a PB or impressing someone in the boat than he or she was about how perfectly straight the boat path was or if the time was indeed 16.95.

Skiers today – and their moms, dads and grandparents – likely fell in love with this sport behind an old outboard boat, or a wooden ski with a binding that resembled a flip-flop more than a Wiley’s. The passion was probably developed over the summer, at someone’s family cabin after days of out-the-fronts, mouthfuls of water, and skiing doubles with friends.

Water skiing, you’ve provided us endless hours of fun, sore muscles and memories. You’ve taught us to get up after falling down time and time again. You gave us a place to bond with our parents, neighbors, friends and strangers. You’ve taught us life lessons about strength, humility, determination and dedication.

You’ve given us a world where our hometowns, language and culture fall second to how we identify ourselves. Being a water-skier and part of this family always comes first.

Thank you for giving us early mornings smelling like sunscreen and gasoline and late nights consisting of sunburned skin and blistered hands. Thank you for providing that feeling, that one every water-skier knows, of breaking glass under your ski.

Thank you for the joy. For the laughs. For the triumphs and the competition.

Compensation adds enjoyment. A new set of goals, benchmarks and adventures. New friends, trips, events and memories.

But we apologize. We apologize for taking you for granted. We apologize for trying to make you something you are not. We apologize for making it too complicated.

We became selfish.

We became enthralled with ourselves. We turned inward instead of reaching out. We focused on fractions of feet, inches of deviations in a ramp, quarter buoys and new standards for judges. We added layers upon layers of technology to the sport in an effort to chase a futile Olympic dream. We made it daunting. We made it hard in ways it shouldn’t be. We took advantage of volunteers.

Competition brings joy until too many rules squelch it. It becomes too much of a burden to bear for the technical-controller volunteer or the promo-boat owners. It is too much.

We became exclusive. Elitist.

Self-serving. That is not what you are about. That is not the heart of the sport. We lost sight of why we are all here in the first place.

From beginners to pros to retirees and everything else in between, remember you work for the industry, the industry doesn’t work for you. We are all in this together and need to contribute in the best ways we can. We took advantage, and now it is time to take responsibility.

Water skiing is not dying. The box that we’ve tried to put it in, however, is collapsing. Weekend warriors are soaking up the sun on a public lake, someone is trying the course, and another has finally got the nerve up to ride a tube for the first time. These are our people. They are part of our water-ski family too.

For most of us, water skiing is a lifestyle that is just as much dedication to craft as it is a social activity. I invite the ski family to remember the first time they got up and the joy it brings them to teach others, and I challenge them to continue to spread that joy.

Water skiing, we are sorry, but we are not done. We’ve seen where we’ve gone wrong, and we see the bigger picture. We will teach new people to ski. We will invite our friends who have left the sport to come and take a ride. We will embrace the kids who just want to tube or kneeboard, and we will praise the barefooters who get the early-morning butter. We understand that we are all part of the same team with a shared love for being behind the boat, and we will be better teammates moving forward.

With love,


This article originally appeared in Issue 1, Volume 39 of Waterski Magazine.

Waterskiing has moved to private paradises like Crystal Point in Arizona

The Sport of Kings | Waterski Magazine


The Sport of Kings. How to Afford the High Cost of Skiing Without a Royal Bank Account

Playa Del Rey in Gilbert, Arizona is a luxury, gated community with it’s own private Water-ski lake (image: Zion Realty)

By Jim Frye

Waterski Magazine

April, 2014

Horse racing has long been called the “sport of kings.” With its million dollar thoroughbreds, caviar hors d’oeuvres and Kentucky Derby style, it wears this moniker well. Of course, it’s not the only well-heeled sport. With waterfront mansions; sleek, pricey inboard boats; and far-flung international ski sites, the sport of water skiing is no slouch. As a matter of fact, with participation slipping, many wonder if our sport’s royal road to riches is keeping everyone else outside the kingdom walls.

Is our sport solely the domain of one percenters and lakefront homeowners who can pony up $50,000 to $100,000 for a top-of-the-line boat, or is there room for everyday nine-to-fivers with used skis and borrowed gear who chip in gas money for a ride on their buddy’s ’90s -era Supra Comp?

