No one would know Alex Maroszek-Gwiazda was a first-time water-skier. The 15-year-old pulled himself up out of the Mohawk River onto his skis as a speedboat took off, looking anything but a novice.
Of course, that was the point of Saturday’s water-ski clinic at Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In. The three-session clinic hosted by Scotia’s own U.S. Water Ski Show Team was open to anyone who knew how to swim. And with the proper equipment, safety instruction, boat drivers and instructors, anyone can learn to water-ski, said Kim Kaiser, a team member of the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization for 23 years.
“I’ve been doing these clinics probably six or seven years now, and I have not seen anybody not get up,” Kaiser said.
Normally, instructors ride along in the boat, coaching skiers to pull their knees to their chests, avoid locking their knees once they’re up and keep their arms straight. But Maroszek-Gwiazda, who was staying in the United States for three weeks from Madrid, Spain, spoke little English. So a friend translated instructions as he glided across the Mohawk River.
Team members marveled at his technique, which resembled that of more experienced skiers.
“We talk to you and tell you your posture, how to position your knees, how to dangle your arms,” Kaiser said. “It’s all a progression based on your skill level. It can be discouraging if you don’t have a boat driver who knows exactly how to pull a skier out of the water.”
That’s why people take the time to come out to clinics, instructors said. The boat drivers and trainers are certified and provide demonstrations after years of experience at exhibitions, shows, tournaments and other recreational activities.
Charley and Randy Simon left their Syracuse home at 5:45 a.m. Saturday to attend a session. Charley wanted to try his hand again at slalom, which uses only one ski, after a 30-year hiatus.
“His friends all had boats and tried to teach him how to ski on two skis, and he just couldn’t,” said his wife, Randy, 55, of Charley’s first skiing experience years ago. “Then he went to Mexico with some friends, and this guy taught him how to ski, but he couldn’t speak English. It was all in sign language, and he somehow got up like that on one ski.”
It’s not an easy trick to master, said Kara Pangburn, a team and board member for 22 years.
“It’s a trick that’s hard for a lot of people to master because it’s a ton of pull from the boat and very little surface area to try to get up on,” she said as she guided a skier into the water.
Jay Watsky of Slingerlands was out Saturday to learn a new trick, too. Despite his snow skiing experience, he had never actually water-skied. He used to kiteboard and had difficulty focusing on both using the board and sailing the kite, so he would attempt to master wakeboarding first, he said.
“I was just learning too many things at once,” said Watsky, 48. “It takes a lot of concentration when you’ve never flown a kite before to maneuver a kite. And if you’ve never boarded before, either, it’s difficult. I thought this will be a good way to break down the skills. If I could learn the boarding first, then I could go back and play with the kite and put it together.”
Wakeboarding is a different animal though, Pangburn said, requiring completely different muscles from water skiing.
“When you’re skiing, your feet are facing forward, so it’s sort of the difference between downhill skiing and snowboarding,” she said. “Your skis are facing forward, your balance is even-weighted and you’re staying back over your skis, whereas wakeboarding, you’re sort of sideways, so all of your weight is sideways over your ski.”
Team members said that water- ski clinics are also a good tool for recruiting new members to the U.S. Water Ski Show Team. The 30-member team used to consist of 150 people at one time, said Sara Pritchard.
A group of about 40 teenagers first formed the Mariaville Lake Ski Club in 1968 as a way to pass the long summer days. As their water-skiing skills grew, so did their show skiing. By 1986, the team moved its home to Jumpin’ Jack’s and became incorporated following a Guinness world record nine-person “crowd the jump” performed at Albany’s Corning Preserve.
“I just had a father and son join last year who said ‘I want to go right to the pros,’” Pritchard said. “His son had been skiing or wakeboarding behind the boat, and he’s off jumping now after not even a full year. This is just a great stepping stool for people and ourselves to get people to want to join.”
The U.S. Water Ski Show Team will offer another three-session clinic on Aug. 13 at Jumpin’ Jack’s. Time slots are 8:30 to 11 a.m., 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 12:30 to 3 p.m. A $50 entry fee is required per session.