Ski-a-Rees jump in for a new season with high-flying thrills on the water.
Sarasota is pretty well-known for its high-flying fun.
It’s sometimes known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” the Circus Arts Conservatory teaches people of all ages and abilities how to flip through the air and Circus Sarasota brings visitors to the area every year.
But that’s all on dry land. With Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key and all the other water’s-edge delights the area has to offer, of course there are also some gravity-defying feats on the water.
Enter the Sarasota Ski-A-Rees. The waterski team that flips, flies and thrills audiences on City Island, near Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, kicked off its 2020 show season on Jan. 26 to the gasps and delights of a packed audience.
“It’s great to be able to show what we’ve been working on and thrill the audience,” show director Lauren Perez said.
The 2020 kickoff show featured jumps, flips, ballet skiing, a few tumbles and high-speed thrills. Sometimes, skiers reached over 40 miles per hour on the surface of Sarasota Bay. At one point, a group of skiers faced away from the boat, building speed before they were whipped back around the boat. It was survival of the fittest as Devo’s “Whip It” played, and only three of the six made the daring turn and came out standing — before falling themselves on the burbling bay.
“For those of you who’ve water skied before, now do it with 16 of your best friends up next to you, all bouncing on the waves you just made,” announced Jeremy Duplissey said as several of the team’s young jumpers held a tight line as they zipped around Sarasota Bay.
The Ski-A-Rees were collecting donations for BuildOn, a nonprofit organization that helps build schools in developing countries, as well as for their four skiers who will join the U.S. national show team at the 2020 World Show Ski Tournament in Australia. Kendall Dooley, a Ski-a Ree who is involved with BuildOn, approached the team about a fundraiser to help with her trip to Nepal.
“We jumped on and said, ‘Hey, let’s support USA skiers as well,” Perez said.
Since the team’s inception in 1957, the Ski-A-Rees have built up a long history with sending members soaring to new heights. This year, Brad Satterlee, Travis and Garrett Bouley and Caleb Ross are representing Team USA overseas and will help in the drive to defend the country’s 2018 title. Over the years, the Ski-A-Rees team boasts perennial national team skiers, dozens who became professional skiers over the years, and numerous accolades on the national stage. In 2017, the Ski-A-Rees finished their season as the national champions.
“We have a lot of former pros, and just a huge range of abilities,” Ski-A-Ree Nick Lyman said. “Some members are from generations of families, some are in their 60s, some are just a few years old and actively performing.”
The season opener proceeded like a family affair, with participants and audience members catching up with each other before, during and after the show. Skiers from elsewhere in Florida, as well as other national team skiers, including Ethan Shulda, showed up to wow the crowd with the Ski-A-Rees for a day.
“We’re excited to be back out here,” Perez said. “It’s like a family out here.”
The Ski-A-Rees hold free shows at 2 p.m. every Sunday from late January until May at 1602 Ken Thompson Parkway, meaning those based on Longboat Key won’t have to fight St. Armands Circle traffic to see a good show. Experienced athletes train and practice at the facility, but anyone can ski, regardless of ability or experience with the water. Trial membership starts at $50.
“We’re looking forward to developing a younger group to keep the tradition going,” Lyman said. “If you can get kids interested, it keeps going forever.”