Golf has finally caught on as a pretty fun activity for me these days. I've dabbled in it year after year, playing perhaps one round per year due to a company event, family gathering, etc. This year, however, I've gone out about half a dozen times and it's getting better and better. Golf is similar to slalom in several key aspects that are crucial to the game- body position, concentration, consistency, and insane difficulty to name a few.
I haven't actually shopped for golf equipment for years. I got my Tommy Armour 845s Silver Scot irons back in 1997 and that's the last time I ever remotely was interested in golf equipment. What really jumps out at you these days is the size and variety of the drivers and putters, and the sheer variety of equipment out there. Back in 97, the Calloway Big Bertha was a very popular driver, but it would look like a driving iron next to the house-sized drivers of today. The drivers are massive, and all of the equipment that's available for golf seems to be constantly changing and evolving.
How does all of this tie to slalom? Well, putters, drivers, irons, shafts, grips, and balls are all marketed towards a "type" of golfer. If you tend to slice the ball, there's a driver with an insert to help compensate for that. Can't hit the sweet spot on the driver all the time? Well, today's 500cc drivers offer a sweet spot the size of a manhole cover. Fast swing? Stiff Shaft. Slow swing? Soft shaft, etc. You take the golfer, and you fit the equipment to them.
Slalom skis are marketed nearly across all brands as "Beginner", "Intermediate", and "Advanced/Competition". In golf, a guy who can hardly play the game will look perfectly at home with a 600.00 driver because that model of driver is designed to compensate for less-than-perfect aspects of his game. However, an open-water skier who skis a few times a year behind the family Bayliner would look pretty out of place on a Monza. Why can't a ski shop sell that beginner a 600.00 ski that will immediately make slalom more fun for him since it's designed just for his type of skiing? Golf is a game where it's very common to have equipment custom fit to the golfer regardless of expense/"trim level" for lack of a better term. Heck, the famous Ping Eye 2 golf clubs of the mid 80's came in at least 5 different shaft angles based on golfer height. I'd like to see slalom equipment developed and marketed at a more granular level based on individual skier attributes, at all levels.
There's two ways this can go with slalom: 1) Market and design equipment that compensates for less-than-perfect aspects of a certain type of skier- e.g. a ski that rides best with a tail-heavy grip-it-and-rip-it free skier, or 2) Design training skis that actually only function properly when the skier un-does whatever habit they are trying to break- e.g. a ski that absolutely will not turn at all without front foot pressure.
Let's take a look at the first scenario: A ski designed to ski perfectly with a certain type of skier. Just like that huge driver or that offset club face, this ski might have certain ungainly features or surfaces designed to actually ride better in the water based on incorrect foot pressure or form. Maybe putting too much back-foot pressure on this ski actually drives the tip down via some sort of hydrodynamic design. Maybe a skier who has trouble crossing the wakes has a ski which somehow cuts through wakes more easily, or rights itself at the right angle even with poor body position. The advantages in this scenario could be that more beginners would be having more fun slaloming earlier on. More people would be into the sport, buying new equipment, supporting pros, buying boats, creating private lakes, putting the tubes away, buying inboards, etc. Very few people worldwide have the resources to have private water, a 50,000.00 boat, coaching, etc., and this type of equipment might provide some instant gratification in the sport that can traditionally only be gained via years of vigilant practice.
Now let's look at scenario #2, which is really exciting in my opinion: A ski that trains for a certain "bad habit". How about a ski that absolutely leaps off the wake (or consistently throws you OTF, for a more effective reminder) unless it is properly on edge? How about another training ski that does not turn AT ALL unless the rider applies the right balanced stance on the ski? How cool would that be? You wouldn't have to work to hard to figure out what you were doing wrong, since the ski wouldn't even work at all unless you were hitting your goals in regards to position and technique. How about a ski that doesn't even ride if you break at the waist? Perhaps connected to the hips or arms somehow (that's a stretch, but roll with me on this one). This sort of ski reminds me of all of the goofy golf equipment you see out there- LED indicators that connect to the club head, mirrors with crosshairs and graphs on them, weighted clubs, hinged clubs, etc.
I guess my point is that the golf industry is absolutely DYING to get you better at the game. They don't care what your skill level or problem is- there are a zillion gadgets out there to fix your form and get you addicted to the game. The ski industry has made some strides with wider skis, but it's just the beginning in my opinion. R & D seems to be focused on the pro-level slalom sticks, but those guys are the minority. The majority of slalom skiers would probably kill to have a ski that was just for them, whether it was to compensate for or fix a specific problem. I'm sure slalom ski budgets are tight at some of these companies but I have a feeling that the first company that puts out the first set of "silver bullet" slalom skis for all types of skiers will have a hard time keeping them on the shelves. Rather than getting that Mach 1 ski back in 1999, I probably would have gladly spent 700.00 on a ski that would get me putting up walls of spray sooner! Thoughts?
ScarletArrow, 7/17/2007: Break out the Medicus!
Joel, 7/17/2007: SA, I had to look that one up! Seriously though, where is the Medicus for hip position???
LH, 7/17/2007: Me thinks thou sufferest from the dreaded disease of "if I love it, everyone must love it." Very conspicuous disease, afflicting those of us who wonder "why not?" to the suppliers of our sport. When you consider that HO, for example, is a multi-million dollar company, but less than 5% of their income is from "tournament equipment", you wonder no longer. Another example is the tournament boat industry, which was all but extinct until the wakeboard boats saved nearly every manufacturer for us skiers. Think how worldwide golf DWARFS the participation in water sports, and a tiny slice of that being skiers. No, my friend, we must be content with what crumbs are allowed from these folks who make a living off of the (very) few fanatics. After all, they do an exceptional job on what they throw at us: skis, boats, ropes, etc. Keep on dreaming, and grab that next buoy. LH
barracuda, 7/17/2007: Joel- Water Skiing is just a niche sportand not nearly as popular as golf- very little media coverage, very small group cash prizes for tournament champions, etc. I watched the MA waterski chamionships last w/e and was amazed at the low skier turnout..Golf gets an insane amount of corp sponsorship, media coverage and has huge purses for winners.IMHO
Joel, 7/17/2007: Guys, I realize how small the sport is relative to Golf, but perhaps some more targeted equipment could change this a bit. Waterski equipment is marketed as expensive equipment for good skiers and cheaper (costing) equipment for beginners. Why not market a high-end ski for the MAJORITY of an already small market by coming out with some high-end skis for the average skier?
Stang72, 7/20/2007: Be carefull bro...it is consuming! For some folks(me) the fun was getting lost as I became more involved in the game and over annylizing the mechanics...and , it's in direct competition with time on the lake!
Do have fun though!!!
stang72, 7/20/2007: Forgot to comment on the equiptment! There is a ton of hype out there...while the equiptment has advanced,the critical parts are in the swing mechanics,course management and practice!
Any golfer with a good swing can hit any club...new or old.Thats the real story!
but hey...I am an equiptment junkie too!
C Moore, 7/22/2007: The key is availability in your arguement. With golf any person can borrow a set of his buddies clubs and go to the range or golf course and play a round. The reason there is that it is difficult to break a set of clubs, and if they do break you are out a few hundred bucks. I am certain the same offer does not go out to a friend to borrow a persons's boat. You might offer a pull (thanks again by the way), but the availability of skiing is the initial problem when it comes to lack of funding for R&D.
GottaSki, 7/24/2007: I love golf.
Less ahole tubers at the lake!