They were barely out of rompers and had no right to do any more than get up on maybe their sixth try and wobble around the lake once or twice behind a slow boat. Yet there they were: spraying silicone on the bottoms of their skis to reduce friction and then careening around the bright red buoys with their bodies almost parallel to the water. They are sun-tanned kids from places like Winter Park, Fla. and McQueeney, Texas, who have grown up with beaches in their backyards or with canals just down the road, and they are all too precocious. Cindy Hutcherson, a skinny little 14-year-old who looks like she should still be playing hopscotch, is a Super Master of water skiing. So is Wayne Grimditch, 15, who goes off the jumping ramp wearing a Captain America helmet, and so is Lisa St. John, 15, whose mother was a national champion. And they all were in Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga. last weekend for the 12th annual Masters Tournament and Water Babies Circus.
At one point in the affair a passenger in a pickup boat asked the bronzed young driver who the next skier was. "It must be that old guy," the driver said. He was talking about DuWayne Boudin, who is 29.
Naturally, the kids beat the old folks splashily. Two veteran water babies, Liz Allan, 19, and Ricky Joe McCormick, 18, won the overall titles. Both have been skiing since they were 5. Liz had her usual easy time of it, winning the women's trick events and jumping titles all three days of competition. It was her fifth Masters championship in a row. Ho-hum.
McCormick, known as Tricky Ricky, a nickname he will grow to hate as he gets older, beat out world overall champion and jumping record holder Mike Suyderhoud by 70 points, largely on a spectacular 159-foot jump in the finals. Mike, called the Flying Dutchman, couldn't match it. Poor guy, he's 20 and probably getting senile.
Among the juveniles, 17-year-old Christy Lynn Weir of Texas won the women's slalom, Lisa St. John was second in women's overall and 17-year-old Kris LaPoint won the men's slalom.
The water babies are young and undeniably attractive, but they are not pure—at least not in the fusty, Avery Brundage sense of the word. The American Water Ski Association, with only vague ties to the AAU, does not bother with the weird classifications and hypocrisies dreamed up for other sports. In fact, the AWSA doesn't differentiate between pros and amateurs at all. A skier is a skier, and if Ricky wants to put his name on a trick-riding toe bar, that's just fine. All the better if the company buys an ad in the AWSA's official magazine. Such as "world champion Liz Allan wears a such-and-such tunic in America's colors" or "Kris LaPoint breaks world records on his such-and-such ski."
Suyderhoud seems to be cashing in the heaviest. He endorses a West Coast ski, a jump jacket, a whole line of Australian goods and a breakfast cereal. For the latter he appeared in a much-used TV commercial that has caused him some embarrassment. It shows him doing something world champions aren't supposed to do—taking a spill. Presumably, the cereal will cure all that.
"I'm a pro," he says. "I make good money skiing, more than $10,000 last year. Maybe $15,000 this year."
There is some talk now that water skiing will be included in the 1972 Olympics as a demonstration sport, then perhaps win approval to become a regular Olympic event in 1976. If so, the World Water Ski Union and the liberal AWSA will have to make some new rules.
But right now the important goal for U.S. skiers—other than perhaps a lucrative life-jacket endorsement—is to make the national team that goes to the world tournament, to be staged later this summer in Ba√±olas, Spain. Team members not only get the trip, they also get to wear those jazzy red, white and blue, star-spangled swimsuits. On the girls they look like Wonder Woman costumes.
Some say the Masters, which is an important steppingstone to the U.S. team, has stiffer competition than the world meet because even the second-line U.S. skiers are better than the foreigners. Participation in the Callaway Gardens event is by invitation—only Super Masters are allowed—so there are no mere "experts" and "masters" cluttering up the scene. The boss, ex-Congressman Howard (Bo) Callaway, likes it that way.
Bo likes to water ski himself and his daughter Betsy was national junior girls' slalom champion a few years ago. He lives in a stone house atop Pine Mountain and, because he also loves snow skiing, he has just bought himself another mountain, Crested Butte in Colorado. Callaway is fond of his little invitational on Robin Lake, and he uses it to experiment with improving the spectator appeal of water skiing. He has built a nice pavilion at water's edge, with an elevated judges' stand. The Masters is a well-run tourney.
The toughest part about operating a ski tournament is judging each contestant's two 20-second trick runs. It requires unblinking officials who can talk faster than a tobacco auctioneer. They hunch forward, watch the skier intently and, while secretaries write furiously in shorthand, narrate the rapid sequence of stunts. Here, in the lingo of the lakes, is one of Tricky Ricky's 20-second runs, or at least the part of it that got counted, "Wake 540, wake back-to-back, reverse of that trick, back-to-front, wake-line 360, wake 360 [after which he kicked off one ski], wake stepover front-back, stepover back-front, stepover front-back, wake stepover back-front, wake-line 360, reverse of that, toe 360, toe back, toe front."
In English that means that McCormick did at least 15 tricks, first on two skis, then on one, skiing forward and backward, holding on with two hands, one hand and one foot, and turning this way and that over the tow-line, the boat's wake and sometimes both at the same time. "Most of the things I do, I end up backward," he says. "I feel about as at home skiing backward as I do skiing forward."
Every stunt in a kid's repertoire means at least 50 falls learning it. Water-ski parents, every bit as avid as stage mothers but nowhere as nasty, worry most about the jumps. Christy Weir's brother, John, lost five teeth in a jump. Ricky's older brother Jim, his coach and trainer, came off a ramp in Lake of the Ozarks, landed, was caught by a wake from another boat and tore all the ligaments in a knee. Grimditch was knocked out on a jump and was floating face down when he was rescued. From then on his father insisted he wear a helmet. Alan Kemp-ton's mother shuts her eyes and prays when he jumps.
The fears are obviously justified. The skiers swing to the right, wait until the boat goes by and then cut sharply leftward to the ramp. An experienced boat driver has to give it some gas—just enough—to offset the sometimes tremendous pull of the skier, who can slow down a boat as much as eight to 10 mph otherwise. The effect of the last-second cut is like cracking a whip and some of the men hit the ramp at 65 mph. When they land with a splat, they sometimes briefly sit down. Most sit down so hard that they wear "fanny-dunkin' pants," something over their swimsuits to lessen the sting. To accurately measure the jumps, the Masters had jump meters at three different points in the pavilion. The monitors sighted in on the splashes, reported the angles, and then people stationed up in the judging stand, double-checked by a small computer, figured out the distance by trigonometry.
They didn't need the computer to figure out that Liz Allan was going to win women's overall. That was obvious Saturday, when she won both jumping and tricks for the second day in a row. Men's overall, with Suyderhoud leading slalom and jumping and McCormick leading tricks, was still up for grabs. Then, last Sunday in his last chance, Suyderhoud missed the overall title by losing his specialty and failing to clear 150 feet in three jumps.
Ah, that Ricky. The first two days of the meet he wore a red hat with white polka dots. But on Sunday officials asked him to take it off, saying that it didn't look dignified for a member of the U.S. team. Ricky took off the hat, but he didn't like the idea. You know how it is: kids will be kids.