I have the good fortune to travel the World and ski just about everywhere. The reason I ski is because it makes me feel so good mentally, physically and spiritually.
I recall twenty some odd years ago, back when I was first beginning my tournament water-skiing career, Bob LaPoint showed up at my practice site. Bobby knew something way back then that still applies in today’s modernized, computerized, fuel injected, speed controlled world. Bobby realized that in order to ski well, he needed someone sitting behind the wheel that would compliment his skiing, not combat it. Bob LaPoint brought along his own driver!
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat and watch with horror the boat driver destroying my student’s passes and self confidence.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat in disbelief as the driver thinks nothing of having a conversation with the crew or on the phone while one of my students is forced to ski to a rhythm devoid of concentration or focus.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat and hear and feel it smacking buoys on the opposite side of the course from my student.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat and feel it moving away from or into my skier.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver drastically under or overshoots the skiers speed.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver gasses the throttle and whips the skier at the end of the lake.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver wrenches out my students arms and shoulders while tightening up the rope prior to taking off.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver floors the boat when the skier says “hit it”.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver brings one of my students into the course at an angle.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver drags my students either while dropping them or preparing to take off.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver stops right next to the skier at the end of a set.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver turns the boat into the skier when setting them down at the end of the lake.
- I can’t tell you how many times I sit in the boat as the driver is totally unaware of the skier’s presence in the water with the engine running while the skier is at the platform.
I am sure that many of you reading this can’t figure out what the problem is with many of the things I’ve pointed out and therein lays the problem! The driver can be more than 50% of the equation of what’s going on behind the boat. The driver can and does make or break the skier. A very well prepared skier is nothing at all behind a bad driver.
And then I’ll hear the comment that “everyone has to ski behind that driver so it’s a level playing field”. It’s not!
I train long and hard as do many of my students. I demand good boat driving from my drivers as it eliminates a huge variable from the performance equation. The driver leads and the skier always follows in a very precise, choreographed performance that leaves little room for error. In the case of error, it’s the skier who is judged.
Good skiing like a well choreographed dance requires each partner to do what is expected of them. When the leading partner hasn’t a clue, the following partner hasn’t either regardless of their motivation or preparation.
Good driving requires 100% concentration, as much concentration as the skier is putting out behind the boat. If you are looking to drastically up your buoy count, seriously consider taking a look at what’s going on behind the wheel. Only with a totally committed team can the skier accomplish their potential.
Great skiing is teamwork. It’s teamwork between the driver, the crew and the skier with all of the energy going towards the skiers benefit. By following these simple rules below, you will be on your way to becoming a great driver.
- Set-up the computer before the skier gets in the water. Before pulling any skiers, the Perfect Pass should be properly calibrated so that the weight in the boat along with the skier’s weight combined with the wind equals a perfect time.
- Before the skier gets in the water, set the KX, the PX, the CREW WEIGHT, the SKIER WEIGHT, HEADWIND OR TAIL, etc., etc…
- Look at your boat times at each end on your opening 2 passes to know what the wind is doing and to be able to accurately predict the settings on the next passes.
- When a skier is finished with their set, they get in the boat on the PLATFORM, not alongside the driver! Bring the platform to the skier and make sure to turn off the engine when doing so.
- Turn off the engine when the skier is getting ready on the platform. There are warnings posted on many new boats about the hazards of Carbon Monoxide poisoning!
- Ask the skier how they like to be pulled out of the water. When someone floors the boat when picking me up, I immediately know they don’t know how to drive! Squeeze the throttle up, don’t slam it down!
- When bringing the handle to a skier sitting in the water, make sure the boat’s momentum is stopped by the time the handle reaches the skier.
- A common mistake I see worldwide is the boat driver throwing the boat in Neutral when a skier falls. When driving your car, do you put it in neutral when slowing down? When a boat is under power, it can be steered! When a skier falls, slowly bring the throttle back to an in gear idle position rather than throwing it in neutral.
- Whether in the slalom course or outside of it, there should be two speeds, up on plane or at dead idle. If you are not on plane and not at idle speed, you are throwing very large rollers down the course which can cause severe injury to the skier.
- When the skier falls on the right side of the course, turn the boat to the right. Do the opposite on the other side.
- Line up early for the pre-gates. For the skier, the course starts on the pull out. If the boat is in the wrong place before the pre-gates, so is the skier. If the boat is in the wrong place, the skier is forced to try and compensate for the driver’s error. The skier is the one judged yet the driver is at fault. Typically, a skier will pull out when the boat is about 1 boat length before the pre-gates. At 35′ off or a 40′ tow line; add 10′ from the pylon to the front of the boat and then 20 feet for 1 boat length and you have 70′. In other words, the boat needs to be straight, up to speed and on center at least 100 feet prior to the gates.
- Always be in the center or a little bit left when entering the entrance gates. If you are over to the right, the skier will be over to the right going through the gates. Thus the driver being in the wrong place can and will cause the skier to miss the entrance gate!
- Balance the boat. A balanced boat is not only safer; it also drives and skis better. Unbalanced boats have unbalanced wakes and often times, spray.
- Be quiet. The most important thing when someone is skiing is to allow them to concentrate. If the driver is talking on the phone or listening to the radio, they are not concentrating on their driving. A skier who is working hard on their skills deserves the respect of the crew by being still and quiet.
- Be a part of the skier’s team. Sometimes in training, I expect my drivers to help me with the boat path or speed or both. As I begin to ski better, the driver tightens up the tolerances. Know what the skier expects and needs and do every thing you can to give it to them.
- Use end course video in practice. I once had a boat driver named Kirk Cutcliffe. Kirk wanted to be a great driver. I lost 2 passes the first time Kirk pulled me. Kirk would always ask for feedback and was totally open to input. One day, Kirk took out a video camera and set it up at the end of the lake prior to pulling a skier. He then pulled the set and immediately reviewed the video. What was revealed was the reality of where the boat was in the course, not the assumption. Kirk learned how, where and when to put the boat at every line length and consequently went on to become one of the best practice drivers I have ever had the pleasure to ski with.
- When dropping a skier, turn the wheel lightly away and pull gently back on the throttle. After running any hard pass, the last thing a skier wants to do is expend any unnecessary energy when setting down at the end of a pass. A common mistake is to turn the wheel hard away from the skier and apply a lot of throttle at the same time. If the skier is not ready for this unnecessary whip, problems can and do rapidly develop.
- When dropping a skier, parallel them. As they sink, the boat should settle in also, all the time parallel to the skier. Once the skier and boat have settled in, turn the boat. If you never point the boat at the skier, you can never hit the skier!
- Only go when the skier is ready. Many times inexperienced drivers take off before I am ready. This is not only an inconvenience, it’s extremely dangerous. Wait for the skier to say “hit it” before going. I use a 3 step process when picking up a skier. When the skier says “hit it”, I slowly idle out. Then I gradually begin picking them up and then I apply enough throttle to get up to speed. Think about how and when you are turning the steering wheel. If you are turning the wheel away as the skier is approaching the buoy, you’re whipping them, giving them excess speed and making them narrow. Conversely, if you are turning the wheel towards the buoy, you’ll give them slack!
- Anticipate the skier. Most drivers react to the skier’s pull. Reacting causes the boat to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You need to be able to “see in your “minds eye” where the skier is approaching the buoy and act with the skier, not after the skier. (Do not watch the skier)