- Boating, Waterski and Wakeboarding Links, News, Articles and Interviews with the Pro's.


You are here:    Home >Articles/A Skier's Story 


The Call Of The Water - A Skier's Story written by Gordon Slingerland

     No one knows when it will happen or why it happens to some and not others but those who have heard the call of the water understand that once you have answered it you are captivated for life. There are some who think they have heard it but you can tell the true waterskier from the fad followers. The call is not direct and you may not realize that you have heard it until later in life. This is what happened to me and here is my story.   

     For me it began in the early 1960’s when I was only 5 years old. My Grandparents built a cabin at the lake. During the long hot summer days in the south we would spend much time there. I would watch as my grandfather and uncles would fly across the water behind a boat as if determined to pull it to a stop. I don’t know whose boat they were using, as we did not have one at the time. Sometime later my grandfather bought a small fishing boat. It was only 14 feet with a 30-hp motor but we now had our own boat. 

     When I was about seven years old I was presented with a set of Cypress Gardens Buster trainer skiís and was told it was time for me to learn how to ski. I believe I got up on the third try and from then on the only way I would quit was for them to stop the boat. I was hooked. Oh how I loved those Busters. Friends of the family would come down and visit and most of them had more powerful boats to ski with. My grandfather was a fisherman and saw no need for a bigger boat. 

     About the time I was nine I was ready to slalom so I would drop one of my trusty Busters and place my foot on the tail. These ski’s had no rear toe piece. I would ride and cross the wake for hours it seemed. I was never to ski on two skis again. From somewhere I got access to a flat bottom Cypress Gardens junior little monster. Cypress Gardens Little Monster I don’t know where it came from but for the next few years it was mine. Friends would continue to come down with there bigger outboard boats. Some with bigger skis with names like El Diablo and Maharajah. These were the best of times. I could have stayed in that era forever. We were still skiing behind our old fishing boat and I did not really know much about skiing other than our little piece of the lake. It didn’t seem to matter. Life was good.  

     When I was about eleven my uncle acquired a wooden 1950’s Century inboard ski boat and to me we had reached the pinnacle of skiing.1950's Century Inboard I don’t even remembering anyone complaining of the two foot wall of water you had to cross behind the old Century. 

     We now had an inboard. For the next few years we would ski all summer and it was always an adventure. Most days would end with us swimming the boat back to the dock for running out of gas or breaking down. If this was the price of skiing then I didn’t mind one bit. I was now able to one hand turns and kick up a mighty rooster tail and I thought we were the best skiers around.

     "I may never reach my goal of 32 off but I now realize that is not what matters. If you can go to the lake and make a run you feel proud of. It doesn’t matter if it is with a 75-ft. rope or at 38 off."

      I was beginning to hear stories of water skiers in competition and skiing slalom around buoys and Little Monster Logo skiing over ramps and flying through the air. This invoked visions of larger than life people in far away places, as I have never seen such a thing. I had heard of the ski shows but not competition. I would seek out any information available and occasionally Wide World of Sports would show a short clip the Masters. I truly believed these things were not done by normal people living around me.  For now I was content to layout on my little monster and cut across mount Century’s wake.

      Then I was about fourteen when it happened. The Century was mortally wounded and  beyond our ability to repair. She was sold. I tried to talk my mother into buying it for me to no avail. I think I cried for days when she was gone. Not only had I lost a towboat I had lost a part of my youth that could not be regained. I believed I was the only one who felt this way. It was the call of the water and I could not answer.

     About this same time my grandfather decided he needed a better fishing boat. Although he did not buy a big boat he now had a sixteen footer with a 55-hp outboard. We were back in business. For the next few years we wore that boat out. He didn’t mind as long as we bought the gas and kept it clean. That is when I learned about summer jobs. Cutting grass and delivering newspapers to earn gas money for his boat. He would still on occasion ski behind it and did so until the age of 78.

     "If there is one piece of advise I could give to young skiers it is to not forget your genuine joy of skiing that we all felt to begin with."

