Family Bonds Built and Cemented on the Water

The first year after my mom died, when I was only 10 years old, my dad took us (my sister & I) rolling skating and ice skating a lot. He wasn't able to participate with us, and I think he got bored watching us go around and around in circles. So he bought a boat, with the intention of teaching us to water ski. (This was before the days of wakeboarding.)

I wasn't too thrilled with the idea. Before my mom died, she took us on a camping trip with a bunch of other adults, along with a boat and some water skis. After she and others skied down the river a ways, she asked if we'd like to give it a try. "Are you nuts?" I asked in surprise. "We're only kids, we can't ski." Since I hadn't seen any other kids out on the water that day or ever before in my life, I didn't think kids could or should attempt it. So I didn't.

But shortly after the camping trip, my dad took us to see a ski show. Although there weren't any young kids like myself in it, there were teenagers, and they looked like they were having a blast. Hmm, I thought, maybe I should give it a try.

Back at the boat store, Dad is closing the deal on our new boat and throwing some gear in for us to use: life jackets, a paddle, an anchor, some water skis, and a tow rope. Then he sees a specialty rope, just like the skiers on the show team used, the one where you put your foot in the special strap and let go with your hands so you can wave at everyone. "Oh no, Dad, that's not for us. We're just kids," I practically pleaded and hoped he wouldn't buy it. But he did.

It took us the first summer to learn how to ski, the second summer to learn how to drop a ski and slalom, and finally that third and glorious summer on mirror-glass water (I remember the day so clearly), that I dared to put my foot in that rope and let go. And I didn't fall. These are all spectacular memories of my difficult childhood. My dad went from almost being a stranger to me, only visiting us once a month or so as my parents were divorced, to being a full-time dad, and purposefully spending quality time with us. He would take all five of his vacation weeks off in a row in the summertime. I watched him do push-ups and sit-ups in the winter so that he could ski with us in the summer. He took a very pro-active approach to engaging and interacting with us to get us (and probably himself too) through our trauma. And I'm so grateful to him. He has since passed a few years ago as well, and I cherish these memories.

It turns out skiing and water sports in general are not just for adults, but adults can certainly enjoy them, especially with their kids and families. My sister and I went on to join that ski team and perform with them for many years. I've taught my kids to water ski, and their dad has taught them many other sports. 

So, to you families out there, I hope that you push your kids to try new things, and I hope that you try new things with them. The memories and bonding that can be created are priceless. There's so many more water sports to pick from nowadays too, something for everyone in the family.

I've continued this family tradition of water skiing with my kids. My older daughter skied on that same show team as I did as a junior member several years ago, and my younger daughter just learned to slalom ski last weekend. I skied next to her to help keep her balance, and then when she was stable, I let go, and she was solid! My son is my youngest, and we haven't pushed or forced him to ski. But he's 11 now (the same age I learned to ski), and he's finally ready to try it! I'm so excited to watch him learn next.

Tell us about your family boating and water sports adventures and memories, especially those between the generations. We'd love to hear from you and see your pictures!


One tip before I sign off: don't let your kids use one of those specialty foot-holding ropes (they're actually called toe-hold handles) without a release! We didn't know that the show skiers had a specialty safety release in their boats. Fortunately for us, we never got hurt, but it can cause injury and danger of getting dragged under the water. So, talk with the experts about any new products before you start using them. Get great tips on safety, how to learn new things, how to perfect fun tricks, which equipment is right for you and your family, and so much more!

Be safe, have fun this summer, get outside and enjoy your sports together!

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