Wave Reviews for Brainerd’s new water ski team

Photo courtesy of Chris Dens
Photo courtesy of Chris Dens

Written by Kate Perkins

TWELVE MEMBERS OF THE BRAINERD SKI LOONS TOOK OFF FROM THE DOCK AT RICE LAKE, performing in front of a crowd of at least three hundred spectators gathered at Lum Park. Six men, gliding on wide water skis, each carried a woman balanced on his shoulders. As the boat rounded a corner, the women slowly climbed to form two towering three-tiered pyramids, eliciting gasps, cheers, and erupting applause from their audience.

The Brainerd Ski Loons are the area’s very first resident water-ski show team. Chris Dens, president of the team, did some research and the last water-ski show he could find in the area was the 1953 performance of the Ski Antics, which was held at Bar Harbor. While the team performed here, they were a travelling team and not based in the area.

Chris and his wife, Mandy, started the Ski Loons in the summer of 2015, after being a part of the Twin Cities River Rats during their time living in the metro. When they moved back to the area, they realized how much they’d miss show skiing. They also wanted to give back to the community. Brainerd seemed like the ideal community, Chris says, because of its many lakes, resorts, and water sports.

Chris and Mandy teamed up with Jim Larson, who has twenty-nine years of experience with show skiing and has a ski jump on the Mississippi River. The trio makes up the Ski Loons’ board of directors. Most of the skiing is practiced at the Dens’ house, but jumping is practiced at Larson’s house. The team practices all summer and performs free for the community. Show dates are available on the team’s website, skiloons.com.

At its inception, only four members of the Ski Loons had previous show ski experience; but as the team performed in winds gusting to 35 miles an hour, none of the members look like amateurs. On the nights when the team practices at the Dens’ house on Hartley Lake, the neighbors often bring their pontoons out to watch, and with good reason

The team is a non-profit organization, and they purchased a ski boat with two 175-horsepower engines to pull riders. Their drivers were specially certified in safety to pull the team.

The Ski Loons gather twice weekly to practice in water. Anyone can join the Ski Loons, regardless of age. The team’s members range in age from under 10 to over 60, and Chris says that’s one of his favorite aspects of show skiing.

“It’s a great opportunity for youth to work with people outside their age group, in the broader sense of the community, and come together,” Chris says.

The Ski Loons’ performances weave a story among water ski jumps, ballet lines, barefooting and more, blending theater-like interludes with on-the-water tricks. In 2015 they performed two free shows at Lum Park in Brainerd, taking the stage both on land and on water.

Because some of the Ski Loons’ members didn’t know how to water ski when they first joined the team, that first summer was a learning experience for many. But the opportunity to grow is another positive aspect of show skiing.

“It pushes you out of your comfort zone in a safe, constructive way, where people are there to support you and know how to set you on the right path. You can achieve things you never thought were possible, or never knew existed,” Chris says. “The ski community in general is just one big family. They’re very supportive.”

Mandy says she fell in love with show skiing for the excitement and the feeling of community that comes with being part of a team.