Learning to Water Ski in South Alabama


People are usually surprised, and skeptical, when I tell them I learned to water ski slalom. For some reason, it was easier for me to control one water ski rather than two.

Skiing on two skis requires that you 1) keep them separated and 2) keep them pointed straight ahead, neither of which I could ever do. Any violation of 1) and/or 2) results in a watery wipe out, usually accompanied by either a) large amounts of pond water accumulated in the sinuses, eyes, or other body cavities or b) a lake water enema. There is a difference.

With the abundance of ponds and small lakes in this neck of the woods, it is natural that my first ski experience occurred on Smith Pond, which is only slightly wider than the Pea River during a drought, and about half as deep.

Dueling Banjos Seals the Deal

At the spry young age of thirteen, I decided to try my hand, or feet, as it were, at this aquatic sport, and after asking around about people with boats, heard that someone at Smith Pond had a suitable vessel. I introduced myself to Earl Osteen, and soon learned that, of course, his boat came at a price.

Foolishly, I entered into negotiations without having seen the alleged boat.

“I’ll give you a Moon Pie if you’ll pull me behind your boat.” Let the reader understand, I was thirteen, with no discretionary income; Earl was just cheap.

“Naw, don’t yank my chain, little man. You’ll have to do a sight better’n ‘at.”

“Alright. A Moon Pie and a bag of pork skins.”

Earl began to drool at the prospect of fried hog rinds, but otherwise exhibited no intelligible intent to accept my offer.

“You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Osteen. I’ll throw in a copy of Dueling Banjos on 8-track.”

“Done,” Earl replied, through a cascade of spittle and a hint of happy feet.

Panfish Vacate the Premises

The deal having been struck, Earl made off to collect his boat, leaving a trail of pork skin crumbs as he went, a cholesterol-laden Hansel, sans Gretel.

Soon Earl and his boat came into view, and were it not for the amazing resemblance to Bill Dance, I would have never believed that Earl intended for me to ski behind an eight foot fish boat with a five horsepower trolling motor.

But, that he did.

Our first attempt with this configuration left much to be desired. We rigged up the rope and I got in the drink, which even alone raised the water lever a foot (not, mind you, due to my mass).

Earl gunned the motor, I immediately shot forward three inches, and then discovered that pond silt has amazing adhesive properties. Not being especially observant, Earl continued to redline the motor. Within second I was covered in mud and a few bluegill, and Earl had created new shoreline.

Horsepower is the Answer

Earl realized the need for more horsepower and trudged off to parts unknown. He returned with a 150 horsepower outboard motor, which, when attached to the aforementioned fish boat, made for a combination similar to mounting a solid rocket booster on a crop duster.

The bow of the boat cleared the water by a good four feet, and Earl was learning as far forward as he could to counterbalance the motor. I again got in the water, wondering if the authorities would be able to locate all my body parts.

Earl gunned the motor, and all … well, things got rough.

I was about to become airborne when I violated Rule Number 2. Both legs splayed out to the side and I skimmed along the surface of the water on my face. Mere seconds later Earn ran aground and the paramedics had to pry me from the fork of a lob lolly pine.

My next ski adventure came a good six years later, when my swim trunks acted as a sort of marine parachute and alternately threatened to rip right off my body or cause the boat to sink.

I now ski once every couple of years, on one ski, which is just about the right length of time for water to fully drain from body orifices.

This article originally appeared in the Troy Citizen, November 1995

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