“Water skiing’s been called the sport of kings, but I don’t know if we should apologize for that or run from that,” says Jim Emmons, president of the Water Sports Industry Association. “It is what it is.

“Let’s turn that questions around,” Emmons says. “The folks who water ski are generally in the upper echelon of education and earnings potential. But think what it would be like if it was accessible to anybody; think what our waterways would be like. You’d be taking turns in a long line to get a pull every moment of every day.”

Although Emmons admits that he, along with others at towed water sports companies, would love to see the 5 million active water skiers grow to 10 million, he wonders about capacity. He questions if perhaps it’s better to have slow and steady growth instead of a rapid increase. He does have a point. For example, if it cost only $1,000 to field a NASCAR team, every gear head with a piggy bank would be clogging the racetracks below the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi. The same thing goes for golf, snow skiing, surfing and countless other sports for that matter. No athlete would have much fun with jam-packed links, ski resorts or board-to-board waves.

Are Water-Skiing Costs Pushing People Out?

Let’s face the facts. Boats aren’t cheap. Skis cost money. And tournaments don’t pay for themselves. But how much is too much? Is water skiing pricing itself out of reach of the common athlete? Have the costs become such a barrier to entry that a limited number of new skiers are able to enter the fold?

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Water Skiing Participation Report 2013 turned up some interesting – and sobering – statistics. Total participation in water skiing in the United States dropped 5.6 percent from 2007, when 5.9 million participated, through 2012, which had fewer than 5 million skiers. Participation by casual skiers dropped by 3.9 percent, whereas core skier participation dropped by 8.9 percent. What’s the reason for declining numbers?

“Skiing is becoming more and more elite because its costs are out of control,” says Wisconsin skier Zach Jachowicz, an average-joe skier who hits the water about two or three times per week. “I for sure agree that there’s a ton of engineering and money that goes into the skis, bindings and boats, but some of these prices are outrageous.”

Jachowicz told us that when he and his family attend tournaments, they feel almost like outsiders, partly because the world of competitive water skiing is a close-knit-community but also because it’s a seemingly very affluent community. To Jachowicz, it seemed almost like a clash of classes. And keeping up with all the newest equipment is almost impossible. “It’s not cheap to keep up with the latest and greatest gear,” he says. “I purchased my first new ski, a Radar Vice with double Vector bindings, last year at the Malibu Open. The last new ski I had before that was an HO Extreme from maybe 2001.”

What Does it Cost?

Longtime coach and high-end equipment retailer Steve Schnitzer, who invented the wing and the adjustable fin, says that rising costs are definitely pushing people out. “I’m continually hearing from clients about the price of a boat, with most new boats over $60,000.” New slalom boats can retail anywhere from the $50,000s, $60,000s or higher, depending on options. Wakeboarding and crossover boats – for those who like to keep a foot in both worlds or just to keep the family happy – can run as high as $120,000 or more. Yowza!

Is that something most people can afford? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for 2013 was $52,100, which is down somewhat because of the recession. That means that half of all household incomes were above that number, and half were below.

Although a boat is the single largest investment a person will make in the sport, Schnitzer helps us sort out some of the other expenses. “A top-of the line blank ski with a fin can start around $1,940,” he says. Add in shipping charge, and you’re at roughly $2,000. From there, you’ve got hard shells at around $650. The ski case is another $70. Add in a rope for $90 and a nice handle for about $110. Now you need a vest for $150 and gloves for $60. “To show up and ski behind your friend’s boat is over $3,000,” he says. “Sure, you can buy used and cut your cost down. But that’s without even a bathing suit.”

There are other, less obvious, costs that can also chomp up your bank account. Since skiers tend to crave private lakes to sharpen their skills, access to those private lakes becomes an issue. Take the Rocky Mountain Water Ski Club at Sweetwater Ranch in Dostero, Colorado for example. Members get access to the private course, the clubhouse, hot tub, picnic areas and the 19-foot ski boat. The price? More than $200,000. Of course, by becoming one of only 15 members, you also become a one-fifteenth owner of this exclusive skiing wonderland.

