Distractions during your Slalom Journey

Do you feel stuck in your slalom skiing skill progression? Have you been running about the same buoys and speeds for a few seasons now? Perhaps you’ve progressed forward, then regressed back a few times? I know I’ve experienced all of this repeatedly which is why 14 years after making my first pass in the course I’ve still not run the 13M line length, and 14.25M is still not a 100% pass.

I define a “distraction” in slalom as anything that makes us focus on stuff that’s not important during the current phase of our progression. Depending on where you are in your slalom journey, there are one or two things that you MUST consistently focus on EVERY set. But we don’t. Distractions are everywhere in this slalom, and we’re so passionate this stuff that we just gobble them up left and right. Distractions come in many forms, including:

  • Well-intended advice from friends in the boat
  • Tips and advice from online waterski forums
  • New equipment purchases or trials, or equipment settings
  • Our own confirmation bias and egos

For me, the season is so short and water time is so precious that I grab wildly for any tip or trick that’s going to fast-track me to success. That’s why I’ve been stuck at -32 for 4 years now. I’ll continue to be stuck here if I don’t minimize distractions from here on out.

What’s limiting me at this point in the game is my body alignment, something I overlook all the time. I bleed off a ton of power from the boat due to inefficient, upper-body skiing. I’ve proven you can run 14.25M/28-off hundreds of times with poor body mechanics but I’ve also proven that you can’t run 13M/32-off and sure as hell can’t run anything shorter with poor mechanics. Additionally my back is telling me that it can’t sustain this style of skiing much longer.

I’ve gone 14 years without focusing on body alignment because season after season I get distracted by other “tips and tricks”. Or new gear I want to try out. Or new settings. Or whatever shit I think of or make up to focus on or change. Nearly every set I show up to the lake with different thoughts and goals. We wouldn’t take that kind of approach with any other craft, but we do it all the time with slalom and it kills our progression.

What you may need to focus on could be totally different than what I need to focus on right now. The important thing is that you do actually focus on whatever that is and put a solid feedback loop in place to make sure you execute on it and progress toward that singular goal. Over and over. Every set. Until you learn whatever it is. Until then, no distractions.

Early on the biggest distraction for me were the buoys. My first formal coaching experience was with wade cox. After 3 sets, he suggested I free ski awhile. I was very discouraged. He of course could tell my disappointment. He said “Bruce, the buoys are there to F… you up. Let’s concentrate on skiing.”
Then my next distraction was running buoys for the sake of making a full pass. Didn’t matter how. Not good.
Next: the turn around the buoy. I wanted it to look like the guys in waterski magazine. I finally learned that turn is not what I needed to run a pass.
Now it’s trying not to jump on every hyped ski or binding system out there. 38 is my problem and I’m the one that needs to figure it out to be consistent.

I had originally written this post a while back so I gave it a quick re-read.

Another way to talk about this topic is focus during a set. In this sport it’s so easy to just have fun during a set and forget what you’re trying to accomplish during that short time on the water.

I put some time this summer into figuring out what 3 foundational things I needed to think about and why I needed to think about them (the actual goal or outcome). Lots of help from Scoke (previous Fifteenoff user) on this part over the summer.

For me the three things were:

  1. Body alignment/tallness, ski at my full height, glutes on, lats on
  2. Gate move-out intensity and width on the boat
  3. Lean vs. Pull

Of course doing these things at 100% effectiveness gets you a foundation for -41. But getting 1% closer each set in 10 sets gets you 10% better in 10 sets. That’s a whole other thing I could write about separately I suppose. I’m probably executing these things at 20%.

And the goal this summer for me, keeping those three things in mind every pass, is that I would “own” -28. Do they “own” -32? No. We will add a little something in on top of that foundation to own 32 next summer, but the foundation still stands.

So when we think of these things like a pyramid and staying focused on them set after set and pass after pass we give ourselves a chance at progress from one set to the next. The base skills own 28, then the next level owns 32, the next level owns 35, the next level owns 38. Each level is smaller as it builds on the foundational level.

@Papawskier The equipment rabbit hole is always tempting and this is the first season in a long time I didn’t go down it. I had my equipment set in June and didn’t touch a thing the whole summer. That said my philosophy was to use a ski that did not “give” nor “take away”, just a neutral tool that proved dependable in a wide range of conditions and water temps all season. I think D3 does this type of thing very well. Whole other fun topic as well!