    I still had not seen anyone ski a slalom course in person but I was beginning to figure out on my own what they were doing. I started skiing wide and making harder and harder cuts across the wake to the point of pulling the boat around. I knew somehow I had to get involved in some serious skiing. I was not only wearing out the boat but myself as well. I was sixteen and still skiing a little monster using seventy-five foot ropes we made ourselves with wooden handles. Then the next great loss occurred. Whoever had left the little monster at our lake house had decided to take it home. I was now without a ski.

     The only place to get equipment then was the local marina or boat dealer and their selections were less than desirable. Somehow my mother knew I was crushed and she came through with a new Cypress Gardens El Bruto concave slalom. Cypress Gardens El Bruto I cut grass and saved my allowance and bought a new tow harness, ski vest and rubber handled rope. I was ready to go again. Now I found out that with my new ski that the old fishing boat was no match for my weight and a concave ski. I began searching for anyone who could give me a pull behind a larger more powerful boat. This is when I began to realize that I did not know that many people who had the passion for skiing that I had. El Bruto Logo I thought up to that point that everyone wanted to ski. For the next few summers skiing was a hit and miss affair.

     After finishing high school I started working but chose a job that I only worked in the evenings so I could spend my days on the water. After a few months I was starting to save a little money and for the first time thought of buying my own boat. While some people thought it was odd for a teenager to buy a boat, my Grandfather understood I had to ski. Dixie Devil He helped me choose a good dependable boat. It was a fiberglass Dixie Devil 17 footer with a 115 hp Evinrude.  It was fast and would track straight. I was the envy of my friends and for a while I had no problem getting people to ski with.

     We would go and all have a great time but it was easy to tell which ones had a real passion for the lake. With my tow harness still working I began to out ski my El Bruto. A change was in order. I had heard of fiberglass skis but had no idea of where to look for one. My uncle who owned the Century had been transferred to Washington N.C. and while in nearby Greenville he came across a small store named Overton’s. He remembered my love of the lake and sent me one of their brochures. It was no bigger than a church bulletin then but before my eyes was everything a skier could imagine.

     I could tell my part time job was going to be stretched to upgrade my equipment so I changed to a third shift job to make more money but also be able to go to the lake after work and ski all morning. As luck would have it a co-worker was into skiing as much as I was or so I thought at the time. My first order from Overton's was for an O'Brien Competitor, Dual plate bindings, Four-buckle vest, Competition rope and Gloves. O'Brien Competitor Real ski gloves. No more torn calluses.

     I was beginning to ski more determined and would try to coach myself with the help of riders to work on my form. I had no idea there were schools and coaches for such things. I soon found out about the AWSA and became a member. This is when I first found out that they were tournaments in my area and had been for years. I was excited and bewildered at the same time. All those years I could have been surrounded by other ski enthusiast and found ski partners and coaches.

     I entered my first tournament without ever having run a slalom course. For some reason I still did not know that there were any around to train in. The day of the tournament the weather was bad and slalom was postponed until late in the day. I had to withdraw and go to work but I did meet and talk to other skiers and found that most were like me and they told me where I could find a slalom course to run. Now I thought my Dixie Devil tracked straight but when I went through the slalom course I pulled that boat all over the place. We must have cut ten buoys that day. Now this was no record type course. This was milk jugs tied to concrete blocks with inner tube rubber but it was only ten miles from home. I drank a lot of milk that year to keep that course up. I carried a bag of jugs and rubber strips in the bow at all times. But I knew I had to find a way to keep from clipping buoys. 

     On a trip back to my grandfathers’ lake house I noticed a boat I had not seen before. It was an outboard but the ski rope was tied to a bar in the middle of the boat. I jumped in my boat and chased them down. They told me later after I got to know them that they thought I was nuts to chase after them like I did. But I had never seen a tow bar on an outboard. Hello Overton’s. Send me one.