The topic of escalating costs burned up the forums on recently. “I think the main factor which has driven up the cost of skiing is the increase in price or lack of lakefront property,” says lifelong skier David Stowe, who hails from Mooresville, NC, near Lake Norman. “Young people who would become lifelong skiers are unable to buy in at higher property values. Thus, they can’t conveniently ski and really never pick up the sport. Slowly over time, the number of skiers decreases, and the cost of certain necessities, like ski boats, increase due to economies of scale.”

How to Ski on the Cheap (AKA Buddies with Boats)

Ok, so water skiing is expensive. And many of its ardent participants aren’t hurting for dough. Which begs the question: How can the rest of us get in on the fun? Is it possible to ski on the cheap?

Absolutely, according to Dave Ross, a skiing fanatic and resident “onthecheap expert” who told us how the other half does it. He lives in Litchfield, Minnesota, an hour west of Minneapolis, on the 550-acre Lake Ripley, where he’s been president of the Lake Ripley Improvement Association since 2002. “I live on a public lake within the city limits and have a mint ’91 Ski Centurion Falcon Barefoot on my lift,” he says. “The boat sees lots of family duty pulling tubes, wakeboarding and barefooting and is used for general boating and driving fun. I bought it in ’99 from my dad for $13,000 and the maintenance has been minimal. I don’t ski buoys with the Centurion, but having now owned it for 15 years, I’d say that is family fun on the cheap.”

But he doesn’t stop there. Ross has a group of buddies with boats and resources to help each other feed their skiing passions. “I split another ski site with my buddy Bob 10 miles from home,” he says. “We call it ‘the swamp’ [Hoff Lake]. We pay a landowner a total of $750 [$375 each] to keep a dock, boat lift and ski boat extended from his property.” They installed two slalom course. Bob’s ’87 MasterCraft ProStar 190 pulled the guys for years until 2010, when Ross bought a 2000 Ski Nautique 196 with 84 hours on it and PP classic for $17,000. “We still ski that boat today and will for many years to come,” he says.

Boat Co-Ownership and Cable Parks

One way to defray the costs of boat ownership is to purchase one with a group of friends, Everyone pays; everyone helps with cleanup; everyone buys fuel – sounds like a good deal. And spreading the cost of a boat purchase out among four to eight people puts boat ownership well within reach.

Take Richard Doane’s group in Burien, Washington, for example – four guys who jointly purchased a 2011 Malibu Lxi. “The LLC we formed for our ‘club’ boat has been a great thing now for three seasons,” Doane says. “As with any group, you need to have some rules in place, and expectations spelled out in the beginning. People typically rise up to the expectation that you set.”

But make sure there are solid expectations. “I had four friends who purchased a mid-1990s Ski Nautique, and it turned into a huge mess for them,” says Rod Long, an ex-Canadian ski junkie and soon-to-be lakefront homeowner at Ski Texas south of Houston. “In the end, the boat got sold, and a couple of friendships were ruined. That was my sign to figure out how to do it on my own when I could afford to.” Long says he plans to be on the water daily as soon as he’s into his almost-completed home 50 feet from his boat.

USA Water Ski executive director Bob Crowley sees other ways to overcome costs and increase participation. “One of the best alternatives for those who can’t afford a boat is the growth of cable parks around the country,” he says. “Yes, right now they’re primarily catering to wakeboarding, but it can also work with water skiing there too.”

Schnitzer agrees. “What ski companies and the industry need to do to get more people into the sport is to introduce more cable parks,” he says. “Ski all day for $30 or $40 bucks. Correct Craft is now investing in cable parks. They see the handwriting on the wall. A cable park is economical; it costs next to nothing. It’s like going to the mountain [snow skiing] for a lift ticket.”

“Cable parks are coming online faster and faster,” Emmons says. “One’s just been approved outside Washington D.C. They’re opening up all over the country, and they can be a feeder system for watersports. You can get a tow without having to buy a boat.”

Ski Clubs: Our Best Hope

“Clubs,” Crowley says. “That’s how new people can get interested in the sport. They can connect to the clubs in their area who have their own boat. That’s the biggest hurdle to getting started,” He stresses that clubs provide great camaraderie and make trying out the sport immensely more affordable.

