It’s like riding a bike!

Brian Golden

“It’s just like riding a bike.”
At least that’s what I tried to tell myself – and boy I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

From the time I was 6 until I reached the age of 18 my summers with my father were filled with sunny weekends spent boating, and more specifically water-skiing, on many of the lakes that dot Chenango County and surrounding areas. Our usual destination was Chenango Lake, although we made numerous trips out to East Sidney Reservoir and other appropriately-sized bodies of water. However, when I graduated from high school and went off to college dad sold the boat, and that was the last time I got to experience that exhilarating feeling of cutting through the water, going airborne as I hit the wake (at what now seems like reckless speeds) only to dig deep and put up a 12 foot spray while the reflection of the azure sky filled the glass-like waters below me.

Fast forward 15 years to last weekend.

My close friends Annie and Jeff, in the last two years, have been kind enough to regularly invite me up to their family’s camp for many a weekend barbecue, a quick dip in the lake to cool off on a sunny day and my favorite – acoustic guitar while sitting around the campfire. And while they own a pair of jet-skis capable of pulling one around the lake on a tube (an experience I’m loath to repeat – but that’s another story), there was never an opportunity to relive my glory days of zipping through the water by ski. Until last Friday, that is.

When Annie reported her sister would be visiting camp for her daughter’s graduation party, and would be taking her boat out for an afternoon and early evening of water-skiing, I jumped at the chance to once again strap on a ski and cut through the drink. In all honesty I relished the opportunity. Little did I know, however, the experience would be quite painful, liberating, yet extremely emotional.

Everything began quite well really, minus the fact I’d overlooked one simple truth – I am no longer 18 years old and I’m certainly not in as good a shape as I thought I was. Following two failed attempts to get up on one ski (known as slalom to you anti-water types) I regretfully strapped on a second ski and was up in a heartbeat. I knew immediately that I was in trouble went I felt the first twinges of pain only minutes into my excursion, and my first circuit around the lake ended with a semi-spectacular crash as I misjudged my speed and went rolling over the top of the water. After a much-deserved round of ribbing by Annie’s sister and the others in the boat I was right back on top of the water.

My second trip around the lake found me much more relaxed and as I once again ventured outside the wake I let my mind wander back to those childhood days with my father. It was almost as if I could hear his voice again, patiently instructing an excited 6-year-old on the basics of the sport. It was an emotional experience to say the least and probably the closest I’ve felt to dad since his death. Shaking the last vestiges of the memories away I came to a decision – since I couldn’t make it up on one ski I would just shake one off, while cruising atop the water, and continue my little adventure (this was the original method dad taught me as a child until I was strong enough to pull myself up on one ski). Unfortunately, I was once again betrayed by my aging body and with a tremendous splash I was down again, this time for good.

Looking back, water-skiing was more than just a recreational sport for my weekend family, it was a time for us to bond while having some fun and staying cool on those hot summer days, and even though this most recent outing did not go quite as expected, it was also so much more than I could have anticipated. Three days have gone by and I’m still extremely sore, yet I can still hear that voice in the back of my head. Even with the pain, to be expected after 15 years, I was unsurprised by my response when asked if I’d be willing to try again some other time. My answer – you’d better believe it.