Water boys up to their tricks

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a grey morning on Waterloo Lake in Roundhay Park, Leeds. A line of seven fishermen sat silently tending their rods. We approached one of them, a young chap with glasses who was inspecting a writhing mass of bait. "They biting?" we asked. "Aye. They're biting all right. But then the buggers are running off with my bait." Just then a motorboat rumbled into life on the far shore. Perhaps, we wondered aloud, all the noise was upsetting the fish? "Oh no, they don't mind that. They're used to boats."

Well, yes. But the boats that usually ply the waters of Waterloo Lake ("Rowing/Paddle: pounds 1.50 per person per half-hour period") were safely tethered. The lake belonged to three Mastercraft World Record Ski Boats, and the swooping, leaping, somersaulting skiers they towed. If the fish had any sense they'd be keeping a low profile.

The skiers had gathered for the Leeds Water Ski Classic, the first top- flight competition in Europe this year. The atmosphere as they unpacked their gear next to the lake and prepared for practice was like the first day of term at school: in jeans and sunglasses, the skiers sat and caught up on the latest gossip, compared injuries and equipment, swapped tips. "I've got this great new wet-suit - purple and green . . ." "He's using a snow-ski binding on his slalom ski . . ." "I had a twinge right at the top of my leg and the tournament masseur was a man. It was so embarrassing . . ." "Uh-oh. The Heaney Boys are out."

This last was important information. The Heaney Boys, Julian (18) and Nick (20) travel the European circuit in their own red van with their beds in the back, and are very difficult to ignore. While the other skiers went about practice in a fairly straightforward fashion, for instance, the Heaney Boys put on something of a show for the photographers. They are, after all, tricks specialists.

They both hitched on to the same boat and stood, their trick skis attached to their right feet, on the dock by the lake. A signal was given, the boat's engine roared as it accelerated away, and the Boys hopped at high speed along the bank before leaping as one into the air, landing with a great splash on their skis and immediately whipping into a tremendous routine of leaps, switches, somersaults and poses. On the bank, the other skiers smiled indulgently. At least, we think it was indulgence.

There are three competition disciplines on the European circuit: tricks, epitomised by the Heaney Boys and performed on wide, tea-tray-like single skis; slalom, performed on streamlined single skis, and jumping, performed on wide twin skis. Many of the competitors perform on more than one discipline: a lot of equipment to lug around.

Nicola Huntridge is a good example. Originally from Doncaster, 20-year- old Nicola is now based in West Palm Beach in Florida, "where most of the skiing competitions take place on gravel pits miles from anywhere". Nicola does the lot: slalom, tricks and jumps (she's European under-21 champion at the latter) and carts her skis all over the world. She was delighted to be performing close to her childhood home, and very enthusiastic about the set-up in Roundhay Park. "All my friends are coming to watch this weekend," she said. "And they've done a fantastic job here - it's so good for the spectators." Nicola models in her spare time in Florida, and the day before our meeting had spent some time posing for Loaded magazine. "That's sort of a lads' publication, right? Lager and stuff?" We confirmed that this was so. "I wondered why they wanted a girl skier." What a trouper.

The whooping Heaney Boys cast off from their boat at speed and zoomed nonchalantly up to the bank. They were shivering but otherwise unscathed, despite several spectacular wipe-outs. Nick, the elder, hogged the towel while Jules, his rock-star fringe dripping, shakily removed a rubber glove that protected three stitches on his little finger. "Oooh, it's such a laugh doing that when it's this cold," he said, in broad Geordie. "When you fall into the water it feels warm because you're so numb."

The Heaneys are used to cold water - they run a ski school in Northumberland - but even they will be relieved when the circuit moves on to warmer locations. The fish will be pleased, too.

ANIMAL magic, Part I. Last week we told of the ecstatic welcome offered to the Brazilian striker Edmundo by his new club, Flamengo. Now it seems that fans have been taking his nickname, "Animal", a little too seriously. Dozens of them arrived for last Sunday's Flamengo-Vasco da Gama match in the Rio de Janeiro championship bearing real live animals as a tribute to the five-million-dollar man. Most of the unwilling fans were dogs, many dressed up in Flamengo shirts and hats. But at least one man was seen waving a tortoise, with a Flamengo flag painted on its shell. Not such a compliment after all?

ANIMAL magic, Part II. Fans of the Detroit Red Wings ice hockey team are paying $40 apiece for plump octopi to hurl on to the ice as part of a good-luck ritual. The Red Wings have not won an NHL crown since 1955, earning the nickname "Dead Things": hence the deceased cephalopods. "We had more than 20 last game," said the Joe Louis Arena worker Al Sabotka, who has to clear them up. He prefers fans to boil them before the game to reduce slime and stink. "When you boil them, they bounce better off the ice," adds Kevin Dean, an octopus vendor.

ONE to tickle cricket statisticians: Father and son Mahindra and Ajay Gokal both scored unbeaten centuries for the same side on the same day last week. Mahindra hit 107 while 22- year-old Ajay scored 102 out of their side Luton Exiles' total of 271 for five. Their opponents, Langford 11s, were bowled out for 103, with Metro taking three for 10 and Ajay two for 8. Over to you, "Bearders".

THE NOVELIST Ian McEwan once wrote movingly of the distinctive odour imparted to urine by the consumption of asparagus. It was, he concluded, a matter for the poets. After a visit to the Gents behind the hospitality suites at The Oval during a recent one-day international, we concluded that it was a matter for the caterers. An urgent matter.

Fishing Lines will return next week