Since I was raised by a father whose main source of recreation involved activities on Bull Shoals Lake, in northern Arkansas, it is easy to understand why I learned to water ski at a very early age, long before I was a teenager. My father did not have a gigantic ski boat with a fancy motor; rather, he had an old metal fishing boat with a somewhat low-horsepower motor. However, since I was a tiny little person back then, it did not take much of a motor, to pull me out of the water, and up to the point of skimming across the surface, at what seemed to me like flying! I cannot overlook the fact that one of my best friends in elementary school was also a factor in my getting interested in water sports at an early age. That is because her parents had a business that sold ski boats, motors, and water skis; so that family helped teach me, (and dozens of my friends), to water ski! The more kids they could get interested in water skiing, the better their business was! All this information on my childhood, is just to explain why I was thrilled to get to visit a place where facilitating folks to experience "skimming across the surface of the water" is the reason for their existence! It is called the Valdosta Wake Compound, and is located in South Georgia. ( www.valdostawakecompound.com )
The unique aspect of the Valdosta Wake Compound, however, is that there are no boats with big motors, towing the participants across the surface. Rather the body of water is surrounded by a series of towers, cables, motors, and pulleys, that pull the guest around several acres of a (somewhat) shallow and calm lake.
Readers of this blog with a mechanical engineering background, could do a much better job of explaining how the system works, but I will provide a condensed explanation for simple-minded folks like me. This photo shows the main motor that propels the whole system.
The motor is powered by electricity, and requires preventive maintenance lubrication and quality checks throughout the day. That explains the location of the triangular platform beside the motor, where a staff member perches himself, to access the moving parts of the motor.
The young entrepreneurs that opened up the Valdosta Wake Compound told me that their motor was a "three-stroke" model, of German design. They also said setups like the one in Valdosta have been in use in Europe for many years, due to fewer Europeans owning their own ski boat. In the United States, it is more common for water sports enthusiasts to not only own a boat, but also to have it custom-rigged, to pull human beings behind it, on a variety of floating contraptions! For those who do not own their own boat, rental boats and equipment are available at most major marinas. However, as the cost of owning a boat has skyrocketed over the years (think liability risks, fuel costs, marina mooring fees, equipment costs, etc.), a facility such as the Valdosta Wake Compound can fulfill a ever-growing niche market in the U.S.A. !
If the wake boarder falls, there is an automated system for retrieving the tow bar they were holding on to, and bringing it back around the circuit, so they can give it another try. I recall circling fallen skiers in a ski boat, dozens of times, as they tried to master the sport of being pulled against the force of the water, to finally stand up on their skis. Another advantage of the Valdosta system is that there are not huge waves created for the beginner, due to a boat circling them repeatedly. Seeing these athletes whiz by time after time, reminded me of when I was at the "peak" of my water-skiing activity, I once skied from the Lead Hill Boat Dock, to the Tucker Hollow Boat Dock---a distance of several miles, and almost an hour of being pulled behind the ski boat! Just a short time after that "marathon" and personal record, I found out I had accomplished that feat, while pregnant! (This was before the days of the "Early Pregnancy Test") So, I like to tell my son that I took him water skiing while he was still in my womb!
Seeing this photo reminded me of the exuberance I felt, when I finally learned to "slalom", that is, glide across the water on one ski, instead of two. Usually, (back in the old days), the way a person learned to slalom was to get comfortable enough on two skis, that you could raise one leg a little above the surface of the water, and get the feel for being pulled on one leg, while still being able to lower the other leg, anytime you felt shaky. After a while, you could kick off the extra ski, and continue upright on one ski. Of course, this involved staying in the same general area of the lake, so the driver could retrieve the water ski that had been kicked off, and allowed to float away to who-knows-where. Hence, the development of specially designed Slalom skis, where the skier started out from the very beginning on just one ski, instead of two. However, this caused greater water forces to be directed against the skier trying to get up, and hence greater power needed in the boat motor.
The sport of wake boarding was in its infancy when I was growing up, and even more so, in the landlocked state of Arkansas. I saw early indications of the direction that the sport was growing, when I had the opportunity to water ski behind a boat owned by friends, on the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Bermuda, when I was only 18 years old. That experience made me REALLY appreciate water skiing on the mirror-like surface, of a quiet cove on Bull Shoals Lake!
Since my parents had a houseboat, I eventually learned to take off on skis from a sitting position on the deck of the houseboat, without actually getting fully immersed in the lake. If conditions were right, I could start from the deck, and end the ski session, by coasting into a shallow area of the lake, resulting in staying dry the whole time! (This was before I had a wetsuit, and keeping my body temperature regulated was more of an issue)
It never even occurred to me to try JUMPING into the air from the deck, while being towed---like this guy was doing on the day of my visit!
For those that have mastered the basic techniques of wake boarding, they can progress to gliding up and over the ski jumps, built around the lake.
The development of materials that could be used to make wetsuits has been another factor increasing the popularity of water sports. Participants are no longer limited to the warm summer months to enjoy the sport.
Notice this wake boarder is also wearing a life vest, and helmet. There is always the risk of the board coming unattached from the feet, flying up in the air, and landing on the head of the boarder, so a helmet is an important safety measure for these more extreme tricks on the water, such as somersaults coming off the ski jump.
I liked the fact that the folks at the Valdosta Wake Compound have "re purposed" wake boards to use as tables or benches, in the viewing/concessions area. They most likely go through lots of equipment, because when you take a beginners' class at VWC, all the equipment you need is provided, and included in the cost of the lesson.
Thecompound also has a small camping area adjacent, that becomes very popular when the park has competitions taking place, that brings in hundreds of guests for either getting in the water or staying on the shore, as spectators.
There is also a skate park near the entrance, where you can practice your skateboarding skills. ( The worst injury I ever had as a kid happened when I was on a skateboard. My friends and I were skateboarding at night on a hill, in a new, sparsely populated subdivision. I was doing great at it, until I started going too fast down a hill, lost my balance, and took a very nasty skid across the asphalt. Perhaps it was all the panic-stricken parents, who saw the bloody condition of my knees after that accident, that originated the idea of kids wearing knee pads when they skateboarded!)
Because all my youthful water sports activities, as well as the water sports activities, of the Valdosta Wake Center (VWC) required a source of POWER to make them possible, I am using these images as a visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses, that says, "His divine POWER has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3 We are blessed to not only be able to call on God's Divine POWER, but also, the power supplied by the high-tech motor of the Valdosta Wake Compound, to get us safely across a most beautiful body of water!
I want to thank the Georgia Department of Tourism ( www.ExploreGeorgia.org ), Group Travel Magazine ( www.grouptravelleader.com ), and the Valdosta CVB ( www.visitvaldosta.org ) for making this visit to the Valdosta Wake Compound possible. They arranged for the very comfortable transportation shown in this photo, that enabled us to see some incredible attractions in South Georgia. I can say with assurance, that a visit to this area will give you "MILES OF SMILES"!! Tricia