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Andy Mapple shares water skiing tips with Austin club

Water ski season stretches into fall in Texas

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com

Kenny Glorioso screams down a narrow artificial lake, leaning over so far with every turn that his wetsuit-clad elbow dips into the water.

Seventeen seconds later, panting slightly, he's soaking up instruction from one of the world's best water-skiers, Andy Mapple.

"I like your position, where you are over the center of the ski," Mapple calls to Glorioso, who's still in the water. "Stay a bit more open with your chest and hold a split second longer with two hands before you release."

With that, the boat — a brand-new Ski Nautique 200 with hardly any wake behind it — zips back down the lake at San Marcos River Ranch with Glorioso in tow, riding a single ski. A rooster tail of spray rises behind him as he snakes his way through a series of six bobbing yellow balls.

A dozen other middle-aged men are huddled on the dock, awaiting one-on-one coaching from Mapple. They don't seem to mind the cold, though temperatures are hovering in the mid-50s.

"To have a big name like this coach you? It's huge," says Peter Catalano, who teamed with Sail & Ski Center to organize the event, a fundraiser for the Capital Area Water Ski Club.

Mapple, 47, has a line of water skis named after him; he's helped design ski boats. Tall and lean, with clear blue eyes, he leans over the edge of the boat to share more advice with Glorioso, who has just missed a buoy on the slalom course and is scrunching his face in disgust.

"You were so ready to get it to the one ball you didn't finish what you were doing through gates," Mapple tells him.

Mapple grew up in England — not exactly a hotspot of water-skiing. His parents didn't have a boat, but his sister's friends taught him to ski when he was 13. He went on to collect 12 pro tour titles, 14 masters titles, 14 U.S. Open titles and 11 world records before he retired in 2004. Which goes to show, he says, that water-skiing isn't just a sport for the rich and privileged.

"It's not cheap, but not everybody needs to live on a private lake or have a $50,000 ski boat," he says. "Clubs and cable parks make it affordable. Skiing is not as expensive as people think it is."

Here in Austin, with Lake Austin, Lake Travis and a slew of private lakes within an hour's drive, we have ample opportunity to ski. It's a great family sport, excellent exercise and with such a mild climate, water-ski season stretches well into fall.

Austin is home to two major water-ski clubs: the Capital Area Water Ski Club, formed in 1988, and the Austin Ski Club, started in the 1950s. Both host clinics and tournaments, including the Capital Area Summer Series. Another organization, the Austin Barefoot Ski Club, is dedicated to those who ski barefoot. A meetup group helps connect people who want to ski with those who have boats.

"We love to get people skiing," Catalano says.

I love to slalom ski, too, so I yank on my shortie wetsuit and plunge into the lake. I'm nervous, but Gary Forni, who is driving the boat, sets me at ease.

"Don't get the yips because you are skiing with a great skier," he says. "A good coach is concerned not about how good you are going into the water, but rather about how much you have learned before coming out of the water."

I have a lot to learn. Four years ago, I learned to run a slalom course. It took all summer, but I finally made it — and toasted myself with a mimosa when I did. It's not easy to cut an S-shape between six evenly spaced buoys while riding a thin composite plank. I still ski a lot, but not in the course. On my second pass, I wipe out, cart-wheeling across the surface of the water in an impressive show of uncoordination. Despite my humiliation, I get good advice from Mapple.

"You've got great fundamentals as far as turns and pulls," he says. (Did he miss the crash?) "But you need to stay stronger in your legs. If you try to absorb bumps when you're pulling toward the wake, you're giving that power back to the boat."

Mapple was so focused on his own competitive career in the past that he didn't have much time to teach. Next year, he'll launch his own mobile coaching program, called Team Mapple. "Now I feel my value is to be out in the trenches, teaching," he says.

He still enters one tournament a year and manages to ski several times a week, but he's got another hobby these days: cycling. Mapple, who lives in Florida, is an amateur racer finding some success at regional races.

"I just absolutely love the discipline of the training, the adrenaline and the tactics," he says of cycling. Like water-skiing, he says, cycling has a mental component. "It's about knowing your ability and knowing your body. There's a lot of crossover."

That's one of the things Glorioso says he picked up from his session with Mapple. "Andy spends time off the water thinking about his goals and mentally visualizing his skiing," Glorioso says. "(He) taught me to think about what I did well after skiing and what I would like to improve next time."

The Capital Area Water Ski Club hopes to bring Mapple back to Austin next year for a three-day clinic. That way, more people can experience the rush of flying down a lake on a hot summer day — or a cool fall one.

"It's the sun, the wind, the 'Am I going to make the buoy? Am I going to dig my toe into the wake again and go head over heels? How hard am I going to be breathing at the end? Is my heart rate back up?' " Catalano says. "Sometimes I'll get out there and just play ... It's just a blast."

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994