After a long winter hiatus, the first glimpses of spring in Madison have kicked University of Wisconsin’s Water Ski and Wakeboard Team back into gear.
After solving the annual mystery of whether or not the team boat will start on the first morning of spring skiing, the team hopped back into action on Lake Mendota — and they could not be more excited.
“It’s kind of like a kid on Christmas morning,” Jack Ralph, the team’s president, said. “It’s the start of getting to play with what we all love doing.”
While it may seem like a special winter morning emotionally, one stumble into the 38-degree water will quickly remind each skier that it feels like a cold winter morning too.
Madison’s geography plays a fascinating role in the UW water ski team’s successes and struggles. Even though the team suffers from an unavoidably long winter during the spring and fall, it thrives from the school’s uniquely beneficial campus location.
“A lot of other schools aren’t as lucky as we are to have the water right there next to campus,” sophomore ski team member Sam Smogard said. “We are just so fortunate to be right in between two lakes here.”
But due to Wisconsin’s climate, the final days of April and early May are sometimes the only ones in which the team can practice before returning to campus in the fall.
“There was still ice on the lake when we took the boat out this year, but we had just enough room to get it out, so we went skiing,” Ralph said.
Many other schools that compete with Wisconsin’s team hold advantages over them, ranging from warmer climates that allow more practice runs to offering scholarships for talented skiers. Despite this, the UW Water Ski and Wakeboard Team has showed its teeth and stood strong competitively.
In fact, Wisconsin has been quite a force on the national scene as far as competitive tournament results go. The Badgers have qualified for the National Collegiate Water Ski Association national tournament in 10 out of the last 11 years.
And while the Badgers have found consistent success in tournaments through the last decade, being a part of the team is not a requirement to compete. For many of its members, the experience revolves solely around enjoying a great time out on the water and enjoying the sport recreationally.
“We have the chance to go out and ski, relax or just spend time with friends out on the boat during any given day of the week,” Smogard said. “I mean, how many other kids get to do that on their campus?”
Interestingly enough, this is actually what Ralph attributes to their consistent success competitively, claiming the camaraderie and lasting friendships created from a shared love for every moment on the boat is what actually sets the Badgers one step ahead of other teams.
Ralph openly admitted that traditionally, schools from the Midwest have not necessarily been the best water skiing teams when compared to the competition in the South.
Instead, according to Smogard, Wisconsin’s success feeds off of a special type of bond that other teams just can’t replicate.
“It’s an exceptional group of people who are all interested in building a relationship with each other on and off the water,” Smogard said. “[Being a part of the team] really helps clear my mind in the classroom during the week, as well as when I am out on the water.”
Wisconsin hit the road this past weekend for the Jayna Trotzig Memorial Tournament, which is hosted by Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. The tournament provided an ideal opportunity for the team to finally get back on the water with winter in the rearview mirror.
The team used the weekend in Ames to introduce four of five new members to the team, allowing them to gain solid experience in competition to ready them for the fall.
It was the team’s first tournament appearance since October 2015, when the Badgers placed second overall in the National Collegiate Water Ski Championships, and Ralph sees no reason why the team won’t be back again this year.
“And with the way that we are looking right now, we will be on track for nationals next year,” Ralph said.