Taryn Garland, the new USA Water Ski program development coordinator, emphasizes the importance of clubs in the life of the sport. “Introducing new people to the sport is where clubs really come into play,” she says. “They all pool their resources for the common good. They chip in for gas. You can ask for help and be open to networking. If you get plugged into a club, they usually have extra equipment in their garage. Clubs are like family.”

Garland carved many a lake as part of Wisconsin’s Mad-City Ski Team for 11 years – and five national titles – and it’s there in show skiing that she sees a great opportunity to increase the accessibility and visibility of the sport. “You want a way to involve as many people as possible,” she says. “Sometimes in three event, there are only so many people who can ski at a time. Show ski teams allow many people to participate.” Those skiers will often go on to compete in three-event tournaments.

The Future

How do we stem loss of participation due to costs? Everyone has an opinion, but it’s encouraging to hear that all facets of the industry – from the boat and product manufacturers, to USA Water Ski, to instructors, to athletes – are responding.

“A lot of our top-level water skiers have moved to private lakes, and our sport is no longer as much in the public eye as it was 15 years ago,” Crowley says. “Knowing that we’re all connected, we’re encouraging our big-time athletes to reach out on Twitter, Instagram and open up their life a little bit for people to see.” USA Water Ski is also looking to more strategically transition collegiate skiers back into the American Water Ski Association, offering “starter skits” with exclusive discounts on gear to collegiate teams.

“The future of our sport depends on everybody being able to work together and growing it together,” Garland says. To that effect, USA Water Ski is celebrating its 75th year with a campaign celebrating “Life on the Water.” The whole purpose is to get more people on the water and build the base of the sport through grass-roots clubs, basic skills clinics, membership drives, dealer days and any other way to increase visibility. For a list of ski clubs in your area, visit

With almost 5 million people water skiing in the U.S., there is a lot of life left in this sport. Cost doesn’t have to be a barrier to entry. Whether it’s through cable parks, boat co-ownership, dealership promotions or joining a ski club, there are many ways to make it work and get people to see the allure of a “life on the water.”

“I wouldn’t hesitate to sell off all my other toys in order to keep playing and having fun on the water,” says Rod Long. “My motorcycle would probably be the first to go.” Jachowicz echoes that sentiment. “I would do anything to continue to pursue skiing,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 edition of Waterski Magazine.

Aliaksei "Ace" Zharnasek flipping

Steeped in Tradition or Stuck in the Past? | Waterski Magazine


Steeped in Tradition or Stuck in the Past? The Current State of Competitive Trick Skiing

Aliaksei Zharnasek (image:

By Trent Finlayson

Waterski Magazine

April, 2014

With amateur participation numbers on decline and fewer elite events than ever, trick skiing appears to be on a downward slide. Opinion is based on vantage, however. Ask some of the athletes and coaches at the sport’s forefront, and you will get a slightly more optimistic view.

“I spend more than 500 hours a year coaching trick skiers,” says Matt Rini, former pro tricker and current coach of the Canadian National Team. “Based on what I see behind my boat every day, trick skiing is far from dead.” Famed ski and wakeboard coach Mike Ferraro echoes a similar sentiment. “The stuff these guys and girls are truly capable of is mind-blowing,” he says. “And they are only getting better.”

If the level of trick skiing is on the rise at both the amateur and pro levels, why are general participation numbers dwindling? Many industry leaders point to the sport’s resistance to change as its greatest limiting factor.

Ferraro has bean coaching trick skiing for more than 35 years, and while he has seen the sport excel in terms of on-water talent, he feels the event has unfortunately stalled. “Traditionally, the international rules committee has consisted of representatives that don’t fully understand the sport,” he says. “They are holding back the event, and as a result, the athletes are being stifled of their creativity. A reevaluation of the points would be a great place to start. Obviously, we need to drop the limit on the number of flips the skiers are allowed to do. If a specific invert is a recognized trick, it makes no sense to say a skier can’t include it in their run.”

Camillo Espinel, another coach of numerous world champions, feels the state of the event is in the eye of the beholder. “It really depends upon the collective goal of the governing bodies,” Espinel says. “If the goal is to make trick skiing more appealing to the masses, a change in format is necessary.” He believes the current format rewards conservatism and limits the athletes true abilities as skiers.

