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Monday, December 10, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Ammi Midstokke: Church on the water – morning rituals on skis

The rising sun is already casting its soft light on the lake as we pull up to the marina on Lake Pend Oreille. It’s quiet but for a few morning sounds – birds, bees, and dedicated water sport enthusiasts. And me, a naive bystander.

“We can get you up on skis,” says Mark, as easily as I might suggest he could eat more greens. I tried water skiing as a kid once and recall thinking it was similar to those dismemberment tortures of the Spanish Inquisition. Only there’s a loud boat and a cranky old man behind the wheel barking at you while your body alternately flails about on top of the water then drags like a bag of cats beneath it.

“Sounds great!” I say. Then I show up at 6:30 for the morning ritual of Mark and Peter.

Mark and Peter ski approximately 150 days a year on the water. Every day, without fail, at 6:30 in the morning, or later if the water is choppy, they roll their boat down the ramp. They throw their gear in, back up, the boat floats, the engine turns over, the truck is parked, the boat waits by the dock, everyone loads, and the only words spoken were the check, “Plugs in?” “Yep.”

In bearing witness to the obvious bromance, I can’t help but ask the cliche question, “So how did you guys meet?”

It takes a certain kind of personality to be that dedicated and consistent to anything. I would even argue that such personalities probably spend more time skiing than developing social skills, so finding friends might be a challenge. Mark tells me about his first ski with Peter, passing his audition, and subsequent years of cutting water like butter in the morning sun.

They make mild observations about changes upon the shoreline. So-and-so may have a new boat, so-and-so didn’t come but for a few weeks this summer, these folks were out skiing the slalom course last week. They slowly, intentionally choose a flat stretch of water to take laps on. “It helps to not chop up the water if we go along the shore like this.”

I decline first ride. I would at least like to see what water skiing is supposed to look like before I go skipping across the wake limb over limb. Peter drops in the lake with a ski, bobbing about as he makes some minor adjustments. When he says “OK!” there is a seamless transition in speed, the boat moves forward, Mark stares into the sunrise, and Peter tucks his head then pops out of the water.

When Mark invited me to ski, he forgot to mention that they were arguably the most proficient, beautiful skiers on the lake. Peter leaned with ease, soft knees, calm grip and moved outside of the wake, only to bend and extend like a dancer on glass, sending a smooth arching fountain of silver water behind him.

Suffice to say, I did not have the expectation of ever achieving such grace in skiing or any other sport unless perhaps it has to do with bludgeoning trees to death or eating pie.

I got in the water, struggled to not tip bottoms up and drown, hung onto that rope for dear life, then proceeded to get the most natural form of colonic available. My knees wobbled, my balance wavered, my legs spread in a comical rendition of Broadway dance gone awry. True to Mark and Peter’s word, they somehow guided me out of the water and standing on skis, then cheered heartily from the boat.

When Mark got in the water, the same silent synchronized dance took place. Wetsuits were zipped, boats were sped, gorgeous lines and curves were made upon the lake like a meditation in geometry and physics.

Things make a simple kind of sense out here. I suspect it has nothing to do with the sport and much more to do with the soul. The skis are just an accessory.


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