Every summer my family heads up to this lake in Massachusetts. We all try to spend as much time as we can up there, and, weather permitting, it’s always fun to take the boat out, do some water activities. Fishing. Tubing. Waterskiing.
Waterskiing isn’t the easiest pastime. It’s like, nobody in my family really knew how to waterski, not at first. My dad just bought some waterskis and we hooked them up. That first summer was a lot of everybody hanging out on the boat, taking turns bobbing up and down in the water, waiting for my dad to take off, just trying to successfully stand up on the skis.
It’s not easy at all. You think about yourself, in the lake, these two giant skis attached to your feet. You can’t swim with them on. It’s really all you can do in such an unnatural position to get yourself into a stance where, when that rope you’re holding suddenly jerks you forward, you’ll be able to balance yourself into standing upright, and then hopefully immediately be able to shift all of your weight into such a way that you’re successfully doing it, you’re actually waterskiing behind a moving boat.
For me, for a lot of people, figuring all of this out took a good amount of trial and error. Boarding the boat, navigating the boat out to the middle of the water, turning the boat off, attaching the rope, putting on a life vest, jumping overboard, getting the skis on, maneuvering into position, holding the rope, waiting for my dad to go, “Ready?” before slowly shifting the boat into gear, watching that line slowly unravel until it’s taut. And then the boat is far enough away where you can’t really hear anybody anymore, you just have to give a thumbs up, like go for it, I’m ready.
And that’s when the boat has to power forward, to pull you up fast enough so that not only are you and the skis out of the water, but you’re standing upright, gliding along the surface, skiing. The first time it’s, ready, set, go, and then immediately falling over without ever having even made it up. The line gets ripped from your hands, you tumble awkwardly over your own body, and maybe one or both of the skis falls off of your feet.
The engine then has to be cut, the line needs to be reeled in, and the boat has to slowly turn around and cruise back over to you, bobbing in the water. Someone throws you the line and the whole process starts over again, everybody on the boat watching you, waiting for their chance to give it a shot. My family has been doing this for like eight years now, so all of my brothers and sisters, we sort of know what we’re doing, in a basic way. But when we were all just learning, still figuring it out? That was so much starting and stopping, trying and failing.
When I went to Ecuador with the Peace Corps, I missed out on a couple of summers with the family. One weekend abroad a bunch of us expats were relaxing on a beach at some small coastal town. These guys would walk around, offering water activites, their boats, tube rides, parasailing, waterskiing. I figured, yeah sure, I know how to waterski. This’ll be fun.
He made me buy half an hour of his services. I got on his boat and we went out past where anybody was swimming. “You know how to do this?” he asked me. I’m sure he had tons of people with no experience thinking they’d just get out there and go. I got in the water, gave the guy a thumbs up, and off we went. I was waterskiing. It was fun. And then two minutes passed, and then five minutes. My back was getting tired, so were my arms. We went back and forth a few times and I waved to my friends on the shore.
And then I thought, wow, this isn’t nearly as fun without anybody in my family here. All of that waiting around with everybody else for your turn, watching people fall and get up and try again and fall again, having your ten or fifteen minutes on the water before somebody else gets to have a go, it’s all part of the activity, part of what makes waterskiing so fun.
Here I was on the Pacific, just kind of standing there, thinking that I still had twenty-five minutes to kill of having this guy tug me around. So I let go of the line. He came over and offered to throw me the rope again. I told him that it was OK, that I was done, that I had had enough. It was only like seven bucks for the half hour anyway. He shrugged and took me back to the shore.