“Aliaksei Zharnasek won the Worlds with a run he can do blindfolded. The incentive model is askew with the current rule book; that forces our athletes to compete at about 70 percent of their true potential,” Espinel says. “It would be like a slalom event judged on who runs the best 38 off without ever advancing to 39 or 41 off.”

Zharnasek, a three-peat world trick champion and student of Espinel, says, “Trick skiing has been stuck at the same level for too long.” The 34-year-old Belarusian athlete isn’t calling for a vast restructure of the event, just a shift in thinking. “I would like to see a sliding scale within the point system that would give partial points for tricks that are not perfectly performed. I strongly believe that the current methodology of judging is holding the event back; it is pushing kids away from the sport.” Zharnasek says he would like to see the point system reward riskier runs. “Many skiers’ runs are nearly identical,” he says. “There are some extremely hard trick combinations that never get used because the risk trumps the reward.”

Eighteen-year-old women’s trick world-record holder and world champion Erika Lang agrees with Zharnasek. “I would like to see trick skiing become a more expressive sport for its athletes,” she says. “The current runs all look the same. If the six-flip limit was lifted, skiers would be free to construct any run they wanted. It would make it far more appealing to spectators.”

The stringent format of the event may have to stand aside for Lang, as she contemplates pursuing wakeboarding. “I have been riding a bit this winter, and my tricks are transferring over really well. I would like to keep at it and see how it goes.”

American senior official and American Water Ski Association Rules Committee member Kathy Ives is one official not afraid of changes as long as it doesn’t overly detract from trick skiing in it’s traditional form. “Some restructuring to the point system is in order to ensure the more difficult tricks are being rewarded properly,” she says. “Like any rule change in our sport; however, it takes time and eventual support from the international body, the [International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation].”

It’s a process Ives knows all too well. “When a trick is being considered, it must first pass through the different levels of the governing body.”

Starting with the national rules committee, the members review the trick, vote on its validity and pass their suggestions onto the national board of directors for approval. From there, the new trick must be accepted by the IWWF before officially being adopted. While Ives is in support of advancing the sport, she understands the importance of weighing each possible rule change carefully. “Generally speaking, they don’t want trick skiing to morph into wakeboarding,” she says. “They want to reinforce the discipline that is required to master all facets of the trick event, from inverts to ski lines to toes. Tricks is considered the gold standard of traditional three-event skiing, and many are afraid to lose that history moving forward.”

Rini knows the sport can advance without mirroring its wakeboarding brethren. “The fast-paced nature of the sport, as dictated by the 20-second time limit, is really what differentiates trick skiing from wakeboarding,” he says. “And that will never go away.”

To Rini, the answer is simple, and it’s one that does not risk the integrity of the sport. “There needs to be a reassignment of points that will allow skiers to structure their passes to suit their strengths,” he says. “If inverts are your strength, you should be able to put together a run with mostly flips. Or if it’s ski lines or toes or spins, you should be able to place your emphasis there. Even if the flip limit is opened up, the winner will still have to be the most well-rounded tricker.”

Sounds reasonable. But if our governing body’s historical resistance to change is any indication, improving the trick event is likely to be a long, slow process.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 edition of Waterski Magazine.

ULM Water Ski 2011-2012

The Ultimate Program | Waterski Magazine


The Ultimate Program

Amazing skiing worthy of full scholarships and championship rings – the ULM Warhawks represent collegiate water skiing at its finest.

ULM Water Ski 2011-2012

ULM Water Ski 2011-2012 (image: Heather Raley)

By Josh Sampiero

Waterski Magazine

Fall 2012

Homework? Check. Textbooks? Check. Water skis, swim trunks, sunscreen? Check, check, check. If you happened to be one of the lucky few on the renowned University of Louisiana at Monroe water ski team, your day might look something like this: (1) Wake up. Shake off grogginess from last night’s partying. (2) Scoot on down to campus to pull a quick slalom set before attending Brit Lit 2420 in the admin building. (3) Eat lunch out of a sack at the student union, have a quick study sesh with class mates for an upcoming econ quiz, and then head back to the boat for some tricking before the sun sets on another day of your college career.

