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‘Don’t let the old man in’

Floyd Lake Ski Club, led by very seasoned skiers, celebrates 25 years

By Vivian (Makela) Sazama

Country singer, Toby Keith, and actor, Clint Eastwood are good friends. One day, Keith asked Eastwood (now 93) how he stays so young. Eastwood responded, “Don’t let the old man in.” Keith was inspired, and went home and wrote a song with the same name.

The song become the theme song for the Floyd Lake Ski Club, which calls Big Floyd Lake home (near Detroit Lakes).

“We heard that song and knew right away it fit,” said Vern Hanson, who at age 75, is the oldest member of the group. Hanson has skied his whole life.

“My parents had a cabin on Big Floyd Lake,” he said. “I was able to ski a lot in the summers. I had always skied behind an outboard motor boat and I found out after I met Lin (Peterson) how much I didn’t know about the sport!”

Hanson and Peterson met at the church they attended in Fargo. When Peterson found out that Hanson liked to waterski, he invited him to ski behind Peterson’s inboard ski boat. “I was hooked on inboards after that!” said Hanson.

It wasn’t long before Peterson started looking for a boat that Hanson could buy for himself. He located a Mastercraft inboard water ski boat in Maryland online and Hanson purchased it. “My nephew lived in Virginia and he was able to coordinate the transaction, and a friend of mine had a trucking business and he was able to have it picked up and delivered,” said Hanson.

Lin also has water skied since at an early age. His parents owned a resort on Tulaby Lake, which gave him plenty of time on the lake.

“I got to ski two times a day all summer,” said Lin. “I also worked a lot, mowing the grass and being a gopher, running errands. I caught nightcrawlers and sold them. By the end of the summer I had saved up about $3,000.”

Lin participated in water ski competitions when he was younger, though he claims he was kind of an amateur. “But I learned a lot!” he said.

Today Linn is part of the Northstar water ski show team near Vergas, which does trick skiing, pyramids, and barefoot skiing every summer for the Vergas Loony Daze.

“We practice two times a week and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Though most of them are a whole lot younger!”

Hanson and Peterson began getting together on Saturday mornings along with another friend, Mark Ostlie to ski. In the fall of 1998, Peterson was running his dog around Detroit Lakes and saw a water ski slalom course that was set up. Soon the trio were trying out the course. “I really learned how much I didn’t know about water skiing after trying the slalom course!” laughed Hanson.

That same year Hanson’s wife, Genece, was working in a financial services office in Fargo. Her boss was friends with Jim Erickson, who kept seeing a car with a Mastercraft license plate holder and finally inquired who owned it. Erickson used to be on a Detroit Lakes waterski show team and asked her about it. He soon joined the group. Erickson had an old portable slalom course, which the group set it up in North Floyd Lake, also known as Mud Lake. They decided to form a club to buy balls, and other needed items, thus, Floyd Lake Ski Club was born.

Currently, the group consists of about 12 members, the youngest being Mike Jacobson, 36. “We’ve known Mike since he was in Youth Group at church,” said Ostlie.

In 1999, the slalom course was set up in the winter, which was permanent. “We wouldn’t be able to run a straight line in open water,” said Hanson. Using surveying equipment, they drilled holes in the ice and dropped an anchor attached to a rope and a sub buoy, which sat below the ice. In the spring, the group attaches the surface buoys and balls.

“We use GPS now to locate the sub buoys. In the old days, we had to swim around trying to locate them,” said Hanson. The slalom course is regulation size, a worldwide standard.

The group usually goes out skiing in the spring as soon as the ice is out. “We have a picture of one year at Easter -- Ostlie was sitting on the edge of the ice ready to head out skiing. We use dry suits with sweatshirts and sweatpants underneath, which keep us warm, though our faces and hands get really cold. You really don’t want to fall in the water then!” said Hanson.

As the years went by, the club switched from Saturday mornings to Thursday nights.

“We were getting to the point in our careers where we could take Fridays off,” said Hanson. “We get together and run the course, and afterwards, we go out to get something to eat, usually burgers or pizza.” Ostlie and Peterson laughed, “Mike is always hungry!”

