Iwas one of those lucky kids who grew up with access to a family boat and the Inland Northwest's various bodies of water. And in those days, if you had that sort of access you were going to water ski. Or at least try to water ski, and who knows, maybe you'd get good enough to "get up on one," which, you should know, is actually called slalom skiing.
But by the time I headed to Los Angeles for college, chances to get on the water came only when I made it back up to Priest Lake on vacation. It didn't help that the SoCal wakeboarding dudes I knew — one of whom even owned a boat — had never actually seen someone slalom ski, a sport that had by then faded from its early-'90s, televised-on-ESPN heyday.
Over the years, I came to think of water skiing as a vacation leisure activity, and engaging the sport to any further degree was prohibited by either a staggering entry cost (quality ski boats, the ultimate status symbol of the Inland Northwest, are expensive) or geography. I've just realized, however, that there are people bucking that misconception, and they're hardly leaving Spokane city limits to do it.
Ryan Terheggen grew up skiing on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where his family had a skiing business catering to tourists on a freshwater river. He was eventually lured to Priest Lake to work as a chef, where he continued to ski, but when he took a more 9-to-5 gig in Spokane, he realized that getting on the water without driving a couple of hours was a tough feat. That's when he and his buddy Cameron Smith, a local firefighter, decided they were going to find a cheap ski boat, which they now keep at Clear Lake.
"This morning, for example, there were four of us out there at 7. We took a pull really quick and everyone got a set in, and then we pulled the boat out and everyone went to work," says Terheggen, who before getting the boat had dabbled with looking for skiing buddies online. He insists that's not as weird as it sounds if you use sites like ski-it-again.com.
The boat they ended up with was a 1994 Ski Nautique for about $2,000. That's a steal, but they had to go to an out-of-the-way Northern California town to buy it from a recently released convict. When they got there, Smith and Terheggen saw that one side of the boat had been damaged when the building next to where it was stored had burned down. When they tried to go back on the deal, the convict and his brothers said no dice. So they brought it back north and have been skiing with it since. There's no speedometer and the fiberglass is in rough shape, but they love their "Town Boat," as they've come to call it.
"It's been great to have this boat out there," says Smith. "Our wives don't think it's as great as we do, though."
You don't have to travel the West Coast in search of a shady character looking to unload a boat to get yourself back into water skiing. You can join a group like the Lake Spokane Waterski Club, which uses a slalom course near Nine Mile.
One of the club's organizers, Dave Duer, had been away from skiing for 20 years after moving away from Spokane for college, then traveling the world as an accountant. But after bringing his family back to Spokane about five years ago, Duer and others decided to get back on the water. The club has open ski sessions on Wednesday evenings that require just a gas fee of about $20 for two runs. They've also hosted ski, wakeboard and wake surf competitions. There are competitive skiers out there, but the club wants to remain as inclusive as possible.
"The idea is to just get people out skiing. Our idea is to have a little bit of access because this sport is expensive and it's also an extremely hard sport, and it's frustrating. You ski for five minutes and then you're absolutely wiped out," says Duer.
To ski with the Lake Spokane club, visit their Facebook page for updates to confirm which days the club is skiing, then drop them a message letting them know you'd like to come out and join them.
For skiers like Terheggen, who want to get on the water without driving a couple of hours or taking out a second mortgage, finding ways to ski even on a weekday is something a lot of people might not understand. Water skiing has a way of being invisible like that.
"For a lot of slalom skiers, you're a slalom skier and you're out there by 6 and done before [a casual boater] is even on the water," he says. "It's about skiing; getting some exercise. Whenever we can fit it in get to get a couple pulls in, we will, and then go back to work." ♦
Or... an easier way to get wet
Swimming season is upon us and Spokane city pools are open:
• A.M. Cannon Aquatic Center (1900 W. Mission)
• Comstock Aquatic Center (600 W. 29th)
• Hillyard Aquatic Center (2600 E. Columbia)
• Liberty Aquatic Center (1300 E. Fifth)
• Shadle Aquatic Center (2005 W. Wellesley)
Open swim Mon-Thu from 1-4 pm and Fri-Sun from 1-4 pm.
• Witter Aquatic Center (1300 E. Mission & E. Upriver Dr.) is available for open swim Mon-Sun from 1-4 pm.
The week of July 6-11 will be free swim week at all Spokane city pools, thanks to Spokane Firefighters Union (Local 29).
Spokane County operates water parks, as well:
• Southside Family Aquatic Facility (3724 E. 61st Ave.)
• Northside Family Aquatic Facility (801 E. Handy Rd.)
HOW TO FLOAT THE SPOKANE RIVER
The Spokane River is one of few rivers in the U.S. that offers leisurely floating for those wanting to take advantage of hot summer evenings. Spokane River Float Trip allows anybody over the age of 5 to join ROW Adventures to float on the lower Spokane for a 5-mile trip with class I and II rapids. There are three launch times available: 9:30 am and 2 and 4:30 pm, each lasting about three-and-a-half hours. The price is $69 for adults, $62 for youths. To book a float, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (208) 770-2517.