“OK, you ready?” A voice 20 feet away at the wheel of a boat hollers at me.
Clad in a bikini and a life jacket, sitting in the middle of Boca Lake in Tahoe, California, I’m really not sure that I am. My gloved fingers grip the handle and I bob about trying to keep the large and cumbersome water skis attached to my feet upright. It is my first lesson.
“Now,” Craig, a seasoned slalom skier says, “We’ll tow you along and when you’re ready, you shout ‘Hit it!’ We’ll put the power on, and you let the boat just pull you up.”
It sounds easy enough. We chug along for several seconds while I attempt to find my balance and pluck up some courage all at once, and then I yell, “Hit it!” Just like he said. The boat zooms off, my feet push down, my legs straighten a fraction, my behind graces the water’s surface for a split second, and then I’m head-first straight into the lake, water in my eyes, ears, mouth, up my nose. I surface, coughing and spluttering to see the boat coming back around.
“When you go down, there are two rules: one, let go of the rope; two, hold your breath,” Craig laughs and throws me the rope for round two.
The first thing you need to know about learning to water ski is that it hurts. You’ll get back, take a shower and wonder where all the bruises came from. The second thing you need to know is that you’ll go head first more times than you’ll care to own up to. So why do people do it?
Well, it’s sort of addictive. Getting up on the skis becomes a challenge you don’t want to back down from and the challenge teases you. You can expect the first few tries to be a disaster, but then slowly, you begin to understand it. You begin to gauge where your balance needs to be – slightly back but not too far back or you’ll go down butt first. You begin to recognise the feel of the skis gliding on the water, to pinpoint when to push yourself up to standing.
And as you get better, and just a little further out of the water before you fall, you can’t help but agree to try again.
Then it happens, and it’s beautiful. Suddenly you’re skimming across the surface of a lake and despite not being entirely sure how you got there, you are skiing. At this point, it’s best to enjoy the moment without worrying too much about how you’re going to stay up – this often leads to falling again.
From here it’s about balance and keeping your legs a consistent distance apart. It’s often easier to ski at a faster speed, as you can pull back against the boat a little. Shorter people, inevitably, struggle less than those of us who are tall. Being built like Bambi, I survived no more than thirty seconds on the skis. But there comes a point where even the smack of cool water at 30mph can’t subdue the elation that gliding across the surface brings.
- Beginners should start on a quieter lake where the water is flat – breezes and traffic make it harder to stay balanced.
- You may find it easier to drop a ski once you’re up so that you’re more centred.
- Struggling with skis? Wakeboarding is another, slightly easier option to try while you get the hang of getting vertical.