This is my kind of sport: makes you do whooping noises, looks more difficult than it is, and works you harder than you think (you don’t notice because of all the FUN).
All of that comes with a massive caveat: you need a good instructor and a good boat driver. Do it on holiday where they’ll just send you out the back of the boat to flail around on your own and you might as well be trying to teach yourself to fly.
Some friends kindly invited me to join their water skiing lesson at Taplow Lake. Having failed to get to my feet on a surfboard despite several hours of patient instruction, I fully expected this to be an afternoon of bad language and impotent rage.
We arrived at the lake on a blustery, chilly day (yes, in MAY) and met the wonderful Mike, our instructor. We quickly grappled and twanged ourselves into wetsuits and got out on the water.
The others had been before so went first to show me how it’s done. They were both looking pretty classy after just two previous lessons.
Then it was my turn. The water was close to arctic and my hands and feet quickly went numb, but I soon got into it.
Mike starts everyone off at the side of the boat, just holding on to a bar. That means you can hear his instructions and feel what it’s like to stand up immediately. Like any great yoga or gymnastics teacher, he tells you exactly how it should feel…knees to your chin, arms straight, allowing yourself to roll gently onto your toes before you stand up. From the side of the boat, he can yell ‘hips forward!’ or remind you to breathe. It’s a great way to get started and I was up first time. From there, you progress to a short rope that’s attached to the bar so you get the feel of that while still within earshot.
But it’s not really real until you’ve had a fall. It’s all very well standing up and then slowly going back down again in a controlled fashion, but you’re not water skiing until you’ve landed on your face. Once I’d had my first fall (accidentally bent my arms, landed on my chest, lost my skis, and forgot to let go so got dragged along, chin carving the water like the bow of a ship) I realized there was nothing to fear. It gave me the confidence to enjoy the ride instead of worrying about how it’d end.
Once you’ve mastered the exercises alongside your vessel, you’re out the back of the boat, big-boy style. There are no more instructions. You must go it alone.
I had a few mishaps out the back and several false starts. There were rude words. There was flapping about like a seagull with it’s foot trapped in some plastic. At one point, after convincing myself it was actually physically impossible to stand up without my legs just snapping at the knee, I nearly gave up. The only thing that stopped me was that I’d have had to climb back into the boat, and I was too tired and cold to drag myself out of the water.
So I had a stern word with myself, got everything in the right position and then, effortlessly, I was up. From the wrong position it won’t work but when you’ve got the technique right standing up becomes inevitable.
After that it was exhilarating and totally addictive. The thrill of skimming over the water, taking in the scenery, the wind in your face, is like nothing else. This is one I intend to revisit.
Basically, what I’m saying is this: do this somewhere good and you’re golden. If I can do it anyone should be able to. Best of all, go to Taplow Lake and meet Mike. It’s a short ride from Paddington on the train and it’s a brilliant way to spend a morning.
NOTE: Since this wonderful experience, a friend informed me of the ‘water ski enema’. High-speed fall, bum first…well you don’t need me to spell it out. I’m very glad I didn’t know about it before I went.