At the end of your tether? Relax

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The Independent Online
In F Scott Fitzgerald's fable of wasted promise, Tender is The Night, the hero Dick Diver is shown waterskiing in the South of France. He skims across the water, showing off to onlookers, a symbol of youthful, carefree athleticism. He and his wife make a glamorous, talented couple; nothing can stand in their way.

As the years pass, and the Divers' dream turns sour, Dick returns to the beach to ski. But the tricks and swoops that came so easily the first time are now out of reach. Age, drink and disillusionment have caught up with him.

Fitzgerald's use of waterskiing as a metaphor for glamour and virility - at a time when the sport was in its infancy - has stood the test of time all too well. It is a source of the sport's attraction for some, but also a myth, and one of the reasons that some would-be skiers have difficulty with, or are daunted by waterskiing, a sport that can be enjoyed equally by pensioners and children under five.

The secret to waterskiing is to allow the speedboat that tows the skier across lake or sea to do all the work - to pull you up out of the water into a balanced position on your haunches and then into a standing position with knees bent, knee-joints above ankles, back straight, arms straight and relaxed and head balanced and looking ahead. This co-ordination of movements is bound to break down if the skier is trying too hard, trying to fight the boat. Problems develop when a skier tries to push with his legs or pull with his arms. But these problems are confined almost entirely to men trying to prove a point, according to Duncan Hancock, one of the instructors at Prince's Club, at Staines, near Heathrow Airport. Women are are almost invariably more relaxed, he says, because they don't fell the need to impress.

Waterskiing is certainly a taxing sport. Even British international competitors such as Sarah Gatty Saunt and Jason Seels, find that a winter's training in the gym is no preparation for the special explosive athletic demands of slalom, jumps and tricks. But there is nothing exclusive about these demands. On a typical summer morning at Prince's Club they ski customers in rotation: a typical cross-section included a girl of nine, two teenage brothers, two middle-aged couples and two work-mates, enjoying a day out. All had skied before except one of the last group. But Duncan Hancock had him skiing, standing up at his first attempt, holding on to a bar off the side of the boat - to make instruction easier - and skiing from a rope soon after.

The secret is in relaxation, letting the tug of the rope pull you into an upright position and then keeping your weight well balanced. Listening to Hancock instruct a less adept pupil you could hear him repeating, over the roar of the engine, "Relax, relax, relax; keep your knees together; relax, relax, relax." When you learn to relax, everything becomes effortless.

The essential first step in learning to waterski, according to Sarah Gatty Saunt, is to get the right instructor. Some people have come back from holiday with horror stories of being dragged under water. This is quite unnecessary if you go to a club recommended by the British Waterski Federation. They are legion in Britain, launched on the back of the international success of the world champion Mike Hazelwood and his generation in the late 1970s.

Most clubs are open before, during and after the summer and offer cable skiing, where you are towed round a circuit on a wire rather than by a boat and a driver, making the sport more affordable. And when you reach the standard where you are confident in your abilities and ski regularly, there is no more exhilarating sport.

Taking to the water: a club-by-club selection

London and South-East

Princes Club

Clockhouse Lane



TW14 8QA

Telephone: Rupert Fowler 01784 256153

Cost: Non-members pounds 26 (day); pounds 13 (two hours); pounds 11 (hour). Members pounds 18; pounds 8; pounds 6. Prices do not include equipment hire.

East Midlands

Tallington Lakes Water Ski Club

Barholm Road





Telephone: Ian Thompson 01778 347000

Cost: pounds 13.50 per day (including basic tuition); pounds 8 members. Special rates for groups and schools. Membership details: pounds 180 adults; pounds 120 juniors; pounds 325 family.

West Midlands

Stoke-on-Trent Water Ski Club

Trentham Gardens



Telephone: Stephen Jones 0831 472077 or Keith Knox 0973 137710

Cost: pounds 7.50 per day (excluding tuition charge where applicable); bookings advisable. Membership details available on request.

The North

Yorkshire Water Ski Club

Welton Waters

Common Lane


Telephone: Don Everett 01482 640428 (days); 01482 631627 (evenings)

Cost: Non-members pounds 10 (including tuition). Members pounds 5. Membership: pounds 142 per year; reductions for juniors and families.


Cirencester Water Ski Club

Lake 37

Cotswold Water Park


Telephone: Bob Brown 01285 861776

Cost: From pounds 10 per person weekdays; weekends members only. Phone for membership details and bookings.


Scottish Water Ski Association

Scottish National Water Ski Centre

Town Loch


Dunfermline KY12 0HT

Telephone: 01383 620123

Cost: Non-members pounds 12 per day; pounds 10 children/students/OAPS. Members pounds 7. Group discounts available.

Further information

British Water Ski Federation

390 City Road

London EC1V 2QA

Telephone: 0171-833 2855/6

Fax: 0171-837 5879