Unlike many of my friends here in Austin, I did not grow up water skiing. Nor did I grow up in Austin, but I digress. My cousins water-skied regularly; they had a boat and skied on the Flint River in south Georgia. My cousin, Kevin, could barefoot and trick ski when he was still in elementary school. In fact back then, in the 1970s in Albany, Georgia, my aunt and uncle were even in the water ski club with a pre-Lady-and-Sons-Food-TV-famous Paula Deen. I have dim memories of summer visits, picnics on the riverbank, and my skinny legs wobbling up on the skis while my younger cousins coached me, hollering from the back of the boat.
The beach and sailing were more the focus of my world, living near St. Simons Island and Savannah. Some folks skied on the tiny Altamaha River in my hometown, but mostly we drove the 45 minutes to the beach.
The only boat our family had was a canoe, which my dad bought after a week-long canoe trip he had taken with a bunch of guys. He then rigged a series of ropes and pullies in our carport to suspend it, which made storing it—and lowering it onto the top of his Buick—more do-able. My sister and I were excited to learn to canoe. Ever the athletic wannabe, I asked my dad how I could build up my canoing muscles so I’d be great at it. He handed me a broom and said, “Sweep the carport and driveway.” I was crestfallen, having imagined pumping iron and other super-athletic training.
The first canoe lesson my dad taught us was in our neighborhood. He took us into a pond behind the home of a friend in our subdivision; we swam there often, as there was a concrete dock in the middle with a diving board. I trusted my father; he had been a Red Cross water safety instructor and had made us into strong and competitive swimmers. He put a PFD (personal flotation device) on both my sister and me, handed us wooden paddles, and pushed us out into the pond. We floated further and further from the bank, awaiting direction on how to maneuver the canoe. He said, “Stand up.”
Anyone who has been in a canoe knows what happens when you stand up. We were no exception. It flipped. We were completely soaked, confused, and treaded water clumsily, our tennis shoes adding weight to our feet, while he stood on the bank giving direction as if we were in the wild: “Don’t lose your boat! Get the paddles! Pull it all together and get yourselves close to the bank where you get some footing.”
The sponge I had put in to mop up drops off the new canoe was floating in the water. My anticipation of nearly every aspect of the endeavor proved, well, silly. We dumped the water, got back in still dripping, and proceeded to learn how to paddle and steer the canoe.
My dad laughed with us but he taught us to right our canoe before we learned the fun of paddling, the rules of boat etiquette (size matters, motor always yields to sail, etc.), as well as the skills to maneuver the canoe in varying conditions. For years, we paddled in ponds and lakes and rivers. I was especially fond of paddling almost silently along tree-shaded banks trying not to disturb the wildlife…perpetually afraid of snakes that might drop from trees—never happened to me, but I’d heard tales that kept me on edge. Maybe that’s why I like sailing more than motorboating in general. I’ll take marine life over snakes any day.
While safety is the first key to a good experience in any boat, fitness is arguably a prerequisite of safety. My experience sailing, riding in ski boats with friends, or jet skiing, was always more confident in the times of my life when I was fit (versus, say, the years of working full-time and going to graduate school when I hardly exercised at all other than running to class after work).
Fitness, and by that I mean strength and stamina, allow you to handle the watercraft and the associated equipment with the mastery required for providing a safe experience for yourself and your passengers. But beyond that, boating, skiing, and, as we see in this issue, wakeboarding provide strength and endurance training. It’s like a fitness ecosystem—what is required for the sport is also built up by the sport. How exciting to live, albeit distant from my beloved southeast coast, so close to a wide variety of watersport options. Bon voyage, for a great—and fit—summer in Austin!
Melanie P. Moore, Editor-in-Chief