Of all the weird ideas, right? Who ever heard of waterskiing or wakeboarding without a boat? I certainly hadn’t up until not too long ago. Having learned to water ski the usual way on summer afternoons at our Canadian prairie lake, it never occurred to me there was any other way to get pulled around the water’s surface.
But the not-so-little-any-more red-haired girl came home from a birthday party a while back with tales of waterskiing at a lake only a few minutes’ train ride from our place. “There’s no boat – you’re towed along by a cable,” she said. “It was fun, but I never got out of the water.”
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “We’ll go back this summer and we’ll give it another try.”
It’s not at easy as it looks.
Once fitted out with your wetsuit and gear you stand in line for the lift, side-stepping down the ramp to the launch area. When it’s your turn on deck you stand on a plastic grass pad and grab ahold of the handle.
The operator sitting in a booth beside you gives newcomers like us a few tips on how to get ready.
“Stand on that red stripe, sit right down on the back of the skis, and make sure you don’t get pulled too far forward when the rope tightens.”
Sounds all right, but once you get going? The contraption that sends you skimming around the lake is not much more than a huge cable loop strung around five pulleys suspended about 10 metres above the water.
As your rope goes around each pulley – assuming you actually manage to launch OK - you have to position yourself just right in the water so that not too much slack builds up, otherwise the force of the rope tightening again after it rounds the pulley will jolt you forward – if you manage to stay up – or rip the handle out of your grasp and send you for a flying face-plant.
That happened to both of us a couple of times before we got the hang of it. We each had to walk back from the far end of the lake after having fallen half-way around, but by the time our two-hour ticket was up we’d each made it four times around in one go. That’s how many turns you’re allowed before you’re supposed to drop the tow for the next person waiting in line.
We could have bought a day ticket, but we also wanted to do a little bike ride through the countryside afterward, so the two hours were just right. My arms were aching by then anyway, so I was glad to get on the bike and let the legs take over. But on the train ride home, we already made plans to try it with a wakeboard next time.
For a look at the little red-haired girl’s second time up on the water, I present you one of the shortest videos you’ll ever see on youtube:
If you’re near Hamburg and want to give it a go, you have to get yourself out to Pinneberg, a suburb 25 minutes or so by train northwest of the city. From the S-Bahn station the lake is an easy five-minute walk through a park alongside the tracks back toward Hamburg.