If you could choose anything to do in your free time, you most likely wouldn’t pick getting dragged across water at over 25 mph by a tow rope. But freshman Ryan Canepa does just that, and well enough to compete on a national level.
Canepa has been water skiing for as long as he can remember, thanks mostly to his father.
“Since I could walk, my dad has been taking me to the ski lake every week day and weekend,” Canepa said. “I grew up watching him and his friends ski, and by the time I was 7, I was in love with the sport.”
Water skiing is physically intense. It requires strong upper and lower body strength as well as balance and muscular endurance.
The sport can also be dangerous, as collisions with the water at odd angles can cause serious injury.
Safety gear is usually worn only when doing jumps, and involves a helmet, knee pad and a padded suit, Canepa said.
“The worst injury I had was when I strained both MCL ligaments (the ligaments that keep your shin bones in place) in both knees at the same time,” he said. “(It) put me out of action for over two months.”
And two months out of action is a big deal for Canepa, who water skis almost every day.
“I usually go right to Redwood Shores Water Ski Lake when I get home from school and take one or two ski rides,” Canepa said. “Weekdays I’m at the lake for over an hour and a half, and weekends I spend the whole day there.”
The time Canepa puts into skiing makes it hard to participate in other sports or activities.
But all the focus pays off when Canepa goes to compete.
Canepa has participated in close to 100 water skiing tournaments and routinely places in the top 10.
There are three types of tournament water skiing: trick, slalom and jump. Canepa participates in all three.
In the trick competition skiers perform a series of chosen tricks, ranging from 180–degree turns to full flips, in 20 seconds. The judge assesses the tricks and awards predetermined point values for each one.
For the slalom competition skiers attempt to make as many “passes” as possible.
“Each pass has six buoys in it, and you keep going until you fall or miss a buoy,” Canepa said. “My record is 103 passes.”
The final competition is jump, in which skiers are towed up a ramp and compete for the longest jump.
At the national championship in August, Canepa placed 3rd in jump, 2nd in trick and 1st in slalom.
In addition, he has won two national championships in his age group, as well as two Can-am (Canadian American) titles, and a Pan-am (Pan American) title. There are over 900 tournaments a year with thousands of water skiers competing in some of the larger tournaments.
However, Canepa receives little publicity, as the hype and following behind water skiing is small compared to that of other sports, he said.
“It would be hard to make a living off the sport,” Canepa said.
Some colleges, however, are interested in the sport and do offer scholarships for water skiing.
Canepa’s rigorous schedule makes it hard to interact with friends outside of school, such as freshman Christian Van Vleck.
“It’s really hard to hang out with Ryan,” Van Vleck said.
But Canepa has made friends through water skiing. While he isn’t on a team, there are other skiers who practice on the lake.
“Water skiing is a very social sport,” he said. “You spend the weekends at the lake with the same friends, and just try to have as much fun as you can.”