Georgia Tech men’s tennis coach Kenny Thorne, 44, didn’t start out in that sport. His first national competition was water skiing.
By Kenny Thorne
We lived on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark. Starting when I was 6 years old, we used to water ski two or three times a day — before school, after school and weekends. When it got cold, we’d put on wetsuits and sit on the dock and get pulled straight off the dock so we wouldn’t go into the water. That’s when you really try not to fall. We also didn’t like to fall when we lived in Corpus Christi and skied in the Arkansas river that had alligators in it. Other people skied and swam there as well so it didn’t seem too dangerous but we still didn’t want to fall when we saw the alligators on shore.
My mom, Peggy, was into water skiing first and became one of the top three or four trick skiers in her age group in the nation. She is in her 70s, and after foot surgery recently, her first question to the doctor was, “When can I get back out and ski?”
My dad, David, was the boat driver. My older sister, Leslie, skied, and we put my baby sister, Caralisa, near the front so the engine kept her sleeping while we were skiing.
It may have been kind of strange, but it was just what we did, and we had a great time with it. It was absolutely family bonding.
We are a pretty competitive family, and we wanted to see how good you could get at this. We had a Ski Nautique like they use in tournaments. My dad got pretty good good at swinging the boat around fast and we had to grab the rope quickly in order to get up. For me, it was kind of survival.
We hung around some families who did competition water skiing, so from age 6 to 9, my family vacations were trips to water-ski tournaments. We’d bring our tent and other skiers would be around.
The first thing they ask you at a tournament is how fast you go. I was so small that if the boat went forward, I would stand up. I would say, “6 mph,” and the adults would say, “No, not your age, give me how fast you go.” My answer was, “6 mph.” My age and speed for trick skiing were the same. They would barely tap the accelerator and I was up and going. That’s how tiny I was.
They used to have three events: trick, slalom and jump. Then an overall score. I would come away with four trophies by default, because I was usually the youngest. Sometimes my mom, my sister and I would come home with 12 trophies total.
I’d get a trophy in the jump just by making it over the ramp and surviving. The jumpers are the crazy guys. Oh, did we see some bad falls. People hit the ramp, all kinds of stuff. I had wipeouts, but at that age, you fall and get back up. I never had any real injuries. I didn’t have enough weight to hurt anything.
Slalom was always a battle to practice at home. You’re looking for that nice smooth water early in the morning or later in the evening, and so are the fisherman. The one thing they didn’t want to see is a skier messing up their water. People would cut down the buoys we had set up for our slalom course.
With trick skiing, you have two 20-second passes to do as many tricks as you can do. The difficulty is judged. You put your foot in the rope and turn around and do different things. I did 180s and 360s and toe-backs. This was long before the big wakeboarding tournaments they have now.
Water skiing was about as expensive a sport as you can get into, with the boat and gas, and there was not a payoff as far as a college scholarship. I loved it, but when I was about 9 years old, I got tired of it. I was past trying to be really good at it. I ended up going into tennis after that.
Persevering is important in both sports. I think it takes 200 falls before you land a trick. So don’t get upset about falling. You may not be able to do certain things, but if you stick with it you can do it.
I have four kids -- aged 14, 13, 11 and 9 -- and love going up to Lake Lanier, where my parents live. From our house in Alpharetta, we can be on the lake in half an hour. They can all slalom.
We have a great time with it. There is nothing like the sun going down and skiing on smooth water. It’s just beautiful.
Memorial Day is a huge water-skiing day, but not for us. If you live on a lake, that’s the day you leave the lake. Or you have people over and pull them, but you wouldn’t ski unless you go out early, early in the morning before anyone else is out.
I had my old trick ski on recently and some of the guys at Lake Lanier said, “That’s a funny looking wakeboard.” It’s like an old wooden tennis racket. I still do some of the basic tricks today just to see if I can -- just to see what kind of muscles I can pull.
As told to Michelle Hiskey for the AJC
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