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24Aprpm2012

Here’s a story. This happened probably in the neighborhood of 55 years ago. I was aware of the story, but only upon reflection has the lesson of the story been brought home to me. I thought I would share, as my friend Forest once opined aloud to me, “It’s no good unless you share it.”

Here’s the thing: at the time it happened I merely learned something from the story. But, that was good enough for me as I never insisted on a complete understanding of something my brain took in and assimilated.

The first time I tried water skiing was behind a wooden Chris Craft boat in the bay of Ocean City, NJ. The boat was not quick on the take off as it was heavy and made such that it could take the beating of the ocean while fishing out from the shore. I had fished in that bay for much of my childhood and had caught sting rays, sharks, robin fish, flounder, etc. there. My dad and sister were on the boat and a contemporary of my dad was at the helm. The skis were big wooden things designed to work for a man, and I maybe weighed 115 pounds. The water was not smooth at all and I was pretty much on my own. I was suspect of the helmsman simply because I had observed him repeatedly over time and knew that his reaction speed was minimal. (Turns out he was a classic: the guy who knew what he knew, but in doing something in which he had not been taught often had a void in a key understanding, which had never been resolved by him even if it happened repeatedly.)

I had devised that I should not stand up until I got going pretty fast. The goal was to floor the boat so that happened quick. Instead, helmsman accelerated as he would when fishing, in a relaxed mode. The skis started splitting and because I was still down I couldn’t bend the toes inward and just as they were pretty much past the point of no return, he floored it, I think because my dad told him to (just a few moments too late). I went over the skis, knowing I should let go, but not wanting to on a fundamental level because of the threats of me being at the mercy of the fish world over which I had always been separated from by a boat.

My sister and dad were laughing so much they did not alert the helmsman immediately and his take or feel, given the size of the boat and the low relative difference between me being dragged or skiing, didn’t cue him in as he looked forward. I hung on until I took in my third or fourth gulp of salt water and had to give it up. He only stopped after that, and then they went to retrieve the skis before coming for me.

Here is where I took control over the lesson that would be learned that day, though it was nothing conscious. I think my dad read my body language and allowed me to win the argument we would have otherwise had.

When they drove to me, finally, my dad launched the ski toward me in the water, with the typical thought that I  would “get back on the horse that threw me”. That was the standard teaching method for things such as that. Here’s the thing. It wasn’t me and a horse. I had an adult upon whom I was directly dependent and over whom I had NO CONTROL. The boat was kept at his vacation home and he was older than my dad meaning I would have to RELY upon him. That was the lesson I learned that day and by which I was able to override the teaching methodology that almost every other kid would have been comfortable in – even while failing if it came to that. The lesson was that my evaluation of where my reliance would be place was valid and superseded everyone else’s choice in such regard. I would decide the control and reliance I would afford to anyone other than myself. 

The thrown ski went right past me as I swam for the ladder and opined in no uncertain terms that I was not participating further. I don’t remember anyone trying to talk me out of it and I presume they read my body language well. I never heard about that day by anyone, so that was good on their part.

The next time I tried water skiing was behind a fast boat with a big engine and a crazy rich kid age 16 driving it. I was a year older and there were no adults around and no one advising me. Got up right away and was doing one ski by the end of the week on the Corps dam lake. Also jumped off a 50+ foot bridge with that crew of kids. So, the getting back on the horse concept might work for 90% of the population, but not for me, which was another good lesson to assimilate. I think that water skiing incident is about the only time I could not do something pretty well the first time I tried it – except girls/women!

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