     Now I could run the course much straighter and was now running 15 off 36 mph. I thought I was on my way. Dreams of 38 off and tournament wins danced through my head. I skied three to four days a week training for my first tournament. Augusta GA. It was a novice tournament but I had to start somewhere. At the starting dock at 7:30AM I was ready. This is when it hit me. I have to ski behind a Ski Nautique with three 200 lb men in it through a course in front of a few hundred people. Now back then the Nautique was known for its big wake, but add 600 lbs of people and a full tank of gas and it was mount Century all over again. At 15 off I made the gate and number one but on my cut I drove the tip into the tsunami and while I made it to the two ball my ski was still back at the wake, thus ending my first tournament. If this was the way it was done I had to get an inboard and get used to the wake.

    For awhile my pride was hurt but I could not ignore the call of the water. I had trained hard only to realize I was light years behind my fellow competitors. My ski partner had now decided he no longer wanted to go to the lake and quit skiing. I thought this was a good time to get a first shift job and earn enough money for an inboard. While on the way to a job site I passed a store with inboards out front. This was a furniture store but the owner had a passion for skiing and sold boats and skis also. I was able to purchase a new Ski SupremeSki Supreme from him and he started to give me pointers and advise on skiing the course. This was the beginning of the best skiing years of my life. Now that I had a slalom course 10 miles from home I would go 2 or 3 days a week to run it. I had to jockey around a lot of people to find drivers and I still never had anyone to train me and most of what I learned was trial and error. I didn’t mind the trials but the errors were starting to hurt. At 28 off I took a nasty fall into the wake and for the first time ever I was not able to get back up. I was dragged into the boat semi-conscious. This is when I realized that answering the call had its price.  

     I was able to continue training for an upcoming tournament. It was a two-pull slalom only. Gordon Slingerland - Training for a tournament When I arrived for this I saw some of the same faces from my first tournament in Augusta. I was determined not to have a repeat. Although I did not win, I placed 8th out of 25 skiers. To me this was a major achievement. I no longer had dreams of 38 off but more realistic expectations of maybe 32. I soon found out that for full out shortline skiing you needed several things.  A good coach, good equipment, and reliable ski partners to ski with. A private lake wouldn’t hurt either. The only one of the these I had was the equipment. 

     For the next few years I skied whenever I had the chance but was never able to regain a competitive form. I still loved the water but I had become too focused on running the course and forgot the reason I enjoyed skiing. If there is one piece of advise I could give to young skiers it is to not forget your genuine joy of skiing that we all felt to begin with. For the past several years I rarely got the boat out. I skied from time to time when the opportunity arose but most of my old ski partners were soccer families and golfers now. I even took up golf for awhile and although I did enjoy it I was only trying to replace skiing.

     I changed jobs recently and while I looked forward to the new company. I was not expecting to find ski partners there. I had resigned myself to never skiing passionately again. However, when I started my new job I noticed ski boats and skis in the shop area. I soon found out the owner of the company was an avid skier. After meeting him I was impressed by what I saw as someone who has a true passion for skiing and answered the call. He also had the resources to advanced deep into shortline. Then the mother of all loads. Ski Site He had just purchased a small lake and was transforming it into a ski lake with a ski club. I felt as though a great opportunity has descended upon me to answer what I had ignored for years. For a true skier cannot give up his passion.

     I may never reach my goal of 32 off but I now realize that is not what matters.Private site with jump If you can go to the lake and make a run you feel proud of, it doesn’t matter if it is with a 75-ft. rope or at 38 off. I also have realized that I still enjoy open water skiing and lately I have been skiing more than I have in years.  

     My grandfather has since passed on but his lake house remains and on a recent trip down I had an enlightening experience. My uncle was there and in the early morning I am standing on the dock as he warms up the boat. As I buckle my vest for the first morning run a flood of memories rush through my head. How many times had I made this run? How many years have I been skiing? We are the only ones on the lake as I begin my run and the morning mist is rising off the water as the sun begins its climb. How many turns have I made 15? 20? I proceed to sew up the lake and I feel a calming of my soul. This is why I ski. Later that evening as I make the last run of the day, the water is starting to calm from the days’ activity as the sun is going down. With each turn I make my ski is carving perfect arcs and mighty walls of water rise and fall. The ski and I are one and the water is calling. I have to answer and there is only one way.







Aquaskier website is brought to you by the Aquaskier network.

Copyright © 2001, All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Use Advertise on Aquaskier Privacy Policy