THE RIVER RAT REMEMBERS Episode 5 My First Tournament, 1964

BKistlerBKistler Posts: 87 Baller
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 5 My First Tournament, 1964

I absorbed each issue of The Water Skier magazine like a sponge. I marveled at all the ski people (Chuck Stearns, Jimmy Jackson, Larry Penacho), ski stuff (Gladhandle, Jones & Yandell, Hedlund Hydro-flite, Doc Rail), and ski places (Cypress Gardens, Wisconsin Dells, Long Beach Marine Stadium). One day in early 1964, I was combing through the tournament listings and saw that the Mid-Eastern Championships was scheduled for Reading, Pennsylvania, a few hours from my home. With my parent’s permission, I entered Junior Boys tricks. I had trouble sleeping at night in anticipation, petrified months in advance.

My heart was pounding when Dad and I arrived at the Felix Dam site on the upper Schuylkill River. The skinny river was nothing like the ocean-like expanse of the Conowingo. The water was so smooth! And there was the first regulation-width jump ramp I had ever seen, complete with aprons to which was attached the skiing-fish logo of The Reading Water Skiers. Many years later, a storm destroyed Felix Dam and it was never replaced. When the club lost its site, The Reading Water Skiers sold their clubhouse and donated the proceeds to help build the judge’s stand at USA Water Ski/AWSA’s Lake Grew in Polk City, Florida. Until recently, the skiing-fish logo was attached to the building that is now Kyle Eade’s Ski Fluid ski school.

Dad and I set up our tent in the Gypsy camp of trailers and tents at the site. The next morning, I entered a new world. I found people who took water skiing seriously, people from all over the East speaking a water skier’s jargon. The competition skis laying here and there seemed to me like fine weapons waiting to be drawn for battle. Aqua Sport, Hedlund, Cypress Gardens. There were officials in stripped shirts, towboats with powerful twin outboard motors, safety crews at the ready, banners flying, loud speakers crackling, bleachers full of spectators. Heady stuff for a young kid.

I got my Stilley Plywood banana peels out of the car and sheepishly headed toward the starting dock. But wait—who was that? On the dock was a woman in an iconic red-white-and-blue swim suit. It was Dicksie Ann Hoyt, a member of the United States Water Ski Team. I nearly fainted. When Dicksie Ann had trouble adjusting her binder, Dad came to the rescue. Thereafter, Dad’s Channellock pliers were known as the Dicksie Ann Hoyt pliers.

I don’t remember what tricks I performed. I didn’t win a trophy. It didn’t matter. I was a tournament skier now.

Incidentally, those were the days of the flag man and the rideout bonus. The boat judge raised a flag and the twenty second pass started when he or she lowered the flag. Ready or not, the clock started. If you did not fall during a pass, you received a 15% “rideout” bonus. The flag caused a split-second delay in skier reaction at the start and the rideout bonus rewarded caution and thus did not encourage skiers to push their limits. I was happy when both rules were changed.

That night, Dad and I attended the awards banquet. The ballroom of the local motor inn was packed with men in coats and ties and women in dresses. Dad and I were dressed in humble sport shirts, but the fellows at our table—Lee Lyman and Kim Prescott—made us feel at ease. They were just two of the many skiers and officials I met that weekend who I would come to know as friends and fellow competitors. Among them were Gordon Gay, who would become the father of Russell Gay and grandfather of Anna Gay; Lex Carroll, with whom I would sit a few years later as a member of the AWSA Eastern Region Council; his son Blake who was my arch rival in the Boys Division; Jim McGraw, whose ski school I would later attend; and Jimmy Mandolas, whose Hydrodyne Albert would later purchase.

I had gotten a taste of blood. This was for me.



  • dchristmandchristman Posts: 1,388 Mega Baller
    Did you go back to Reading for the 1965 Eastern Regionals and see Al Tyll live?

    That was before my time! I joined RWS in 1980 and tricked with Jimmy Mandolos on the river just about every day for a few years. My first boat was a '77 MasterCraft I bought from him. I was the club treasurer who wrote the check that built that judges tower. The RWS sign (Jimmy donated - he owned a sign company) got moved to the shed in back shortly after Kyle opened the school.
    Is it time to ski, yet?
  • AndreAndre Posts: 1,864 Mega Baller
    Well written story! I enjoyed reading it!
    My ski finish in 16.95 ...but my ass is out of tolerance!
  • BKistlerBKistler Posts: 87 Baller
    Thanks for the response @dchristman. No, I did not ski another tournament until ‘66. Fun to hear about your time with Jimmy.
  • BKistlerBKistler Posts: 87 Baller
    More about Jimmy in the next episode. Stay tuned.
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