It’s OK to be jealous. I imagine that just about every other college skiing program in the country envies ULM’s success. In terms of competitive collegiate water skiing, ULM is essentially unrivaled. From its beginnings in ULM student-athlete Frank Ingram’s backyard, in 1978, to 23 national championships spanning three decades, no other school has been as dominant behind the boat – and ULM shows no signs of stopping.

Want to know what makes it even more impressive? There’s no coach. That’s right – the skiers coach themselves. Of course, when you have near-pro or soon-to-be-pro skiers in your program, that might not be a bad thing. In fact, the level of skiing is so high at ULM, the program attracts athletes from all around the world. Twenty-two-year-old British senior Will Oliver is a case in point.

“One great thing about ULM is I can ski year round,” says Oliver, who has been skiing since he was 4. “You can’t do that back home, and we don’t have collegiate- or university-level skiing in England. I definitely ski harder and train more competitively in the U.S.” And given Oliver’s desire to have a career in pro water skiing, he couldn’t be in a better place. ULM’s program has produced several pro skiers: Ryan Dodd, Natallia Berdnikava, Freddy Krueger, Regina Jaquess and Thomas Degasperi have all skied behind the ULM Warhawks’ maroon-and-gold Correct Craft.

And with the Bayou Desiard practice and tournament area running directly through the middle of campus, the ski team is highly visible. “It’s the most visible program on campus,” says Tyler Scott, a junior skier who grew up just down the street, in Covington, Louisiana. “If you’re on campus, you know about the ski team. You’ll see us practicing all day.” Oliver concurs. “Teachers work with us when we have to miss class for a tournament, and the new university president, Dr. Nick Bruno, has really helped get the program some recognition.”

For students like Tyler Scott, who won the slalom event at collegiate nationals last year, it’s a dream come true – a chance to ski while getting you education paid for. Even though Scott grew up skiing competitively and knew about ULM’s ski team his entire life, his main reason for being at ULM is the pharmacy school, one of the university’s most prestigious programs. Scott and the rest of the team pay for their books, housing and meals, but their tuition is covered by athletic scholarships. What’s it like for other schools to ski against a program whose university sets aside $1.50 of every student’s tuition for the ski team?

John Mommer, graduate of rival program University of Louisiana at Lafayette and marketing director for HO Sports, recalls going head-to-head with the Warhawks. “They were always really good, and they had such a deep team,” he says. “And while they are very well funded, that doesn’t make the difference – it’s their team cohesion.”

Of course, all the attention means that the pressure is on – and the team knows it. What does that mean? Practice, practice, practice – even without a coach. “The boat is pretty much running from daybreak to dusk, every day of the week,” Scott says. “You learn who on the team you like to ski with, and pair off for hour-long practice sessions with three of four people. Everyone on the team has been skiing so long, so we help each other tune up our game.” Many of the three-event skiers practice three times a day, three days a week or more – and that’s on top of gym time, class and, of course, road trips.

6 of the Most Dominant Collegiate Skiers of All Time

1. Rhoni Barton

The winningest collegiate skier of all time, Barton graduated from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and swept all three events at the NCWSA Nationals in 1995, 1996 and 1997. She has a total of 14 national collegiate titles.

2. Will Asher

Skiing for ULL from 2002 to 2005, Asher broke the collegiate slalom record (3½ at 41 off) in his sophomore year and finished his collegiate career with two national slalom titles and one overall title.

3. Regina Jaquess

This ULM powerhouse still holds the women’s collegiate slalom record (2 at 39½ off), which she set in 2003. Winning numerous national slalom, trick, jump and overall titles, Jaquess earned valuable points for her team from 2002 to 2005.

4. Zack Worden

ULM’s three-time national jump champ and current record holder (195 feet) was also a dominant force in trick and slalom from 2009 to 2011.

5. Clementine Lucine

She represented the best talent at Florida Southern College from 2006 to 2009, when she set a national collegiate trick record (4,530 points) and claimed seven NCWSA national titles.

6. Natallia Berdnikava

The ULM three-event all star won three NCWSA national jump titles, and at the 2007 NCWSA Nationals, she took the top spot on the women’s podium in slalom, trick, jump and overall.

