Join former AWSA Executive Director Bruce Kistler as he recounts incidents from the Golden Age of water skiing. Interesting people—legends, characters and unsung heros. Curious places and events. Moments of discovery and wonder. Accidents, mishaps and miscues. Glimpses from inside the organization. Personal stories from a lifetime on skis.
Episode 3 The Luger
As we got better, Big Al worked to improve our equipment. The first order of business was a better boat. Al’s little Chris Craft with the 35-horse kicker wasn’t cutting it anymore, so one winter he decided to build a bigger boat. Since Al’s garage was small and unheated—he built it in his living room. As you might guess, Albert was a bachelor.
The Luger was a fiberglass kit boat that came in three pieces: hull, deck and freeboard. We took all the furniture out of the living room and put down a drop cloth. We spent the winter glassing the three pieces together and installing the wood transom, stringers, floorboards and seats. The reek of fiberglass resin in that confined space was outdone only when Big Al decided to fill the space between the stringers with expandable foam that gave off noxious fumes.
By springtime the boat was finished. When the day came, a group of friends was summoned to manhandle the boat through the front door. I doubt there was more than two inches of clearance top to bottom and side to side. To this day I don’t know if Albert ever seriously considered that he might not be able to get the damn thing out the house.
Fitted with a 65-hp Mercury (henceforth, Albert was a Merc Man), the boat was certainly a lot more powerful than his Chris Craft. Al fashioned an over-the-motor ski hitch out of electrical conduit, which was a lot better than tying the rope to the transom. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the Luger was a lousy trick boat. It had sponsons that protruded past the transom. They improved the strength of the transom but created a mean set of troughs between the wakes.
My first slalom ski was a Cypress Gardens Alfredo Mendoza, beautiful ash and mahogany but flat as a tabletop. (I met Alfredo years later.) I also got my own tricks skis, monstrous 54” Stilley Plywood banana peels that I still have. Old Man Scarborough didn’t put out his jump ramp every year and the river was too deep and open for a slalom course. (I once tried to install a course using Clorox bottles. It was gone within a week.) As a consequence, tricks became my main event. I had no coaches, so it was trial and error. I joined the American Water Ski Association and spent hours studying the ABC’s of Trick Skiing by Al Tyll. (I met Al a few years later.) One by one I learned the basic tricks.
Water skiing didn’t keep us from other activities. Once a year Big Al would take the River Rats on a cross country trip. The membership of the River Rats shifted from year to year and included kids from Al’s neighborhood and kids from my neighborhood—and eventually my brother Doug. We visited Yellowstone National Park before the days of Interstate highways. Florida and rural Georgia. New England and Maritime Canada. Grand Canyon and the desert southwest. California, LA, Yosemite and Sequoia. Those trips were the best education a kid could hope for.