The U.S. Masters Men’s Trick Runner Up was Aliaksei Zharnasek and, in my opinion, he and every other pro trick skier is the future of 3-event waterskiing. Let’s call him the Obi-Wan Kenobi of our 3-event, he’s our only hope of generating the kind of exposure we know our sport deserves. I’ll confess that I hardly know anything about trick skiing, and, quite frankly, I think that makes me uniquely qualified to offer this opinion to the big shots at USA Waterski. So I’ll make a few statements about what I think USA Waterski could do to help increase our exposure.
3-event skiing is more popular than we think. Sure, boat manufacturer’s invest in wakeboarding due to higher margins and more units being sold, but take a look around. There is not a single wakeboard, wakeskate or wakesurfing tournament scheduled sanctioned by USA Waterski for Ohio yet this year. Tournaments are confined exclusively to the INT League. What's like outside of CA or FL? Meanwhile, traditional 3-event skiing is exploding with the Buckeye Buoy Tour.
Even though monster truck sized wakeboard boats have cannibalized public water, ESPN would still rather televise the National Spelling Bee, Bowling and Billards over this so-called “more popular” sport. The reality is that there is not nearly as much meaningful wakeboard activity compared to 3-event. I’ve never once heard of a professional wakeboard clinic, but there are at least 2 every year for slalom in Ohio. When people buy a 3-event boat, slalom or trick ski - they use it often, while wakeboards often collect dust as people are content to just cruise the open water.
Trick skiing is the most spectator friendly discipline. I can say after watching all of the events at the Masters Waterski Tournament - Trick, Slalom, Jump, Wakeskate and Wakeboard - the latter two are by far the least spectator friendly and Trick is the most. Trick skiing can be run extremely close to the shoreline, at a very slow speed where skiers put on a tremendous display of athleticism and spectators can have a perfect view from start to finish.
By contrast wakeboarding is hampered with the skiers need to run in deeper water, a longer course and long rope lengths to generate enough speed to get big air, all which hamper the spectators ability to view the action. It’s almost a little boring since there are far fewer tricks and far more crashes. Sure, they go higher and grab some 720’s, but if they are all the way down at the end of the lake (and crash) - who cares if you can’t see it!
Slalom skiing is rock solid. I’ve asked several highly regarded professional skiers the following question, “It seems that Chris Parrish, Jamie Beauchesne, Will Asher each had a period of 2 - 3 years where they dominated the tournament scene and now Nate Smith is challenging. Does a skier today have a very limited lifespan at the top?” My answer is that the top of the sport is pretty deep with elite level athletes and it’s very difficult to win over a long period of time. The slalom skiers are the rock stars of 3-event - they dance on TV, get clothing contracts and travel internationally. Wakeboarding may have a thicker magazine because advertisers want to align themselves with the boats that are being sold to the masses, but that doesn’t mean that slalom skiing has less meaningful activity and competition. I would argue that it has more.
Trick skiing seems to be hampered by what seems to be very archaic rules. Why the toe pass? Sure, it’s hard to do and a worthy athletic feat, but it’s hard to see from the stands and hard to differentiate between one toe move and the next. At least drop the requirement and let the skier choose how they want to approach their run.
Why the limit on the number of inverts? If a skier can do 15 consecutive and unique inverts through a 20-second pass, that’s what I want to see and that’s what kids want to do. If they can come back with another set of 15 consecutive and unique inverts, then you know the discipline has reach a level of creativity that will attract new athletes, spectators and sponsors.
Trick skiers are the supermodels of the sport. They all seem to be attractive enough to be in cologne or perfume advertisement, have ripped abs and are supremely athletic in their strength, balance, agility and flexibility. Last year I watched one of Jodi Fisher’s students take a practice run on trick ski. He went down-and-back across the lake twice and was doing just crazy stuff that would not ordinarily be permitted in a tournament, but man was it fun to watch!
In my opinion USA waterski should do more to the discipline of trick skiing. Do away with the archaic rules and add a few new ones to generate excitement. There are some slalom only tournaments, why not trick only? Tournament organizers should make sure the trick course is set up as close to shore as possible. Promote trick skier personalities as much or more than other disciplines. Check out Aliaksei at az-tricksessions.com.