An oft-heard topic on ski forums and chat rooms lately is “growing the sport” AKA getting more people on the water. I suppose we also see a bunch of threads on the sport “dying” as well, and one thread tends to feed the other. Whether the sport needs to grow or not is another topic entirely but I’d at least like to talk about some real-world reasons that our sport is not a super-popular one.
The most commonly touted reasons for low participation seem to be:
We hear complaints from our own community about the costs of boats being high and how a move to private lakes ruined the sport for everyone else and how nobody knows how great the sport really is. Folks talk about how great the glory days were. These internal conversations are always an echo chamber scenario. I don’t think those are the real reasons that more people are not waterskiing. The truth is that $500.00 will get you on a decent used ski setup and nearly anybody in this sport would be glad to give you a pull.
Here are a few real reasons why waterskiing remains a niche, specialty sport enjoyed by very few:
- It’s hard. Seriously hard. Just getting up on a slalom ski will take most people dozens of tries, and that’s usually after extensive experience on two skis. Never mind skiing a slalom course and all the nuanced skills that go with it. In the same vein this is why you don’t see many adults jumping into gymnastics later in life. Like gymnastics, starting young helps extensively here but for for people starting late in life they may not have the patience for this sport.
- It takes a baseline of physical strength and fitness that many people simply don’t have. From what I’ve seen, most adults don’t have the physical strength or stamina to do this right out of the box. Taking pull from a 3/8” rope in your fingertips and anchoring that dynamically to the water with the opposite end of your entire body as a human takes some strength from top to bottom. Even just getting up on 2 skis is physically a “NFW” for many people. Seen it many times. Again, younger kids fare better here but anyone starting later in life is going to struggle with this element unless they are reasonably fit.
- Lots of people are afraid of swimming in lakes. No joke. Sometimes it’s dark water they are afraid of, some times people need to “see the bottom” at all times and some are afraid of fish or all three. Though we may not even be able to imagine such a phobia, it’s SUPER common out there. People can also be terrified of seaweed as well, I see that pretty regularly as well.
- Some people can’t actually swim. For them, the lake may as well be full of hot lava. Sure, they can wear a vest but that vest is literally saving their life at all times in the water in that case.
- People have other stuff to do and truly don’t want this lifestyle. They like golf, they like sleeping in on weekends. They have kid soccer games to coach and they travel for work. The time demands of this sport, particularly early mornings are not at all appealing to them. These are the people that say “man you guys are nuts” when I tell them how I spent my morning skiing before coming to work. They were asleep and very decidedly not jumping into chilly water in a spring suit as the sun rose and that is where they wanted to be. Absolutely no desire to be hooking up a boat in their garage at 5:30AM on a Saturday to catch some smooth water.
- The majority of people I’ve met are extremely intimidated by and overwhelmed by boating in general, and especially boat ownership. Trailering, launching, maintaining, driving, mooring, and storing a boat is incredibly foreign and not appealing to many people out there. Boats are seen as unreliable, expensive, and ridiculous items in general to a lot of people. The amount of times I’ve told people I have not one but two boats and gotten some sort of grimaced “boat- break out another thousand right?” response are innumerable. Driving techniques such as pulling through the course, docking, or landing a boat are terrifying to a lot of people. They cannot imagine a boat taking up half of their garage all summer. Again, we take it for granted but it’s not something somebody just readily jumps into happily later in life. It feels like you’re either brought up as a “boat” person or not.