It was a cool, still late August evening. The tail of the ski made a slight sucking sound as I skimmed across the glassy smooth water. I cut hard to my right, away from the boat, setting up a sharp turn back to jump the boat’s wake. Just then, he threw the boat into a hard left turn, leaving me at the end of a crack-the-whip maneuver, gaining speed and unable to turn back. This was not going to end well!
Oh, how did I get there?
In 1961, my father bought a used boat. It was and 18-ft aluminum cabin runabout with a 50 horsepower outboard engine.
The boat was fun and fast. At first, we just cruised up and down the river. We soon discovered marinas where we could dock and get a sandwich and a drink. On weekends, mother would join us.
We would regularly see boats pulling skiers. Though neither of us had ever skied, we decided this was something we should “do,”—we figured, “How hard can it be?” We went to Sears in Richmond and picked out a pair of red skis, tow rope, life jackets, etc.
We planned to make our initial ski runs in the afternoon after work when there was less traffic on the river. We attached the tow rope to the boat and got everything ready.
I pushed us away from the dock and we eased out into deep water. It was time. I put on the life vest and jumped in the water. My father handed me the skis, one at a time. I struggled to put my feet into the bindings. Everything was awkward, skis pointing in opposite directions, etc. I finally got them sort of under control and he moved the boat ahead to put tension on the rope. He eased the throttle forward and pulled me up, over, and head first back into the water. We repeated this process a dozen or more times. Once or twice I would be up on the skis for a short distance, then—splash.
On the next try, I was in a tight, determined crouch position, holding tight to the tow rope. Accidentally or on purpose, I am not sure which, moved the throttle forward quickly, the boat took off, and jerked me up out of the water and onto the skis. It wasn’t pretty; I was in a low crouch, on skis, bouncing across the water. I traveled about a hundred yards, after which myleg muscles gave out.. But I had gotten up. We repeated this several more times, and each time I stood up a little straighter, and traveled even farther.
Within a week, I was skiing well enough to go for longer rides. I could even cross the boat’s wake.
Toward the end of the summer, I bought a nice pair of varnished wood combo skis—one ski had a binding for slalom (single ski) skiing. Transitioning to slalom skiing was sort of like learning to ski all over again. I learned to twist my left foot so the ski was pulled off by the speed through the water. Then I had to get that foot onto the single ski and keep everything balanced.
Of course after a nice ski run, we had to go back and find the ski I had kicked off. Later I learned to kick off the ski as I headed toward the beach. The loose ski would glide up on the beach as we turned back toward the middle of the river.
Soon, I was able to get up on the single ski and really felt more in control on the slalom ski.
I guess I got kind of cocky. My father began looking for ways to dump me off the skis. He would look for the boat making the biggest wake and take me across these waves. If he was going fast, I might even become airborne. This led to some spectacular “crashes,” but if I did not get dumped, it was really fun.
So now, back to that late August evening: I am skimming along the glassy smooth water.
I swung cut sharply to the right, leaning hard into the turn, preparing to cut back across the wake and high speed. Before I could make the turn back, my father threw the boat is in a tight, full speed left turn, leaving me hanging on, traveling more than twice the speed of the boat in a wicked crack-the-whip maneuver. I remember seeing a gar fish roll up on the surface just as I went by a few feet away. My father held the turn. All I could do was hang on, leaning against the turn. He completed a full circle and I came back across our wake. Because I was leaning against the tension of the tow rope, my ski was cutting through the water on an angle. I hit the wake. The wake caught edge of the ski and flipped the ski off my feet. I was traveling fast enough that when I hit the water, I skipped like stone three or four times across the surface.
As he pulled the boat up beside me, my father was doubled over laughing.