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Idaho bill helps competition water skiers

Fri., Feb. 11, 2011, 11:49 a.m.

BOISE - Two North Idaho legislators say there’s nothing wrong with the state law that requires water ski boats to have an observer aboard in addition to the driver - except when the ski boat is in a legal, regulation slalom course.

So Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, have introduced legislation - with the backing of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association - to lift that requirement on those competition courses and replace it there with a requirement for a rearview mirror.

“These boats are designed to have great big mirrors,” said Anderson, who used to do competition water skiing - including jumping - when he was younger.

There’s only one permitted water ski slalom course in Idaho now, on the Pend Oreille River south of Sandpoint, across from Dover.

Said Eskridge, “I’ve never been on it - I haven’t water skied for 40 years.”

But the two were glad to respond when the operator of the local course requested the law change, HB 142, which is now pending in the House Resources Committee. According to the USA Water Ski Association, at least 17 states have provisions allowing rearview mirrors to sub for observers in certain circumstances.

When the Pend Oreille River course is operating, in summer months, it’s noticeable because of its 26 colored buoys set in a specific pattern. Only one boat at a time uses the course; Anderson said the next boat waits until the water calms from the last one before entering.

“When you’re in competition, you’re trying to generate the smallest wake possible,” Anderson said. The problem with carrying an observer: The extra body adds weight, which increases the boat’s wake.

The observer, who raises a flag to warn other boaters when a skier is down in the water, is a must for recreational water skiing, both lawmakers said.

Anderson said when he was growing up on Priest Lake, there were four water skiing slalom courses on the lake; today, there aren’t any. The Pend Oreille River course just got full permitting from both the state Department of Lands and the local sheriff’s office about two years ago.

Before it was set up, Anderson said, local competition water skiers had to go over to Washington to train. “You couldn’t train in Idaho, and we had a lot of competition water skiers.”

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