A Tropical water ski adventure lures us and two pros to a beautiful oasis in Central America.
We’re flying over Cuba at 41,000 feet as I look out the window of Dave Goode’s Cessna Citation Mustang jet. World slalom champion Thomas Degasperi is sporting a T-shirt that only heightens my flying apprehensions. In big black font, it reads “Costa Rica or Bust!” Everyone on board for the 1,337-nautical-mile journey to San Jose, Costa Rica, from Central Florida is wearing one, including me. I’m accompanied not only by Dave and Thomas, but also by National champion Nick Parsons, WATERSKI photographer Bill Doster and Dave’s wife, Dawn Goode.
It’s not that I’m terrified to fly. I just hate the mental imagery that comes with it. Right now all I can think about is nose-diving into the Atlantic and Dave’s new jet becoming an ornament on a reef. To ease my anxiety, I deflect my attention to the good times that await our crew once we land safely. Visions of the curvy, sculpted, fresh-water oasis surrounded by rolling hills in the small city of Boca de Arenal revisit my thoughts. It’s been eight years since my last trip to Costa Rica. It makes me wonder just how much it’s changed, and whether it will live up to my expectations. And I’m hoping it’s worth this anxiety-ridden ride.
Which brings me to why I’m en route to the beautiful lake that most water skiers only dream about during the cold winter months. When the water-ski adventure company I visited almost a decade ago closed its doors in 2005, a Midwest skier named Jim Kilsdonk was inspired. Jim, a four-time National slalom champion who grew up on the same lake as Dave in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, always dreamed of a career that connected with his passion. So that’s when the vacant lake in tropical paradise became Waterski Costa Rica.
Jim partnered with Dave and Dawn, who already had a beautiful six-room villa in the small city of Muelle — located in central Costa Rica, only 20 minutes from the lake. The 9,000-square-foot ranch-style house — with exotic landscapes and an indoor pool — would serve as the perfect resting place for vacationing skiers. To ensure his guests had calm skiing conditions, even when the wind is less than favorable, Jim also acquired the use of another lake that’s home to a four-buoy course and is well protected from the elements.
This is a dream trip for me. Not only do I get to learn from two of the world’s best slalom skiers at an amazing site, but a couple of my Orlando water-ski buddies, Paul Wadina and Ryan Doerr, joined the fun. Ironically, their American Airlines flight lands right before my eyes on our descent to the San Jose airport.
As Dave gently touches down his lightweight jet, following the massive 747, I breathe a sigh of relief. “Welcome to Costa Rica,” Dave says. The group extends an appreciative applause to the captain for his feather-soft landing, although Nick is a bit over the top with his cheerleaderlike enthusiasm. “YEAAAAAH, COSTA RRRRRICA,” he screams from the back of the aircraft in a crazed Latino accent.
When we arrive at the lake for our first morning of skiing, the scene is just as magnificent as I remembered. This place doesn’t need golden light and blue skies to be considered a water-ski utopia — the rich, green trees and foliage surrounding the shapely 60-acre lake are more than enough to awaken your skiing spirit. Several miles south, ominous-looking clouds cover beautiful mountain ranges and dense jungles. On a clear day, you can see the Arenal Volcano, which has been active for 40 years.
We’re greeted by several horses that are feeding on a hill that gently slopes to the water’s edge. They raise their long necks to check us out and quickly return to their business. Down below, a Ski Nautique 196 is tied to a dock.
Paul is the first one in the water, but he’s not skiing. Instead, he’s swimming — and not just casually. He’s heading for the middle of the lake, clearly seizing the moment and indulging in the tranquil setting that locals would otherwise call a mediocre weather day. But to Paul, who hasn’t been on a vacation in years, the lush greens, warm waters and blue skies beg immersion. All of us get it, but none follow. It’s Paul’s moment.
I’m eager to ski. There’s a light and variable wind and the conditions on the course look rather nice. Right from my first deep-water start, I can’t stop smiling. The lake quickly makes the unpleasant worries of a bad flight fade away.
This group can churn through some sets. The boat is running nonstop and everyone is carving up the course. Paul has already skied three marathon sets before 1 p.m. Ryan, on the other hand, is all about taking it slow. He skis only once today, but jokingly assures us his best is yet to come. This trip marks what he calls his comeback to the sport. It’s been almost four years since Ryan has skied regularly, and he’s quickly reminded of how the sport can completely exhaust your muscles.
Hours later, we ease our bodies into the hot springs fed by the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna. The intoxicating 102-degree water that flows through the tropical gardens can be a skier’s best friend. After a tasty, ice-cold tequila sunrise, I’m feeling good.
As the days pass, watching countless slalom turns from a hammock overlooking the lake and enjoying exotic afternoon adventures, it’s easy to tell who’s who among our bunch.
Nick has been making himself known all week. Off the water, he’s completely whacky. His howler monkey impression is spot on. He shaved half his chest last night — just because. Skiing-wise, he’s all business. I’ve never seen a stronger pulling position.
Paul is the talker of the group. The 43-year-old doctor is a walking encyclopedia of information. He’s been chasing a new personal best in the course all week, and I think he’ll be a lot closer to his goal after this trip. Thomas is as nice as they come on land, but his soft-spoken nature ends on the water. He’ll fight tooth and nail before surrendering to the course. It is inspiring to watch attack the course.
Then there’s Dave, who starts each session with three words directed to whoever is in the boat: I love you. In one day, he told me at least eight times. A little strange, perhaps, but it’s the backbone of his skiing protocol. Dave, a world-class ski designer, says he sticks to the same routine he has back at home with Dawn, no matter what. It’s obvious he adores her; the happy couple has been chasing buoys together for more than 35 years.
Jim’s been smiling since day one. With his laid-back demeanor and aim-to-please attitude, he’s added to the experience on all fronts. Whether we’re zipping across dense jungle and waterfalls on a canopy tour or enjoying the peacefulness of Mother Nature on a riverboat adventure, he’s been an ideal host.
The perfect days blend together endlessly. This beautiful country has, once again, exceeded my expectations. As I stand on the warm tarmac at the San Jose airport, ready to make the flight back home, I’m happily exhausted. Dave’s small jet no longer looks as intimidating as it once did. Regardless, I don’t think I’ll stay awake long enough to worry about the possibility of falling from the sky.–By Todd Ristorcelli
For trip and pricing information, visit waterskicostarica.com.