by Tom MaileyMy buddy Bill and I spent most of the summer of 1982, the year we graduated high school, waterskiing an isolated little bay in southern Puget Sound. We lived minutes from the water, my dad had a boat, and for the last time in our lives—we had that kind of time. We hit the water every chance we could.
Other than a few houses along the shoreline, the inlet had no marina or other services to attract boaters, which meant we (usually) had it to ourselves. We were surprised the day we saw a sailboat anchored out in the middle, and even more surprised to see a couple young ladies in bikinis on board, sunning their bodies near the bow. Best of all, they looked to be about our age and there appeared to be no parents on board…or guys. Chicks sailing solo? Cool! We knew instantly what we must do.
We’d been skiing for weeks now and our skills were as sharp as the ladies’ tan lines. Before saying hello, we would give them a show. Once they saw our mammoth walls of spray, that would be it—we’d be allowed to board their vessel like coast guards conducting a mandatory babe inspection.
Since it was my boat, I decided who skied first. Naturally, I went. I jumped over the side, slipped on my 67” O’Brien slalom and waited for Bill to finish cursing. When the rope grew taught, I hollered, “Hit it!” and rose from the water like an aquatic phoenix in cut-off jeans.
I had a great run, too, cutting savagely, dipping one shoulder to the water, then careening back across the wake on the edge of my ski (and catastrophe) before again seeking that moment when the boat’s pull vanishes and I quickly, gracefully, slid into another turn—the ski becoming like a craftsman’s knife, carving out generous chunks of awesome from the water’s gentle sheen. I could tell my spray was epic: Its shadow swallowed me like a sea monster. I could hear it roar. I knew with certainty the girls were mesmerized, watching in awe over the tops of their Ray-Bans, arguing over who would get to towel me off first.
I finished the run. But rather than release the rope and sink anti-climatically into the water, there was a small sandy shoal where Bill could navigate close, whip me around, and I could strain against the rope with everything I had, accelerating into open water and finishing parallel to the boat with no sound but the electric hiss of my ski. Then I would let go, ripping toward shore but timing it so as I approached, I would slow enough to step from the ski and trot triumphantly onto the sand. The girls wouldn’t even have to dry my hair. I gave Bill the signal to turn.
Here’s a fun fact: When a boat turns 180 degrees, with a bit of effort a skier can double the boat’s current speed. My dad’s boat topped out at 35 mph, which meant I was going about 70 when I released the rope. I also realized I was way too close to shore. My ski slammed the beach with the force of a torpedo and launched me from its bindings. I somersaulted up the steep incline and came to rest face down in tidal grass. Nothing was broken, but I was coated in sand and my skin perforated by sharp shards of clamshells. Dozens of tiny cuts bled and stung from the saltwater. Most humiliating, I felt a breeze where there shouldn’t have been, and realized that somehow in my tumbling I had split the seat of my cut-offs crotch to waist, exposing my butt cheeks like two weathered pieces of sun-bleached driftwood.
Bill pulled up, roaring with the hefty, gleeful laughter guys only reserve for other guys who’ve done something monumentally stupid and painful but not quite deadly. The girls? Well, here’s another fun fact I learned: Carrying across the water, female laughter sounds remarkably like distant seagulls. And as Bill helped me into the boat, it occurred to me: I should’ve let him go first.