The Thrill of Waterskiing

By Donna Chick

If you want a challenging sport that works you hard, but at the same time refreshes you, has the thrill of jumping without the hard landing, is fast moving without the steep hills you get with running, and you want to be able to do it locally (in Wolfeboro), you need to contact the Abenaki Water Ski Club. 

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Bill Swaffield and Rebecca (Becky) Bartlett are the “go to persons” for the Abenaki Water Ski Club (the word water is important here or you’ll end on the slopes at Abenaki Ski Area, where you’ll also find avid skier of both water and snow, Becky Bartlett).

The club officially was formed in 1959 as the Wolfeboro Ski Club. The name was changed in 1971 to Abenaki Water Ski Club (Back Bay Water Skiers, Inc.) and since 1981, the club has met at Back Bay by the railroad station in Wolfeboro. The secluded inlet offers a peaceful setting for some exciting water skiing. The club’s membership averages 75 people, all of whom are active. Adults, as well as children, are encouraged to join and most do so as families. The club always welcomes new participants. 

The Abenaki Water Ski Club meets from mid-May through early to mid-October, 9 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to dusk, with Saturday and Sunday mornings being the busiest days. The club hold various clinics where, at each event, they focus on a different discipline – it could be learning tricks, slalom skiing, or learning how to take the five-foot-high jump they are known for. 

For those with the competitive spirit, Abenaki hosts numerous competitions where skiers from other states, including Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island, come to compete. What happens if you do well? You go to regionals where you hope to qualify for nationals!

Recently, I had an opportunity to interview 8-year-old Aaron Bartlett (Becky’s son). I caught up with Aaron at Abenaki Ski Area and was thrilled he came off the ski slopes so we could talk. 

Aaron is an accomplished water skier with the Abenaki Club, and although modest, his achievements are impressive. His first try at water skiing was at age 2, when he stood on his mom’s skis and was pulled behind a speed boat. This would be something like placing your child between your legs on snow skis, but on water. At age 3, Aaron was on his own; he used a “U” shape ski which allowed him to ski independently. 

Becky let Aaron compete when he reached the age of 6, where he made it to Regionals. Unfortunately, he missed out on the Regionals because his mother was dealing with an injury. “Yeah. I couldn’t compete because my mom was hurt,” Aaron recalls. Becky winces at the memory – not of her own pain, but of the opportunity missed by her son. 

At the age of 7, Aaron not only qualitied for regionals, but he qualified for nationals in the jumping division. That year, mom Becky chose to keep his qualifying a secret and Aaron didn’t go. “He just wasn’t ready for nationals,” his mother the coach answered matter-of-factly. 

At age 8, Aaron again qualified for nationals, this time held in Texas. He qualified for two divisions; slalom and trick. Again, his coach decided he wasn’t ready. 

That brings us to this year, and this is his year! At the end of last season, 8-year-old Aaron (who turns nine on June 24) qualified for nationals and Becky told her son he is ready and will be going this year.

Why does Aaron enjoy skiing? He says, “Because it’s fun. I like to do tricks. I like to slalom and jump.” Jumping, he says, is not difficult if “you remember knees, trees, and freeze.” Bend your knees, look straight ahead at the trees, and freeze. Remember, he added, “Look down, fall down.” 

This child is an example of what can be achieved if you try, and proof that you don’t have to make it to regionals or nationals to enjoy water skiing—you just have to be out there! 

After a water ski run you’re going to hear the skier exclaim, “I did it!” Water skiing is a sport that requires discipline and practice. There is the thrill of being out on the lake in the early morning hours when the water is like glass, propelling yourself across the wake of the boat. Even for the beginner, the feat to stand on two skis with the water treading behind you is a rush unlike anything else.

In recent years, the fun of water skiing, the appeal of competition, and the calm waters of Back Bay, which offer a near perfect location to train, have sparked new interest in the Abenaki Water Ski Club and their membership has grown substantially. 

The Club is gearing up for its 2018 season. What’s the best way to get involved? Start by contacting Becky Bartlett (Beckybartlett@me.com) for a specific time to meet. You’ll be required to become a member of the USA Water Ski Association and you will need to become a member of the Abenaki Club. 

The club has reasonable individual and family rates. There is also a one-time fee to evaluate the skier’s ability and to offer suggestions to strengthen skills. You’ll be given a list of other families and, if you are not a boat owner, you will have the opportunity to meet up with other members that have a boat and work out arrangements to be pulled. 

If you have a boat, bring it with you. This is an informal group working together for the love of the sport. In the end, the club makes it work for everyone.

Whatever your age or ability, you will find the adrenaline rush from skimming across the water on skis a memory you’ll cherish and want to repeat again and again. For more information, you may also check out Abenaki’s Facebook page.