Fall had arrived, signaling the end of another ski season. Although skiing is my passion, I always look forward to the ''off-season.'' Because I live in South Florida and ski year-round, my ''off-season'' consists of getting back to the gym during the week and then getting a few sets in on the weekends. It’s also a great time to try new equipment, which is exactly what one of my ski partners, Trish Burt, and I decided to do on a late October weekend last fall.
On the Road
Craving a change in scenery, Trish and I headed to the beautiful and charming city of Charleston, South Carolina. Famous for its historical sights and cultural attractions, Charleston is also home to Trophy Lakes – a water skier’s paradise. There are two world-class, man-made ski lakes at the site, and dozens of world and national records have been set here. Since Trophy Lakes is only six miles from downtown Charleston, it is easy to get to the city to enjoy the many attractions it has to offer. If you’re a water skier and a tourist, you get the best of both worlds when you visit Charleston.
As it turns out, Trish and I weren’t the only ones with the idea to get away and experiment with new skis. Arriving at the lake Saturday morning, we met Pete Smith from Mt. Airy, North Carolina, who had come down to check out Trophy Lakes’ recently expanded pro shop. Seth Stisher, pro shop manager, ski school instructor and a challenger on the U.S. Pro Water Ski Tour, greeted us. After making our selections from the shop, Seth set up some skis for us to try.
Checking It Out
First, however, we each took a set on our own ski to familiarize ourselves with the way the water felt. Trophy Lakes is known for its ''slow,'' forgiving water, so we wanted to test it out before trying a new stick. The water feels slow because it is clear and deep, allowing the ski to ride low in the water and provide awesome deceleration in the turns. One of the great advantages of slow water is that you can get in trouble in the course and have time to correct your mistakes. This characteristic is one of the reasons for so many great performances at Trophy Lakes and is also valuable when trying new skis.
Trish and I both tested a 2001 H.O. Phantom while Pete tried the new KD 7000CG. Our slalom styles vary, so we each look for something different in a ski. Trish tends to ski with a lot of speed and power, so she needs a ski that can match her acceleration but also compensate for her power by slowing her down in the turns. On the other hand, I ski with less speed and more technique, so I look for a ski that will provide me with plenty of acceleration across the wakes. With the ideal ''slalom physique'' – tall and slender – Pete has a height advantage and desires a ski that can make quick, tight-radius turns.
During our sets, we conveyed to Seth what we were feeling on the ski in regard to acceleration, deceleration and turning properties, and he would make adjustments accordingly. These adjustments entailed changing the fin depth or length, the wing angle, or even binding placement. Only one adjustment could be made at a time so we could evaluate the effect of each change.
Out and About
After several hours of testing skis with varying degrees of success, we found ourselves hungry for food and sightseeing, so Trish, Pete, Seth and I headed downtown. First we feasted on a hot Southern meal from Jestine’s Kitchen, and then we strolled down Market Street and through the aisles of vendors at the City Market. One of the most familiar sights at the Market is that of the basket-weaving ladies selling their handcrafted sweetgrass creations on every corner.
Our next destination was Waterfront Park. With a 400-foot pier that overlooks the scenic Cooper River, it’s a perfect place to take a leisurely break from shopping and sightseeing. We then headed down East Bay Street to the Battery for a quick history lesson. Beyond the Battery’s seawall is Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter, the site at which the Civil War began on April 12, 1861.
At the end of the afternoon, the lake beckoned us once again. As slalom die-hards, none of us could resist taking one more set on Trophy Lakes’ glassy waters. Once the sun had set, Trish, Pete and I returned to our hotel rooms to get ready for dinner and drinks in the heart of Charleston.
For dinner, Seth guided us to a wonderful tapas restaurant called Meritäge. We dined outdoors while Seth entertained us all with his dry wit and Pete with his southern accent. After our meal, we sampled the Charleston nightlife at Henry’s on Market Street, an upscale gathering place for locals and tourists alike. We people-watched and talked about the day of testing and training over a few drinks until we called it a night.
It’s a Wrap
We returned to Trophy Lakes early Sunday morning to get in another quick set or two before hitting the road. Kim Bryant, one of the site’s owners, joined us as our driver this time so Seth could focus on dialing in the skis. After a few more tweaks of the fin, Trish found herself the owner of a new HO Phantom. Seth recorded the fin measurements and binding placement for her, and he flex-tested the ski as well. Used by every ski manufacturer, the flex-test machine enables water skiers to find a ski with a flex pattern that matches their ski style.
After calling it a wrap, Seth, Pete, Trish and I headed to the Starfish Grille at Folly Beach Pier for brunch. While dining on the outdoor porch, we enjoyed beautiful panoramic views of the ocean, beach, and pier.
It was a long drive for a short stay, but any trip to Charleston and Trophy Lakes is well worth the time. If you can tear yourself away from the lake, there is much to see and do in and around Charleston. The few sights that Trish, Pete, Seth and I took in don’t even begin to scratch the surface. In addition to fine dining and shopping, there are numerous other activities and attractions. Charleston’s beauty and charm, as well as the superb water-skiing facilities, will draw you in quickly and lure you back time and again.
Aimee Hagedorn is a national champion slalom skier who spent three summers working and training at Trophy Lakes. She now lives and trains in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Trophy Lakes Watersports Center
3050 Marlin Road
Johns Island, SC 29455
''Where Your Best Gets Better!''