Not every skier has access to a slalom course. Here's a quick, cheap and fun way to carve a buoy on any lake.
”Are you kidding?” asked New Zealand pro slalom skier Aaron Larkin. “One buoy? Why would you want to just ski one buoy?” He looked at me with this puzzled look on his face, as if he thought I was joking.
I invited Aaron to my lake to help out with a photo shoot without relaying any details of what he'd be doing. So when I told him he'd be coaching a recreational skier on how to turn — yes — just one buoy, he was slightly perplexed.
I responded to Aaron with a similar question. “Why ski six buoys?” The point I was trying to make is this: Whether you're turning one, four, six, or even some crazy, experimental 12-buoy slalom course, it all represents a new challenge and provides an instant measuring tool of your ability.
Sadly, not every skier has access to a slalom course. For whatever reason — lake restrictions, permit issues, too much boat traffic, too little money — you may have never turned one of those orange rubber buoys of addiction. So here's your chance to have a taste of what it's like to spot your target, make your move and then nail a turn just like the pros.
What You'll Need
The beauty of the one-buoy turn is that it doesn't take much to get started. A buoy these days costs about 4 bucks. Buy two of them so your driver will have a reference point for his boat path. Then find some rope (long enough to allow the buoys to float halfway out of the water), two cement blocks and zip ties. You can even bypass the cement blocks and use something you probably already have in your garage to anchor your buoys, like a set of dumbbells. Whatever you use, just make sure you can pull them back out of the lake with relative ease.
How to Set It Up
The nice thing about the setup for first-time swervers is that you're mobile and you can pretty much put it where you want. Find a nice, calm part of the lake that provides adequate room for the boat to get up to speed and for the skier to spot his target. Six hundred feet is plenty. You also need to consider the depth of the water of your chosen spot.
Obviously, a deeper part of the lake is going to require more rope. Six feet of water is perfect. Start by tying a piece of rope around a cement block or whatever you choose to anchor your buoy. Drop the cement block in the water in line with a marker on shore (a tree, boat house, etc.). This will serve as your boat-guide buoy, allowing a straight, consistent boat pattern. Next, determine where to cut the rope to keep your buoy halfway submerged. After you cut the rope, make a loop knot at the end and then zip-tie the buoy on.
In a slalom course, from the center of the course to the reach of the buoy is a little over 37 feet. To be in the same ballpark, hook your rope on the 38-off (purple) loop and stretch it with the handle perpendicular to the boat and to your marker on shore. This is where you'll set up your turn buoy, the same way you did the boat guide.
How to Drive It
A boat speed of 28-30 mph is perfect for most buoy-rounding rookies. To allow adequate setup time for the skier, pull them up at least a couple hundred yards before the buoy. As you pull the skier out of the water, spot both your visual marker onshore and the boat-guide buoy early to line up your driving pattern. As you approach the boat-guide buoy (which should be in line with your visual marker onshore), simply hold your pattern and aim to pass on the outside of the boat guide within less than a foot.
How to Ski It
If you've never had a buoy dictate where you turn, you'll quickly learn that timing is everything. Don't be discouraged by early misses. With a little practice you'll quickly make the necessary adjustments and hone your timing and turns.
A good starting line length is 15 off. Since you don't have pre-gates and gates like a regulation course, you'll have to rely on your gut instinct of when to pull out and begin your cut for the turn ball. Depending on which way the boat approaches the course, you'll either have an onside or offside turn.
As the boat approaches its buoy marker, your first movement will be cutting to the opposite side of the turn ball. As you pull out (roughly 100 yards before the boat marker), stand evenly on the ski and coast out to about 70 degrees outside the boat. At this point, it's important to maintain your speed as you turn in for the buoy. As you edge closer to the wakes, the pull from the boat will increase, and you'll feel more tension on the rope. At this stage, just resist the pull of the boat by relaxing your arms and staying square with your shoulders. As you move off the second wake, allow the ski to advance in front of you and start carving a turn. Your goal is to finish the turn at the buoy with a tight line.
Don't let the fun stop here. Continue carving down the lake in the open water while focusing on your rhythm and trying to eliminate those dreaded slack-line turns. When you're ready for more buoy-carving action, have the boat spin around and repeat the steps above.
Our buoy-rounding rookie tells us about the experience
Skier: Eddy Patricelli
Ability: Advanced recreational (Level 2)
What was it like?
It was a good challenge. I've never skied a course before or a buoy for that matter, so it gave me something to shoot for. It was fun!
What was the most challenging part?
The timing of when to pull out and turn in for the buoy. After several attempts, it started to click for me, and I was turning more on top of the buoy. The biggest lesson I learned is that the buoy marks the finish of the turn, so my movements prior to the buoy were very critical.
What did Aaron say that helped you the most?
I've always skied with a lot of weight on my back foot, so he had me distribute my weight more evenly on my ski. This helped my pullout and initial turn-in for the buoy considerably. He also told me to relax my arms and resist the pull of the boat by staying square with my shoulders and being strong through the wakes.