They enjoy ribbing the youngest member of their group, though it’s clear how much they all care for one another.

Peterson and Ostlie are both engineers and both enjoy helping one another in improving their techniques by pointing out if they’re leaning too far forward, or by adjusting the fins on their skis. “We call them the ‘Intense Brothers,’” laughed Hanson.

The sport of slalom water skiing is quite technical, something both Peterson and Ostlie enjoy. A standard ski rope is 75 feet which they say is too sluggish to use the full length. There are markings along the length called “offs,” the first at 15 feet, which shortens the length down to 60 feet. The goal of slalom skiing is to crisscross across the center buoys to six balls placed along each side of the course. The boat runs down the center of the buoys.

“The water ski boat has cruise control which is necessary so that there aren’t any jerks, which could be dangerous, and makes the speed constant,” said Hanson.

The next off is at 22 feet, followed by 28 off, 32 off, 35 off, and 38 off, and so on. Higher offs, around 43, are generally only used by pros, according to Hanson. “You have to be really tall and have long arms to tackle that one!” The boat generally goes 32 to 34 mph, and typically the skier travels twice the speed of the boat while crisscrossing, approaching 70 mph.

Inboard ski boats are designed to create small, soft wakes, unlike large wakeboard or surf boats that are designed to create large wakes. The boats are equipped with not only cruise control, but also speedometers and a setting called “R”, which is set according to how hard or soft the skiers want their turns around the balls.

According to Hanson, four water ski boat members are on Big Floyd Lake. “We usually have two or three boats, and four to seven skiers on Thursday nights,” he said.

Since the group was first formed in 1998, they have sponsored a Kids Ski Day each summer. They spend the day teaching youth how to water ski or how to improve their water skiing, then graduating to a side boom attached to the side of the boat to teach them how to slalom ski.

“It’s important that they come out of the day feeling successful,” said Peterson. To date, they estimate they have taught between 500 and 600 kids how to ski, with between 25-30 each year. “Now we’re teaching kids of kids we taught 25 years ago!” laughed Peterson. “We feel it’s an opportunity to give something back to the lake,” said Ostlie.

“I take the youngest ones, the four and five-year-olds,” said Hanson. “I taught all my grandchildren how to waterski before they were five.”

Another opportunity to give back that the club has been involved in has been a ministry called “In His Wake,” which began in Florida by world-class water skier Kristi Overton.

“She’s the Michael Jordan of women’s water skiing, and she formed the ministry to help underprivileged kids, which is called ‘A Day to Remember,’” said Hanson.

The Day to Remember clinic was held south of Detroit Lakes on Sauer Lake and provided lunch and life lessons, along with water skiing lessons.

“The goal is to teach confidence, overcome fears, and learn some life lessons using the different components of water skiing, such as comparing the boat motor to a power source, which for a Christian is God. The question is, ‘What are you holding on to?’” said Peterson. “Another message is, ‘If you want to succeed in life, get off the dock.’” They also sponsor a clinic near Brainerd for the men at Teen Challenge. “God has been a big part of forming our club and we want to give back,” said Peterson.

The club also used to sponsor a day of skiing for kids from the Waubun area.

Hanson has not been without overcoming physical challenges. At age 63, he noticed that he was getting out of breath more quickly. He also noticed friends that were having heart attacks and decided he’d go in to be checked out. He ended up with a heart bypass surgery at a hospital in Fargo. The hospital was so impressed with his preventative measure of being checked out early that they decided to write a story on him after he went back to water skiing after five weeks of recovery time. In later years, he has had surgery on both shoulders, which also hasn’t kept him from continuing on with his passion of water skiing.

Over the years, the club families have all become good friends. The wives help with A Day to Remember and Kids Ski Day, and have given tremendous support for their husband’s endeavors, according to the men.

Over the years, the club has had professional skiers come to teach them further skills. One instructor from South Carolina was Seth Stisher who made a comment they have not forgotten. “Skiers are participants in life, not spectators.” The Floyd Lake Water Ski Club are certainly participants, not spectators, and are determined to “not let the old man in.”

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