The evolution of walking on water

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2015

There is no biblical context to the title of this week’s article, nor am I talking about Bear Bryant for the Alabama Football Fans who still hold the Bear as somewhere between divine being and saint.

No, I am simply talking about my latest observations from the dock at Compass Lake, watching the youngsters do increasingly amazing things behind increasingly expensive toys.  Believe me when I say the days of water skiing behind a 65 HP Mercury outboard are long gone.

As for my brother and me, we learned on skies made in the peanut company’s wood shop.  The 35 HP Mercury seemed powerful enough the first few years until our weight and skills put too much drag on the boat.  It was replaced by a 65 HP motor, which seemed powerful enough to do anything we could imagine at the time.

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We performed with trick skies and the “flying saucer”, a round disk of painted wood that hasn’t been seen generations.   The Jet Ski’s introduction seemed to change the dynamic of lake water sports in many ways.  It was smaller, faster in many cases, cheaper to own and operate, and easier to park in your back yard.  A whole new group of people discovered the fun of playing on a lake.

Kneeboards made their way into the water toy list about the time I was becoming an adult.  My high school knee surgery make this a torture toy for me, but I did enjoy watching young kids learn to get behind a boat at even earlier ages.

The wake board, seemed to be a hybrid between a water ski and a knee board.  It required a boat to produce a bigger wake to perform the best tricks.  The days of calm water on Compass Lake was gone unless you were there during the week.

Tubing, which consisted of an old patched inner tube in my day, was replaced by complex, colorful platforms designed to be pulled at fast speeds by boats.   You might see a boat pulling three or four of these tubes with 3 or more people on each one.  It required patience of the driver and a fairly significant credit card limit, as the gas bill for this particular group activity kept getting larger and larger.

This summer has brought a new sport to Compass Lake, though it has been around other parts of the country for a few years; wake surfing.  Using a surfboard a bit smaller than you might see at the ocean, wake surfers get up using a rope behind a boat before dropping it.  They surf in the wake of the boat, often for much longer times and at much less risk than in an ocean with substantial wave action.

Statistics show a much lower incidence of concussions from wakeboarding, not just from ocean surfing, but from almost all other sports when being pulled by a boat, including just plain old water skiing.

If there is a downside, it is the even larger wakes can cause damage to shorelines vulnerable to erosion, can knock down a small toddler just learning to stand in the water at shore, and can cause boats tied up at the dock to violently bounce and toss as they ride out more commonly seen in very bad weather.

All of these things are fun to watch, but pale by comparison to watching my grandchildren enjoying the lake together for the first time this summer.  Henry and Laura swim so well now, they entertain themselves with little supervision.  They play for hours together in the water, deep and shallow, just as their parents and cousins did before them.

Will is approaching 2 and really learning the lake on his own for the first time.  He isn’t afraid of the water, and can play for hours by himself in the water or the sand.   The grandkids wear themselves out and then sleep all night.   You throw in three or four meals a day, interspersed with too many snacks to count and you get the general plan of the day.  Eat, swim and sleep.   Every day.

The wakeboarding and whatever else comes along will occupy their interest soon enough.  In the meantime, I am enjoying watching them just like they are.