Learning to live with powerboats

Life in Our Mountain Town, Katie Shaffer

From time to time I make up lists of personal goals for myself. Recently, I came upon such a list while cleaning out a desk and I noticed that one of my goals for a summer a while back, was to learn how to water ski.

I found this interesting considering the fact that after many attempts, I never did learn how to water-ski. Furthermore, I’ve lost interest in trying.

I say all this despite the fact that my family has now acquired a boat. For years I fought the idea of owning a powerboat.

I was raised in a sailing family. My father required that my brother and I learn how to sail a Sunfish, by ourselves by a certain age, probably 13 or 14. This was something that my brother and I both took on and accomplished. I don’t remember being rewarded for sailing the boat solo, except that we each did it, and then we felt proud and worthy.

I spent my childhood summers on Martha’s Vineyard island in Massachusetts. My brother and I would paddle a red plastic kayak across the cove and explore an abandoned camp, or we’d sail in the brackish pond out to the sand dunes, which separated the pond from the ocean. We’d put down an anchor and wade around in the waist deep water, digging for clams. Or we would cross the dunes by foot and swim in the ocean. Then we’d sail back to our cottage. These are my fond summertime memories, and you might note, they do not include any experience with powerboats.

Then I grew up and moved to Truckee.

One summer I left Truckee to do a graduate program in Colorado. When I returned in the fall, my roommates were super enthusiastic about water skiing behind a Boston Whaler on Donner Lake, an activity they had been enjoying all summer.

Naturally, they wanted me to join them. Since I had never water-skied, I thought it sounded like fun until I found myself being dragged through choppy water by a fishing boat, without a wetsuit on, on a chilly day in October.

I may have partially gotten up on two skis, and then I experienced a powerful stream of cold water rushing between my legs like a giant enema, which caused me to let go of the rope. The next thing I remember I was bobbing in the water with chattering, blue lips which my friends must not have noticed because they were peering off the boat at me, encouraging me to give it one more try. ‘Just let me back in that boat,’ I remember thinking.

That experience cooled my interest in learning to water ski for about 10 years, until I started hanging around with a group of women who all thoroughly enjoyed the sport.

Once again, I found myself coaxed into giving it a try. We would get out on Boca on summer mornings at 7 a.m. to catch that killer glassy water. This time I appreciated being provided with better gear – a wet suit and ski gloves. ‘Those gloves might actually help me to hold on,’ I would think, hopefully, until the boat would take off and my arms would feel like they were being yanked out of their sockets.

Having a single ski to try to get up on probably didn’t help me much either. My friends were all too advanced water skiers to have a second ski for an inexperienced skier like me.

So again, I tried and tried, and I got advice like “Lean back,” or “Let the boat pull you up,” or the most discouraging news of all, “You were almost up!” ‘Really?’ I would think doubtfully.

I think my aversion to powerboats was already firmly set in place, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I wasn’t used to the smell of gas fumes and I didn’t find it fun to be dragged through the water around a lake by a powerboat while swallowing heaps of water.

Over the years we’ve found friends to camp with who also do not own a boat. Even though we were basically limited to shoreline activities, we would borrow a kayak or float around on blow-up rafts, and I thought we all were quite satisfied with all of this, until the son of our friends informed his parents, “When I grow up, I’m going to have motorized everything!”

My husband must have agreed with him, because now we have a boat.

Considering the fact that my children have both gotten up on two skis already, I’m glad that I haven’t passed along my aversion to powerboats to them.

My revised goals for this summer will include 1) being happy to simply be a rider, holding up the orange flag, 2) learn how to drive the ski boat, and 3) learn how to back the truck and trailer down the boat ramp without jack-knifing left and right.

Katie Shaffer is a Truckee resident. Life in Our Mountain town appears every other week in the Sierra Sun.

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