If you don’t ski, sorry…this piece is mostly skiing. If you do, Listen up:
I spent all winter skiing, but its not what you think. I wasn’t in Tahoe, where I usually am. I wasn’t in Chico, skiing buoys left and right. I was in Tennessee, working on new product at MasterCraft. And most of my time spent on the water wasn’t spent in a course. It got me thinking about the culture of water skiing, specifically competition water skiing. It reminded me of how wrapped up we all get in our own efforts to challenge ourselves and push limits. So that’s what I want to talk about today….a secondary (and maybe someday, accepted) approach to improving and making gains on the water.
I can’t even count how many times I hear folks tweaking out on a technical aspect of skiing. Sure, to get better at slalom skiing through a course, it takes a focused technical diligence, far beyond what most sports call for. But, there is a balance.
Take a second to think about the last time you did some sort of on the water, functional*, technical drill for slalom skiing……how long ago was that? I am going to guess Never? I’m right, right? Right.
*Functional is defined as movement performed at or very near the speeds, tempos, rhthyms, angles, forces, etc. experienced during a typical run through the slalom course.
Now imagine a basketball team that never did anything other than play basketball, every day at practice. Or a football team that played 2-3 hours of football, 5 days a week, plus games on weekends. No drills, no skills, no discipline….just balls to the wall. I’m calling lots of injuries, poor technique and sloppy playing. AKA, performance well below full potential.
That’s us. That is what we do as skiers. And that is Trash. (I know, because I’m stuck in the trap too!)
If you golf, you can dial in your short game all day long on the putting green….or go impress the ladies at the driving range like John Daly (without the alcohol, of course) by swinging as hard as you can until your disks start popping out of your lower back like slobbery skittles from infant fingers. These are just a few of the drills, or what I call skill work, feasible within the sport of golf.
In water skiing, no one drills functional accelerations, transitions or carves. I mean, someone may go out once, and whip out to the side of the boat, let go of the rope and bank a carve until they run out of speed and wicked witch their way into the water (like they’ve seen portrayed in the magazines many times). Chances are that’s the last time they do it…because it only allows for one carve per serving, its not even a functional carve, and it burns through so much time, gas and friends that it really isn’t worth it. Another ridiculous drill is the “pulling drill” folks often use, whereby the skier simply pulls out to one side of the boat, and continues to try and stay out beside the boat for as long as they can. Hanging out beside the boat is a static position. The skier isn’t moving relative to the boat, the ski, or the handle. Again, not a functional drill.
There is something that works, however. And its almost so simple its stupid: Freeskiing. Its that thing we used to do before we were even good enough to make a slalom course. I hate to be the one to say it but once we mastered the course, it was in that moment that we instantly became its bitch (“we” being 95% of course skiers, myself included). The problem with skiing in a course becomes evident the first time a course skier tries to Freeski. It instantly seems impossible to carve with a tight line when there is no reference point, no buoy to say “turn now”. The accelerations and transitions start to fall apart and the frustration levels mount…usually.
But WHY? (As a side note, I am a firm believer that its not enough to just DO the right things on the water (or anything in life), without understanding. With understanding comes a deeper level of fulfillment, and a higher potential for performance. So, I always try to ask WHY?) “Why is freeskiing so hard?” Because we’ve learned to use the slalom course like a crutch, and forget to FEEL when we ski. The course conditions us to be numb to the input we are receiving from our body, and instead rely on our eyes. Your eyes tend to focus on the course and its checkpoints….”Just get a good gate, stay connected and move outbound, and keep a tight line at 1, then 2, 3…so on” The result is a series of sub-standard muscle memory movements based on punctuated or choppy input…which often results in choppy output. We try to connect dots, instead of find a rhythm, and that ultimately limits us from reaching our full potential…and truly “Flying”(…that moment when your mind clears, your body lights up and shit just happens without even trying).
To get there, we have to take a step back and remember why most of us started skiing in the first place: it was that rush of shredding on top of the water, banking big turns, throwing mad spray and FEELING accelerations and forces we couldn’t find anywhere else. The course takes a lot of that away from us…slowly so we don’t notice it happening. Its time to fight back…
With a new season comes a new opportunity to chart a different path. Of course your days at the lake will most likely be consumed by thousandths of inch fin movements, the latest technique fads and complaining about rollers, ducks or bad driving. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pry yourself and a few buddies away from the buoys every once in a while to remind yourself how important feeling is.
The more aware you are of your movements, the better they become. Freeskiing is the closest thing to a functional drill for us water skiers. It allows you to feel forces, line tension, swing, transitions, accelerations, carves, etc….without worrying about buoys, scores, timing or an ego. Do this at least twice a week, and watch how your course skiing suddenly becomes more natural and effortless.
Sometimes the simplest thing is the right answer. This is one of those times.
Go FREESKI!! NOW!