Walking on water

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The origins of water-skiing are worth pondering; odds are someone simply fell off the back of a speeding boat, grabbed the nearest tethered rope in an attempt to save themselves, and as human nature would have it, rather than smash around in the waves they stood up. Bingo, a sport was invented.

The truth is much less interesting. A man called Ralph Samuelson of the US is formally acknowledged as the first water-skier in history.  It is recorded he tied a couple of planks to his feet and used an old clothesline to perform the first run in 1922 of what is now one of the most highly coveted recreational sports in the world.

The popularity of water-skiing was so prolific through the 60s and 70s, that it was actually included as an exhibition sport at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Popular theory assumes it got no further up the Olympic food chain due to its inherent expense and inaccessibility to third world countries.  Though with surfing and sport climbing in the mix for Olympic inclusion, it may yet make the agenda.

There would be few who haven’t had a crack at standing up behind a boat on skis. However, as with all sports, the competitive version is a lot tougher and more skilful than first suspected.

Tournament water-skiing involves three disciplines; slalom, jump and trick; and world champions are found by amassing the most points in each.

Slalom means speeding along behind a boat, zigzagging through six buoys, each of those buoys 11.5m away from the centre that the boat travels down.  If a skier is successful, the boat is progressively sped up and the rope progressively shortened until the skier ‘fails’ to negotiate a buoy.  Pretty much know how that must end.

Pro men can reach slalom speeds of up to 116 km/hr and fight against 4 Gs of force, resulting in the equivalent of 600kg in torque. The lower body is basically used as a lever in order to withstand such forces, however upper body isometric strength and core stability are paramount in order to change direction with such control and speed.

The jump event is exactly what it says; come screaming into a ramp on your skis and see how far you can fly before landing on your feet/skis.  The world record is currently held by the aptly named Freddy Krueger who jumped a jaw-dropping 95m in 2015.

Trick skiing uses a shorter, wider ski and involves two runs of 20 seconds in which to impress with flips, rotations, toe holds and spins.  The trickier the trick, the bigger the score.

In 2009, Cambridge’s Stacey Gilbert won a bronze medal at the Under-17 World Championships, being one of just a handful of New Zealanders to feature large on the world stage. Hamilton’s Aaron Larkin was the first New Zealander to be the world’s top ranked men’s slalom water skier via multiple podiums and a silver medal at the World Championships in 2011.

“We are lacking some young skiers in Waikato which is a shame” says Stacey. “However, the under 21 Aussie-Kiwi challenge was recently held at Piarere. The Aussies all stayed at Karapiro and by all accounts it was a huge success and the Aussies really enjoyed it. So that was great to hear.”

Barefoot water-skiing repeats the above, slaloming over the wake, jumping to land on your butt, and then stand up, (for what should be obvious reasons) and tricks that use what usually become hardened soles of the feet rather than the skis.

Being that most people’s feet are smaller than skis and as if going barefoot wasn’t hard enough, the boat speed has to be faster in barefoot to create enough lift.  Additionally, skiing in reverse, so holding the handle behind the hips and facing away from the boat means you start this kind of run with your face already underwater. Nice.

The Waipa 40+ sportsperson of the year in 2014 was one such hardened and incredibly gutsy athlete – barefoot water-ski champion Kathy Duxfield, now retired, who revels in teaching others the art of using your feet.

So if speed, agility, strength, water and a bit of knarly thrown in sound like they could be for you, get in touch with Nigel at Pairere Water-ski club at Nigel.Wilson@spark.co.nz or Karapiro Water-ski club at the other end of the lake www.skikarapiro.co.nz. The Waikato Regional Water-ski champs takes place at Horahora Domain, Karapiro on March 19-20 if you want to see how it’s done.

And the dangers of water-skiing you ask? ACC statistics show 2131 new claims and 2762 ongoing for water-ski injuries last year at a total cost of $4 million.  Which utterly pales in comparison to Rugby Union with 61,705 new and 76,965 ongoing claims at a cost of $77,335,941.

Just a thought.

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