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Alaskan water skiers make waves at regional competition

A group of dedicated water skiers hopes to expand the sport in Alaska
Alaskan Carter Eaton placed second in both slalom and trick skiing at the Western Regional Waterski Championships
Alaskan Carter Eaton placed second in both slalom and trick skiing at the Western Regional Waterski Championships(Mari Eaton)
Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 10:05 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When you think of Alaska sports, dog mushing, hockey and skiing all top the list. But three Alaskans are making a name for themselves in another sport: water skiing.

Carter Eaton, his dad Brent Eaton and friend Gage Jarvis together took seven podium spots at the Western Regional Waterski Championships in Caldwell, Idaho July 23-26.

Carter placed second in both slalom and trick skiing to take fourth place overall for men 18-25. Brent placed third in slalom for his age division and Jarvis had a top-five ranking in jump, slalom and overall.

Carter says people at competitions are often surprised to learn he has grown up water skiing in Alaska. Both Carter and Jarvis started water skiing when they were 5, and now they’re going into their sophomore year as members of Arizona State University’s water ski team.

The Eaton family began water skiing when Brent joined his collegiate water ski team in San Diego and fell in love with the sport. Now, they frequent Rainbow Lake near Willow to practice. Pursuing the sport in Alaska has its challenges, including the fact that lakes are frozen most of the year.

“Our rule of thumb has been if the air temperature and the water temperature added together are over 100 degrees, then it is possible to ski comfortably,” Carter said. “And by ski comfortably, I mean put on a dry suit, neoprene booties, sweats, every last piece of warm gear you can imagine and you can go out and not be cold.”

Competitive water skiing has three main events: slalom, jump and trick skiing. In slalom, the skier navigates a buoy course, weaving in a zigzag pattern past six of the buoys. At the highest level of competition, the boat begins full speed at 36 miles per hour.

“It’s probably the least forgiving event,” Carter said.

Next is trick skiing, where the athlete has 20 seconds to do as many flips and spins as possible to rake in points. In jump, a skier is on two skis as they are pulled over a ramp in an attempt to travel as far as possible.

“It looks crazy and fast and wild, but the reality is it’s really technical and mentally demanding,” Carter said. “It’s also super high stakes in a tournament situation and it just comes down to perfection.”

The regional championship is likely the last tournament the two will see for a while as collegiate nationals and the spring season have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But while college water skiing is postponed, the pandemic has prompted many to turn to the activity for entertainment.

Trax Outdoor Center, which sells ski, surf and yoga gear in Fairbanks and Anchorage, has seen an increase in interest for water sports. Owner Mike Hajdukovich said his stores have sold out of water ski gear and have seen an increase in boat sales this year.

“With all this time during COVID, water skiing is just going nuts,” Hajdukovich said. “It’s really cool to see.”

Water skiing has had a small and dedicated following within the state for decades, Hajdukovich said, and people within the community are always interested in growing it.

“It’s a hard sport to enter and that’s just kind of the way it is, but if you can find somebody and they can teach you, it’s incredible,” Carter said.

Hajdukovich says he likes to pair people with other families to get them started, and while some have concerns about the cold, he says Alaska water skiers learn to play on the water, not in it.

“We start the day the ice is out and you finish the day the ice is starting, so we have the same window a lot of the Lower 48 skis on, it’s just our conditions are probably a little more extreme at the beginning and the end,” Hajdukovich said.

Water skiing may be a more obscure Alaskan past time but it has a rich tradition.

“I think anybody competing in a lesser-known sport would feel this way, but it’s so much more than people really think it is,” Carter said.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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