The Waterskiing Incident

August 15, 2011

My Mother grew up in chilly Fargo, North Dakota, and like many of her local nieghbors and friends, her family had a lake cabin an hour away in Minnesota. Second homes back then weren’t as huge of a financial undertaking as they are today, and her family spent practically every weekend there during the summer months. As a lake girl, waterskiing was a big part of those weekends. Kids, teenagers, parents, everyone skied. I even think there are a few stories swirling around out there about boyfriends who would stand on the dock locked into their skis, tell the boat to hit it, and hop out over the water at the exact perfect timing with the tow rope. They would barely even touch the water!


Every summer of my life I have spent a week or so up at the lake with my parents and Grandmother. The place holds such memories for me. I look forward to that time every year, often dreaming and planning and thinking about it months before we’re scheduled to go. The majority of my childhood memories take place in and around that cabin. It’s truly where I feel most at home. Happiest. Comfiest.

Something else I remember from those childhood summers were the heavy, ancient, wooden set of water skis that were always propped up in the corner of the cabin. They were the same pair my Mom and her friends used in high school and college, and they were the lone pair that would be used if anyone while I was growing up wanted to ski. I believe they had a signature on them of some supposedly-famous skier – Dick Pope, I think? Who this fellow is, I have no idea, but I read his name every year when I first arrived at the cabin and my eyes fell on those skis in the corner.

In the summer of 1995, my Grandma was very ill. Unable to travel to the cabin and join us for our annual trip, we invited our extended family from my Dad’s side to join us instead. Aunts and uncles, cousins, the whole bit. With all of these teenage kids around, it was determined at some point that we would all learn how to waterski. I mean, why not! We were healthy and athletic teens and tweens. We could handle it.

This is also the same time that my Mom, who hadn’t skied for a couple decades, popped right up on ONE little ski and showed us how it was really done. She was a 44 year-old rockstar on the water.


When my turn arrived, not only had my Mom proven her athletic prowess, but my little sister too. I was the tomboy in the family, the more sports-minded one. My sister, Jill, was the dancer and girly girl of the two of us. If she popped right up and cruised around the lake like it was no big deal, there was no way I wasn’t going to do the same thing.

That didn’t really happen.

I tried and tried to get up on the skis. I would get situated, floating in the water like I was sitting in a chair, my skis parallel to each other, the top half of them sticking straight up out of the water, my arms straight, and tow rope directly between the skis. I’d yell HIT IT! and two seconds later I’d be back down in the water. Most of the time I never even made it out of the water.

HIT IT! Lose my grip on the rope handle.
HIT IT! Face plant.
HIT IT! Tip over to the left.
HIT IT! Tip over to the right.

It was a sad scene.

Lean forward too much and you’ll just get pulled right up and then down on your face. Lean back too much and you’ll plow so much water your legs will give out. Bend your arms and you’ll lose your balance. Forget to rely on your knees as shock absorbers and, well, anything could happen.

Once you’re up on the skis, it’s smooth sailing. It’s relatively easy to balance and stay upright. But getting up in the first place – that’s the majority of the battle.

I was losing that battle, and I was losing bad.

One last attempt, we all decided. I was tired. But I was determined.
Floating, parallel, arms, rope, HIT IT!

Uhhh, oh! Ohhh. Ack! Oh! Oh she’s got it! Ehhh, ohhh, hold on, hold ooonnnnn!

I popped up. Omg! I had done it! I was on top of the water! But, barely. There was a problem – I had gotten up but, once there, couldn’t quite find my center of balance. My body was fighting, fighting hard, wobbling this way and that, my athletic abilities working on the ultimate test. Just hold on, just…hold…on….almost…got…it.


It probably lasted all of ten seconds, but down I went. And then…and then…and then something went terribly wrong. I fell backwards when I finally lost my balance, quickly going horizontal in the air, my feet pointing towards the boat. On the way down I let go of the tow rope, as one normally would, and my feet popped out of the skis, as they normally would. In a classic example of perfect timing, at the exact moment the tow rope flew past my feet it ran right into my left ankle, one of two that were flying through the air, and caught it.

Instead of falling backwards into the water and calmly waiting until the boat circled around to retrieve me, the boat dragged me by my feet. One of my feet, to be precise.

I remember thinking Huh, this is odd” as I knew I wasn’t vertical and on top of the water anymore, but I sure wasn’t fully submerged in the water either. I remember the odd feeling of my head bouncing around as it “skied” across the water. Apparently my body, flying horizonally across the surface, wasn’t very aerodynamic.

Eventually, my fifteen year-old cousin, who was the one sitting backwards in the boat and assigned to watch the skier and communicate if and when they fell, notified the driver of what was going on. By that point, though, I had come loose.

The whole thing, from first saying HIT IT! to falling to dragging to coming loose, probably lasted twenty seconds. Maybe.

Since I was dragged feet first, the force of the water threw my arms above my head, and conveniently allowed my life jacket to slide all the way up and over my head and off.

I can’t imagine the view from the spectators in the boat. They start to circle around and spot me treading water with a look of shock and confusion on my face, one ski over there, another ski beyond that, and then my lifejacket way over yonder. I had dotted the lake with my belongings. And myself.

I’ve never been a good swimmer, but I knew how to swim, so when I came loose I instinctively started treading water. No lifejacket? No problem. I had it handled. Aside from the fact that I had no clue what the hell just happened, I was under control.


“Hmm. What was that?”

Ping. Ping. Pong.

“Weird, what the heck is that? My left ankle feels kinda- AHHHH. AHH. AHH. AHHH. OWWWWWWWWWWW. AHHHHHHHHH!”

It, like, kinda hurt, man.

Yelling to the boat that I was no longer able to enjoyably tread this water, they hurried over and whisked me up, and we started to piece together the details of what just went wrong.

I was taken back to shore, where everyone ohh’d and ehh’d and grimaced at my bruised and battered ankle. It wasn’t broken, miraculously, but the pressure of the rope had pushed every ounce of fluid out of the tissues on my ankle in a half inch-wide indentation that went most of the way around it. It looked absolutely freakish and was quickly turning shades of violet and yellow.

For the rest of the week I watched from the sidelines as everyone else in my immediate and extended family cruised around the lake on those two wooden planks. I was resigned to watching and wearing the only shoes I had with me that provided enough support to hobble around in – black hightop Nike Air Jordan’s.

They were hot.

I was fourteen at the time of the now-infamous Annie Waterskiing Incident, and you better believe that I stayed far, far away from even thinking about skiing for many, many summers afterwards. I finally did find the courage sometime in my mid-twenties to give it another try, and I successfully popped up and carefully circled around for a bit, but I was never much of a fan.

Dick Pope? Famous waterskier dude? Pfsshh. I bet he’s never been dragged by the tow rope. I bet he’s never been dragged by the tow rope FEET FIRST. And you know what? I bet he’s never counted one of his only real fears in life as a half-inch wide piece of nylon connected to a 150 horsepower Mercury either.

So I’ve got THAT goin’ for me.

Previous post:

Next post: