THE RIVER RAT REMEMBERS Episode 10 Tournament Sites

BKistlerBKistler Posts: 127 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 heroes. 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 10 Tournament Sites

Competition took the River Rats throughout the Eastern Region from Virginia to Maine and also west to Ohio and West Virginia. Until Jud Spencer built a lake on his farm in Owego, New York, none of the sites we skied were built for water skiing.

The most pleasant tournament sites were parks in the heart of small towns like Lakewood, New Jersey, Warren, Pennsylvania and Warwick, Rhode Island. Others, like Sandy Lake and Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania, were small summer resorts. Meyer’s Lake Park in Canton, Ohio (site of the 1968 and 1970 Nationals) was a classic amusement park. I have a Polaroid snapshot of Ricky McCormick and Bruce Jenner crashing into each other on the bumper cars. I can still smell the ozone.

One of our favorite sites was Picture Lake, south of Petersburg, Virginia (site of the 1973 Nationals). Originally part of a commercial campground, the impoundment was just big enough for competition water skiing. If you were a jumper, you’ll always remember the mattress-wrapped telephone poll that greeted you as you screamed toward it on your counter cut. At the apex of your arc, you could almost touch it. If you were a slalom skier, you also remember skiing through a swamp at the far end. Alas, Picture Lake is no more.

New Martinsville, West Virginia on the Ohio River posed another challenge. From time to time a towboat pushing coal or grain barges came around the bend, forcing a halt in the competition. For ten minutes after their passing, the river heaved up and down, like some gargantuan snake having a breathing spasm. One night a barge veered out of the shipping channel and took out the slalom course.

Farther upstream, above Pittsburgh where the Allegheny and Monongahela join to form the Ohio, was Blawnox. This site was also plagued by barges and river traffic, but I remember it for another reason. The only place to park our camper was immediately adjacent to a line of box cars at a railroad siding. In the middle of the night there was an explosive crash that levitated us out of our sleep. None of us heard the freight train backing up until it coupled with the cars sitting only a few feet from where we lay.

The Chickahominy River near Williamsburg, Virginia was a tidewater stream that meandered through brackish salt marshes. The tournament site consisted of one large pier. This was in the days before surveyed slalom courses. The course was so out of whack that four or five of the Senior Men set national “records” that required the course to be measured manually each time. Of course, none was approved.

Lex Carroll’s beautiful pond in Oakham, Massachusetts, site of the first Can-Am tournament, was memorable for the leeches that lurked around the starting dock. Alas, it too is no more.

At an Eastern Regional tournament in Webster, Massachusetts, we arrived to find a Caterpillar excavator digging at the edge of the water, removing a point of land. Those were the days when a left-hand or “Texas” approach to the jump was permitted. In practice, one “Texas” jumper discovered that there was not quite enough room for him to make his counter cut. The sponsoring Nipmuc Water Ski Club could not reposition the jump course in time and decided that it would be easier to remove the offending land. The lake, site of the televised 1964 Nationals, is famous for having the longest name in the world: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaugg. My dear old friend Tony Kluge taught me how to say it. I can still do it! It is reportedly a Nipmuc Indian phrase meaning you fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side, and nobody fishes in the middle.

We skied other chilly lakes and ponds in Maine, upstate New York and Vermont, but the most interesting of the New England sites was at the Yale University boathouse on the Housatonic River in Connecticut. The boathouse contained rack after rack of long racing shells, some of which were antiques. The long dock where the rowing crews prepared and launched their boats made the world’s most elegant starting dock. I also remember that site for the turn at the end of the jump course. From the starting dock you couldn’t tell that there was low-head dam there, so as I followed the boat around the turn, I was surprised to be looking 30 feet down to rocks below. I’m glad I didn’t swing wide.


  • ALPJrALPJr Posts: 2,876 Mega Baller
    Great post @BKistler !
  • jgills88jgills88 Posts: 155 Baller
    These are awesome, thanks for taking the time to write down all of your stories!
    Akron Waterski -- Always looking for water
Sign In or Register to comment.