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Balsam Lake, WI 54810

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All in the Family

June 24, 2011

You can lead a relative to water, but can you make them ski? 

There is nothing quite like the thrill of learning to water-ski. Second only to this would be the privilege of teaching a new skier. Together, over the last five summers, my husband Dan and I have taught more than 35 people how to water-ski. We’re experienced, we know what we’re doing – but somehow none of that matters when it’s a relative on the towrope. 

We learned this the hard way with our oldest son, Benj. We spent an hour trying to get him up on skis. I watched Dan working to stay patient and positive as our son insisted on “trying it a better way.” I offered a few comments too but quickly realized I was only making things worse. So I bit my tongue, white-knuckled the towels and attempted to enjoy myself. 

Benj tried and failed at least seven times before finally dropping the rope, claiming in a huff, “water-skiing’s not really a sport, anyway!” 

It came as a welcome reprieve when our cabin neighbor and dear friend, Tommy, offered to take Benj out for a run behind his boat. Dan and I settled into chairs on the dock, ready to be entertained by another instructor’s futile efforts. Imagine our surprise when, after only a few minutes of being out with Tommy, Benj was up and skiing. When he let go of the rope after that first run, he had a huge smile on his face. We were elated and raced out to congratulate Benj. He barely acknowledged our joy, instead turning to Tommy and gleefully shouting, “You’re the best teacher ever! I couldn’t have done this without you!” 

Ouch. 

Sure, we didn’t get the glory, but Benj learned to water-ski, and isn’t that what matters? We had just as much fun watching someone else teach him, and Benj had an easier time listening to an instructor who doesn’t make him clean his room. 

But that setback with our son doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to teach other members of our family, right? Well ... 

Three years ago, after mourning the tragic loss of my mom, my dad brought his new love, and my soon-to-be stepmother, to the lake. She was a good sport from the moment she arrived, swimming with the kids, going down the water slide, and going for rides in the boat. Then, she happened to mention that she was a skier back in the day. My husband urged her to take a turn on the water skis, so she pulled on a pair, grabbed the rope and yelled, “Hit it!” 

We hit it. So did she – hard. Face buried in the wake, she refused to let go. And we ended up dragging her for a bit. 

Let’s just say there were a few awkward moments on the boat. What could we say to my dad? “Sorry Dad, we didn’t mean to drag your girlfriend?” “Dad, we weren’t quite ready to move on yet, and we’re taking it out on her?” Worse yet, what could we possibly say to her? 

She got back in the boat and we handed her a towel. She was gracious and understanding, and assured us she was fine. Thankfully, she still married dad that autumn – but she hasn’t skied since. 

Still, I know firsthand that it’s well worth the work when you see someone get up on skis for the very first time. It’s been a joy to share in the excitement and accomplishments of our skier guests. I hope we get to teach many more people the joys of water-skiing. 

As long as we’re not related to them. 

Deb Mallin’s summer highlights are the moments each new skier makes the first run around Balsam Lake.

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