Corey Vaughn: “My plan is to retire after two more seasons”
Peace, Love and Waterskiing’s own Corey Vaughn (image: Michael Danchi)
By Jack Burden
Corey Vaughn, the free-spirited slalom specialist from Virginia, has carved an unconventional path in his professional water ski career. Raised on free skiing and occasional outings on a portable course with his grandfather at a public lake in North Carolina, Vaughn displayed talent from an early age, winning his first tournament as a junior. However, it wasn’t until after college that Vaughn fully committed to tournament skiing. Since then, he has maintained a consistent presence on the professional circuit, notably becoming the 10th man to run 10.25m (41’ off) in 2015. In contrast to his peers predominantly based in Florida, Vaughn has remained rooted in his native Virginia, operating a ski school with a grassroots focus and supplementing his income with substitute teaching.
Now 38 years old and a father himself, Vaughn finds himself approaching the twilight of his career. A disappointing 2022 season prompted him to reassess his priorities, feeling stretched thin by the demands of fatherhood, business ownership, and elite athletic competition. Rather than immediately retiring, Vaughn embarked on a three-year plan aimed at turning things around, beginning with the 2023 season.
In his quest for balance and synergy among family, business, and skiing, Vaughn made significant lifestyle changes. Speaking on a recent episode of The Water Skier’s podcast Hit It!, Vaughn shared, “One of the first things that went down on the plan was I realized that I needed to quit drinking alcohol… that went into effect last January.” He continued, “A number of other lifestyle factors followed; tightening up my nutrition, wearing devices, getting curious about my sleep, and seeing a sports psychologist… just bringing in other modalities, things that I haven’t been exercising before.”
The results were tangible. In 2023, Vaughn experienced what he considers his best season yet, finishing 9th on the Waterski Pro Tour after making the finals in every event he entered. Despite this success, Vaughn remains committed to his three-year retirement plan: “My plan is to retire after two more seasons. That’s not to say I won’t ever throw my hat in at a pro tournament or a national’s if I’m skiing well, but to make it a 365-day-a-year obsession, which it currently is, it’s something that I will put down and walk away from.”
Though he’s still chasing his first professional title, Vaughn remains ambitious, stating, “As audacious as it sounds, my plan is to step on the stage with [Nate Smith], all equal conditions, and be able to go out there and take a win, at least once.”
Reflecting on the sport’s evolution since his early days, Vaughn expresses optimism for its future. “When I think back to where things were as I was coming into the scene in 2009/2010… that was almost a low point,” he recalls. “We’re having a moment right now… I want to stay involved and see this momentum that we have built go to the next level because I feel like we are just on this side of a threshold point of breaking through to something bigger.”
Vaughn envisions improvements in the sport’s format and packaging to attract wider audiences and higher-level sponsors. ” I won’t be there for it on the athlete end, but I certainly hope to see it because the sport deserves it,” he said. “If I can be part of it, I hope I can do something.”