The Perfect College Ski School

When Ryan Dodd arrived at the ULM campus in 2003, he was in heaven. “Within walking distance of my apartment was a gym, a pool, the ski area, my classes and a bar right on the bayou, call the Library Lounge,” the pro jumper, who coaches current ULM student Matt Wenninger, recalls.

Surely a bar on the bayou means trouble for a large group of hard-partying college students, no? Dodd says: “Not really. The group dynamic changes from year to year. After my first semester at ULM, when everyone on the ski team was really partying hard, things got a little more serious. We were athletes and students, and we were there to compete and get and education. Of course, all that pent-up energy has to release itself sometime, so about once a month there’s be a big rager, and they’re still some of the best parties I’ve ever been to!”

So what other sorts of hijinks go on when college skids have the keys to a brand-new ski boat? Dodd laughs. “I can say with certainty that I can’t say officially whether or not I may have heard of any nighttime skiing.” He tells of a certain individual who’s light on his feet – let’s just call him possibly the best ski jumper of all time – who wanted to show off his giant vertical leap on a stroll home from the bar, and hopped over a railing near the bayou. He fell 15 feet to the grass below, which knocked the wind out of him, but fortunately left him without any injuries. “That guy definitely learned one lesson in college.” Dodd says. “Keep your vertical jumps to the water!”

Team manager Triena Landrum coordinates the travel and accommodation for tournaments. The team frequently piles into the athletic department’s 15-passenger van to travel when a tournament is within driving range. “Definitely some memories there,” Oliver says, laughing. “There’s been quite a few singalongs!” Of course, driving the van and booking hotels isn’t Landrum’s only job. She also helps arrange scholarships, helps the team work with teachers to make up schoolwork, and helps international skiers like Oliver adjust to life in the States. Oliver laughs thinking back to his first few months here. “I thought it would be easy, because it was the same language,” he says, with a very obvious British accent. “But I didn’t understand anyone with a Louisiana drawl for months.”

And while Landrum’s not a skier herself, she plays an integral role on the team; she helps recruit new athletes to the program. “When a prospective skier is interested in attending ULM, I really only want to know one thing: What’s your tour ranking?” Landrum says. The standard is high, but once you get there, you’re taken care of very well. And of course, ULM skiers receive a solid education while they’re honing their skills on the water, both in acclaimed programs like meteorology or pharmacy, as well as programs like sports marketing, in which many ULM skiers earn their degree, to help bolster their chances of a successful pro career.

So, is there competition within the team? Absolutely. Only the top five team skiers in slalom, trick and jump get to compete at nationals, so there’s plenty of incentive to work hard. “We push each other quite a bit,” Oliver says.

Of course, winning one year just means that more pressure is on for the next year. In just a few short weeks, on the weekend of Oct. 18 through 20, the 2012 National Collegiate Championships will be held in their backyard, in Zachary, Louisiana, and all eyes will be on the ULM skiers as they hit the water, hoping to win yet another national title. Scott, skiing for his second at ULM, is optimistic. “It’s never easy. We lost Zack Worden, which is going to hurt, but we got some new recruits that can hopefully step up. I think we’ll be in the running, but we’ll see what happens this fall!”

But whether the Warhawks win or lose in October, one question has already been answered. When it comes to collegiate competition, ULM has the ultimate program.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of Waterski Magazine.

Water skiing at the Malibu Open in Veterans Park, Milwaukee

The Greatest Shows in Skiing | Waterski Magazine


The greatest shows in skiing.

On the lake and off, a new way of hosting water ski events is changing the way a pro ski event comes to life.

Water skiing at the Malibu Open in Veterans Park, Milwaukee

The Malibu Open in Veterans Park, Milwaukee (image: Joel Hughes)

By Josh Sampiero

Waterski Magazine

July-August, 2012

It sounds simple. Throw out some buoys, gas up the boat, invite some hotshot skiers, and bam, you’ve got a world class event. Easy, right? “Ha!” exclaims Dana Reed, organizer of the Malibu Open. “People have no idea the manpower that goes into putting on a water ski event. It’s a lot of hard work!” Reed should know. Over the past decade, he’s put on nearly 50 amateur and professional water ski events.

