Water ski racing is a sport which can provide an incredible buzz and a very enjoyable scene to be part of. Britain's ski racers are among the best in the world and have proven their ability on rough seas and calm lake water.
Both men's & woman's world titles have been held by British skiers and one of the World's finest ski racers right now is Britain's Darren Kirkland. Exceeding speeds of 100mph on occasions, this combined sport of athlete & machine, provides some incredible competition.
So what's it all about? And how do you get into ski racing?
A ski race team consists of a boat driver, an observer and a skier. The driver will tow the skier, varying the speed as different water conditions are encountered, according to the driver's knowledge of the skier, the observer's ability to read the skier and the signals which the skier gives to the driver. Novices who have not progressed onto a mono ski, can race on a pair, although it is far easier to compete on a single ski, once learned. A "race ski" is normally between 7 and 8ft in length with 2 full boot bindings.
The length of the ski line will depend on the length & power of boat you are skiing behind, the water conditions and the kind of speed you anticipate racing at on that particular day. Estimating the most suitable length for that day is a knock you acquire in time. The aim is for the skier to be skiing on the "best water" there is behind the boat, while avoiding the line dipping into the water or becoming slack. Most ski racers nowdays use the "wrapped" position, which was adopted from the Australians in 1979. A similar technique however, was designed by an English skier many years before, but was not allowed to be used in competition.
The wrapped position involves the skier using two handles which go around each side of the body, to be held together with one hand at the top of the backside. You should "sit into" this harness and reach forward with the other hand, to hold a third handle, positioned at arms length away. This technique transfers the strain from the arms and lower back, to the upper legs. It was discovered by an Australian named Terry Bennett (left) and it enabled him to end higher urges for greater periods of time.
Water ski races can take place over a set distance or a period of time, although the later is more common in the UK. Again, times vary dependent on category, but can range from 10 minutes and upwards. Skiers generally start at the same time and race around a set course (say 2 or 3 miles). Basically it's an out and out race just like Grand Prix Car racing. Success in ski racing results from a "team" effort.
The skier has to be physically fit enough to compete successfully in his or her category. Observers need total concentration. They will relay signals spontaneously from the skier to the driver, "read" the skier in order to optimize his / her performance and keep the driver informed of other boats and skiers which may be approaching or close by. The driver will take the team around the course, listening to the observer and using his own jurisdiction on speed a line of direction. Drivers can mean the difference between winning and coming 2nd or 3rd in a race.
Many water ski clubs around the country are strongly geared towards racing. They will have experienced skiers, observers, drivers and instructors to offer help and advice. If you have a boat, they can be of great help in advising you of any special configurations your boat may need and who in the trade is best suited to help you. Skiers interested in racing, but without a boat, can ask a club if there is an opportunity of taking part in a club race or learning the routes from someone before hand. An observer could well find a place in a boat and be taking part in races sooner than they thought!
But your first call should be British Water Ski on 01932 570 885. They can provide you with a lot of useful and important information, which will help you on your way to getting involved in Water Ski Racing. There are also videos available of National and International ski races. If you've never seen a race … get hold of one of these and see for yourself, the excitement this sport has to offer. The BWS can tell you where you can purchase these films.
As in all sports, there are countries which have a particularly strong contingent. Australia certainly has the largest number of ski racers. A race called "The Southern 80" held on the Murray River in Victoria has close on 1000 skiers participating in this annual event. In this case, each boat tows 2 skiers at a time. And if you fancy a shot at other ski races in places such as Italy, Holland, California or Canada, it only takes a few phone calls and you're in!
But here at home is where you need to start. You'll learn an awful lot from our very own fraternity, who will be only too pleased to introduce you and help you along in this thrilling team sport.
Wherever you are in the world, Email me & I'll put you in touch with the right people in your country & locality.
If you want to get into ski racing, read the special introduction for newcomers.
By Robbie Llewellyn (1995)