A couple weeks ago I pulled out of the driveway in my old German commuter car and headed south on I-94 like I do every other weekday morning. However, on this particular day I hurdled right past my typical tollway exit and continued south, all the way to I-55, then past Joliet, to Wilmington. The events that transpired after that would constitute one of the best single days off of work in recent memory.
When I pulled off of I-55 and turned into Keith's (Falcon Eddie's) club, it was about 8:35AM and we were pretty much the only people around. I parked my car in the grass near his boat slip, we shook hands, and talked about all things skiing and boating. I had been to a couple of these Kankakee-area ex-strip-mine recreational clubs over the years but never this particular one. All of the clubs in this area have a lot in common, but in particular they all come with deep, flat, CRYSTAL-clear water, a very thick and well-worn rule book, generations worth of memories and a gallery of vintage ski boats.
Since we were the only ones around, we decided to warm up the boat with a quick tour of the lake at idle. What a setup this place had. Clean, well-kept facilities. Fabulous water. Tall reeds lined one side of the narrow, deep lake and on the other side was moored seemingly every make and model of ski boat ever made from 1972-1993 or so. Bimini Skiers, American Skiers, old rainbow-brite style Malibus, Centurions, Supras- you name it. Truly a trip back in time to the golden era of waterskiing. I told Keith around this time that if the day ended right now and I drove back home I'd still be happy about the day- that's how awesome of an experience just idling through this flawless slalom course and surreal scene was. I can't help but wonder what these clubs looked like from about 1975-1985. They had to be absolutely hopping with watersports action back then. I can just imagine the Majhas, EPs, mustaches, double handles, and mullets. However, on this particular day in 2011, the lake was OURS. Keith's 2002 Ski Nautique was going to show the old boats how it was done all day, because school was in session. And the teacher had just arrived.
Seth pulled up uncharacteristically in a small car, Tadd's Jetta wagon. This is a car that's pretty much impossible to look cool in but Seth still pulled it off, if just barely. Keith explained to Seth that this clinic was going to be low key. Maybe a couple buddies and Keith's kids, and that's about it. Seth was just going with the flow and didn't seem pretentious or bothered in the least that this wasn't going to be some hugely attended affair. He was in the neighborhood for nationals and just seemed happy to hang out with us.
At some point we decided that we should probaby ski a bit, and that I was to be the first off the dock. No problem. And, hey- no pressure. I've wanted to ski with Seth for YEARS, and here we were. Skiing. Seriously though, Seth goes to great lengths to make sure the skier he's coaching is as comfortable as possible. Before you even jump into the water, Seth has already asked you about your typical sets and ski lines/speeds. He is sure to remind you to have fun before every set, in case you needed the reminder (I've always thought that was a funny part about our sport- we habitually tell each other to have fun because we're so serious all the time). After a big "OK" symbol from Seth, Keith nailed it and we were off to the course, in perfect glass water.
After my first pass, Seth asked how "typical" that pass was. I liked that. Before saying anything, he wants to know how you thought that was relative to your standard skiing. I think I made 5 buoys or so at 33 mph, and I felt pretty scrappy. I told him it was pretty standard. Seth also wanted to know how many sets I was going to take so that he would be sure to pace the coaching appropriately. Again, things you don't hear to often from the boat. Even these subtle things like pre-set chats, general attitude, and post-first-pass comments, pacing, etc. are the little things that IMO set Seth apart from the rest. He's not a skier who is coaching just because they are a good skier- he's like, somebody who has figured out how to actually coach.
After my 2nd pass we worked on one thing: the mechanicals of starting the course, essentially the gate- pullout and turn-in. With Seth's guidance I had a few of the BEST 1-balls I've ever had. I felt the results immediately. Standing tall and balanced after a smooth pull-out, making my first movement toward the gate with my right hip led to a really nice full-ski progressive carve into 1, which led to a great exit out of 1 and so on. I'm not saying I turned into T-Whisper after one tip but I DID feel it, and it was a great feeling. Pressure all of a sudden felt wrong, and that was a crazy feeling.
The next thing we worked on was actively transitioning on my on-side turn. Big lightbulb moment for me, although this one will take time to perfect. Essentially my off-side wake cross is weaker than my on-side wake cross, so I come into my onside turn with less speed and direction. Because of that I NEED more handle control/active transition/elbows to the vest/reverse-C/whatever coming off the wake and into my onside turn. Instead, I weakly release early and my strong on-side turn compensates automatically for the lack of direction and speed. The problem is that I lose angle on every onside turn because of that. I need to preserve that angle, let the ski and hips cast out and forward leading into the onside turn. That's great advice because I haven't thought about ANYTHING on the onside, basically, ever. I've always thought of off-side turn stuff and I've always had time to think about off-side turn stuff because my on-side wake cross has always shot me out powerfully into 1-3-5. My onside turns seem to take place without any thought at all, and adding some thought to what happens going into 2-4-6, I believe, is what will take me to the next level. Love it.
I had the opportunity to hang out in the boat while Seth coached multiple skill levels from a 35-off skier to complete beginners who had no course experience. The way he worked with each of these people was just magical. His ability to connect, communicate, and and boil things down is just amazing and I've never seen it before. And I've had a lot of coaching over the years. He gets people down to FUNDAMENTALS right off the bat, at times fully standing in the boat at speed and gesturing wildly at them to communicate exactly what they should be doing and feeling when. Where was this guy 5 years ago? I'd be running 38off.com by now for pete's sake. For the record I didn't hear him say "hips up" to anyone and yet even the beginners got those hips up! Great stuff.
After a full day on the water we all hung out and chatted it up. I had my Flip HD cam on me so I convinced Seth to do an interview for the site. The last interview we had with Seth was in 2008- already 3 years ago! Amazing! Enjoy.