The most important lesson he’s learned? Forget what the lake looks like, and start looking at what’s around it. “If I can’t see skyscrapers within a quarter mile of the event venue, I’m not interested.” This summer, Reed’s pet project, the Malibu Open in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a groundbreaking event in Orlando called Soaked! Are poised to get the world of professional water skiing – and hopefully a whole lot of new fans – pretty wet.

Competitive Evolution

From competitive water skiing’s glory days until just a few short years ago, the format of competition remained fairly static, with little thought given to how to make events appeal to nonwater-skiing spectators, Reed says. “At the Malibu Open, I get asked 100 times a day how the event is scored,” he says. A few nontraditional formats have emerged to combat this, including head-to-head skiing, or elimination rounds that nonskier spectators can follow, Like Marcus Brown’s Last Man Standing contest held at BoardStock in 2007. After narrowing down the field to six skiers, the finalists all skied one pass at a time, shortening the line after each round. Skiers who missed were eliminated, and the rounds continued until only one competitor remained. “Because there was one guy after another at the same pass [the spectators] knew who won,” Brown explains. “They knew who got the furthest because they just saw everybody try 39 within a two-minute time frame … it happens quick.”

Case Study: The Malibu Open

Hard-to-understand formats weren’t the only thing holding pro skiing back. The inclination had been to hold events at private or hard-to-reach lakes. They may have offered pristine water skiing conditions, but very little in terms of visibility. But in 2011, the Malibu Open put pro-level water skiing in front of 13,000 spectators at Milwaukee’s Veteran’s Park Lagoon, which features a highly trafficked promenade, just a short distance from downtown.

Securing such a venue isn’t easy. He has to pay the paddleboat business loss of income for two days, on top of what it costs him to bring in 25 vendors, rent a 15-foot JumboTron, and get 150 posters and banners hung up in 24 hours. But it’s worth it. “I have two goals,” says 56-year-old Reed, who has been water skiing since he was 20. “To get the athletes as much money as I can, and to put as many spectators as possible on the shore for the sponsors. It’s all about putting our sport in front of people and making it grow.” It’s pretty had to argue, considering the success he’s had. This year, Reed hopes to see 15,000 or more visitors over the two-day period.

Soaking up $100,000

The Malibu Open isn’t the only event that’s generating buzz this summer. Over Surf Expo weekend in Orlando, we’ll see the debut of a new event called Soaked. Put together by former pro water skier Mike Morgan and attorney/water ski buff Steve Garcia (both of whom have children who will be competing in the event) and promoted by Australian-born Paul Lovett, Soaked is pulling out all stops and creating an absolute spectacle, right on downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola. The lake hasn’t seen a water ski event since the ‘80s.

Not only will there be pro-level slalom and jumping happening in the afternoon and at night, but there will be three stages with live band, a vert ramp with professional skateboarders, and a muscle-car and custom-motorcycle show, while local graffiti artists on the premises ink up original work. Sounds more like a party, I tell Lovett. He laughs. “When Freddy’s jumping and Ryan’s jumping, it’s awesome. When the boat’s just doing lap after lap, it’s boring. I have to think of what I can do to make this interesting for the spectator. And after 30 years of promoting events, I’m not just putting my toe in the water,” he says. “I’m diving in.” Why? It’s simple. He believes in water skiing. “We’re in a sport that’s ready to explode. Someone just needs to kick it in the ass again!” How big of a kick does it need? A $100,000 kick – one of the largest prize purses ever offered at a ski event.

The Next Show

So, is all this effort paying off? Will new formats, higher-profile venues and more people in the stands pay off in getting more water skiers on the water and increasing the visibility of the sport on the national scale? Unfortunately, there’s no instant answer to that question. We’ll have to wait and see. But for Dana Reed, what’s going to happen next is obvious. After two years of success with the Malibu Open, he’s looking at other locations, such as Denver, Colorado and Dallas, Texas. The only requirement? “Skyscrapers!” Reed exclaims. Of course.

This article originally appeared in the July-August 2012 edition of Waterski Magazine.