“The tournament wasn’t even a class-C tournament — good joke.”
“If it’s not a record (tournament), it’s not a score.”
“I wouldn’t say I could run 41 unless I did it in a record-capable tournament.”
— Excerpts from the skifly.com message board on Nate Smith’s competitive achievements.
Let the hate begin.
On Oct. 3 of this year, a 19 year old from Indianapolis, Indiana, achieved a feat many in the slalom world thought was impossible. Fresh off his rookie pro season, Nate Smith stopped by a small, class-C tournament in Maiden, North Carolina, and became the youngest skier to ever run 41 off. Not only that, he also nabbed one buoy at 43.
“They (tournament organizers) heard I was going to be in the area and asked if I’d swing by their event to help judge and ski,” explains Smith. “I wasn’t chasing a score or trying to make some statement I was just skiing — and skiing well. I understand the difference between a record event and a class-C event, but there were senior drivers and senior judges working the event, so I knew what I’d done. It happened then and it will happen again.”
What transpired at the event, however, would set off an avalanche of hate on numerous water-ski websites and discussion boards, criticizing slalom’s latest star. But Smith didn’t dwell on the online shit storm. Instead, he brushed it off and set out to rack up some solid scores in record events.
“After the North Carolina tournament,” Smith says, “I realized what I was really capable of, and people started pushing me to do some fall record tournaments in Florida.”
Smith packed up his car and headed south to the Swiss Ski School Fall Record. At the event, while skiing against the likes of Will Asher and Jason McClintock, he posted the weekend’s top scores: a 3.5 and a 5 at 41 off.
“I was really happy with the weekend,” Smith says. “I skied great and put up my best record scores.”
But once again, public outrage was lurking just a turn away. Having set a pending Men I National Record, Nate’s handle was re-measured, only to come up a quarter-inch too long. Smith, though, thinks the criticism of his skiing is overblown.
“It (the handle) was long, but that’s slalom,” he explains. “It’s funny, I run one at 43 off in a class-C, and people hate. I back that up with a 5 at 41 in a record event and people still hate. Then I score another 5 at 41 the very next weekend — what’s left to hate on now?”
I don’t feel like an outsider, but I guess I did kind of sneak in here.
Still a teenager, Smith has ascended through the pro ranks at an unprecedented rate. In June 2009, he was 59th in the IWSF rankings, with an average of 1.5 buoys at 39 off. But by November 2010, Nate had skied an average of 5 buoys at 41 off, which moves him up to 3rd in the world, behind world-champion Will Asher and world-record holder Chris Parrish. While Smith acknowledges he’s had an incredible run this year, he credits his accomplishments to nothing more than a natural evolution in his skills.
“I’ve always skied well in practice, so I don’t feel as though this has come from nowhere,” he says. “I have to admit, though, I have picked up a bunch of buoys in the last year or so. But really, the only thing I’ve changed is getting on a new ski.”
I guess, technically, I am a pro skier now. Big events, sponsors, travel.
Nate Smith turned out to be the talk of 2010. In spite of Will Asher’s domination and Chris Parrish’s new world record, the skiing public was enthralled by the unknown Indiana kid’s sensational season. And the overnight success has kind of caught Smith off-guard as well.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Smith says . “I mean, I knew I was pretty good, but once I started running 39 I started to rethink what I was capable of. I used to think getting past 3 ball at 41 was impossible, but now I know better.”
My goal is to run 41 this weekend and then I’m going to rest.
After running 39 off in 17 straight tournament rounds in fall 2010, Smith is understandably a bit tired. With his sights set on running 41 off and taking a stab at Parrish’s world record during his final tournament of the season, Nate is just steps away from a much-deserved winter break.
“I’m really close to being burned out. I’m having fun, but I just need to get away from it for a while. Living up here (Indiana) has always been an advantage for me because I’m forced to stay away from skiing for a few months. Then, when spring finally rolls around, I’m mentally and physically ready to get after it.”
By Trent Finlayson Photos: Bill Doster and Todd Ristorcelli