Camille Duvall’s Instructional Guide to Waterskiing

June 10, 2024

Book Notes

When I read a book I have the habit of highlighting certain passages I find interesting or useful. After I finish the book I’ll type up those passages and put them into a note on my phone. I’ll keep them to comb through every so often so that I remember what that certain book was about. That’s what these are. So if I ever end up lending you a book, these are the sections that I’ve highlighted in that book. Enjoy!

A standard towline is 70 feet long with a 5-foot handle bridle, making the entire length 75 feet. Towlines that are one continuous length of rope, with no loops for adjustments, are known as jump lines. Those that have multiple loops at specific line lengths are slalom line; they can be progressively shortened for slalom competition.

Pro skiers like their bindings very tight (our feet often go numb after waring them for long periods of time) because they give us the most support and control of the ski and still pop off if we take a hard fall.

You should buy a ski that works with your style, and one way to do this is to take a video of yourself skiing and show it to a knowledgable salesperson.

Because they make your grip feel more secure, gloves can sometimes be the psylogical edge skiers need when they’re learning deep-water slalom starts.

Wetsuits are neoprene rubber suits that help retain body heat. The skintight suit allows a thin coating of water next to your body, which is then warmed by your body heat. The neoprene acts as an insulator, keeping the warm water and heat in even though you’re wet–thus, the term wetsuit. Wetsuits come in a variety of thicknesses, typically ranging from 1 to 5 millimeters. The thicker the suit, the warmer it will be, and the more restrictive.

Your head should be level, with your eyes on the horizon. You must remember the axiom: if you look down, you fall down.

Another common mistake is pulling the rope in toward the chest as you feel the pull of the boat. This will cause the skis to shoot out from under you toward the boat and you’ll fall over the back of your skis. Keep your shoulders pulled back, rather than rolled forward, adn let your legs do the work. Concentrate on keeping your arms straight when the boat starts to pull, and if you do find yourself with bent arms, straighten them out slowly!

You may want to start trying to zig and zag a little. To do this, point your skis in the direction you want to go, put pressure on the outer ski, and you’ll be suprised how easy it is to maneuver. To stop edging or zigzagging, simply relive the pressure and you’ll stop going in that direction.

The real key to learning to ski on one ski is the shifting of your weight. Always shift your weight first, then drop the ski.

The biggest mistake first-time slalom skiers seem to make is trying to cram the back foot into the back binding too quickly. Resist this temptation, and continue to concentrate on keeping your balance on the forward leg. Let your free leg help you balance.

Don’t shake the ski off–you’ll lose your balance. It’s important to remember not to look at the ski you’re dropping. When you look down, you fall down. Keep your eyes forward: you’ll feel when the ski is off.

For deep-water starts on one ski the starting position is the same as two skis: knees bent and close to the chest; arms straight out, not pulled in to the chest; shoulders rolled back; back straight; and abdominal muscles strong.

The most common mistake made by skiers attempting their first deep-water start is not keeping a straight back.

If you’re skiing with your right foot forward, start with the rope to the left of your ski. If you’re skiing with your left foot forward, the rope should be on the right side of the ski. this helps keep the ski pointed at the boat while the rope is getting tight as well as for the intial pull up out of the water.

As the boat takes off, you legs should stay bent, resisting the pressure that the water puts against the ski. Once you feel the ski start to plane off, you can increase the pressure of your legs on the ski until you are in skiing position.

Some skiers hold the handle with a baseball-bat grip (one palm up, the other down), while others prefer both palms down.

Check the angle of your ski in the water. It should not stick straight up, 90 degrees to the surface of the water. This totally defeats the desired planing effect of the ski. The ski should be angled about 45 degrees to the surface of the water. If it’s too horizontal or flat, you will be thrown off balance, or the pull of the boat will be so strong the handle will be yanked out of your hands.

If you find yourself falling over backward when attempting a deep-water start, or if the ski starts wobbling from side to side, chances are your front leg is too straight. Remember to keep those knees bent, up close to your chest.

Proper body position on a slalom ski is similar to proper body position on two skis. use your abdominal muscles to hold your back up straight and strong; keep your arms straight with you shoulders rolled back while you ski directly behind the boat. Try to keep you hips in line with the middle point of your feet.

Your back binding should be set so that the toes of your back foot barely touch the rear plate of your front foot. Of your feet are too far apart, you can’t bend your knees properly, and this keeps you off balance.

To overcome your fear of accelerating through the wakes, concentrate on body position. Keep your eyes up, looking at the horizon. Never look down at your ski or the wakes; remember, if you look down, you fall down. You should be leaning back and away as if you were playing a game of tug-of-war with the boat.

As you start to feel more confident, you’ll be leaning away from or bracing against the boat with the ski on its edge. This position helps keep the ski on edge and keeps you from crossing the wake flat, so you slice through the wake, not bounce over it. For competitive skiers, this is one of the most important aspects of slalom skiing because the ski must always be on edge.

Hips should be pushed forward, your behind tucked under, as as you cross the wake, your hands should actually pull down toward your hips as you lean away. This forces the boat to pull from your center of gravity and makes it much easier to maintain proper body position.

As long as your back is straight and you’re in proper body position with the handle at your hips in the tug-of-war position it’s really impossible to fall over the front of the ski. The ski is pushed out in front of you as you brace against it. Practice proper body position on dry land and you’ll see what I mean.

In a backwards fall, the hands are pulled up too high, the center of gravity shifts too far back, and the ski slips out from under you.

It is possible to fall over to one side, away from the boat; this generally happens when the skier drops his head when he leans his body and loses his equilibrium.

You’ll notice when you watch people ski correctly that when they turn they actually accelerate through the wakes; they decelerate after crossing the wakes, as a setup for the next pre-turn.

You decelerate by shifting your weight from the tail of the ski up to the centere or the front of the ski. Just as leaning back makes you go faster becasue the ski tip rises, pushing your knees forward sinks the ski tip into the wateer, causing it to push more water out of the way, thus slowing it down.

As you come to the full extensionwith both hands, let go of the handle withg the outside hand.

Some people let go of the handle too soon, before the ski has gone far enough away from the wake, too early in the deceleration phase. This will jerk the ski from the outside edge to the inside edge. As a result, the skier is forced into a bent-over position against the pull of the boat and the handle is yaked from his hand.

You can run an imaginary course, making six turns linked together.

A bird’s-eye view of a slalom course. The buoys in the center are the boat guide buoys and the skier entry and exit gates. The six outside buoys are the ones the skier must round.

Most ski coaches agree that the best way to start the course is with the boat speed relatively slow, generally about 28mph.

the minimum starting speed in tournaments is 24mph with a full 75-foot length rope.

I know it’s very difficult, but you must train yourself not to look at the buoy. It’s like driving a car at night. You don’t look at headlights because you will tend to drive toward them. The same principle applies to the buoy. If you look at the buoy, you tend to ski right into it, and you’ll ski past it before being able to turn.

Unfortunately, a lot of skiers want to increase their speed as soon as they make a pass. Bumping up the speed too soon causes them to lose their basic technique and develop bad habits that are hard to change later on.

This diagram shows the designated rope lengths for an 8-loop slalom line. the phrase “15 off” means that the rope is 15 feet shorter than its original 75-foot length.

The key to learning the ski course is to master “edging” through both wakes–riding the ski on its edge instead of crossing the wkaes with the ski. Keep your hips pushed forward, your behind tucked under, and as you cross the wakes your hands should pull down toward your hips as your body leans away from the boat.

When you’ve mastered smooth, arcing two-handed turns, work on learning one-handed turns by letting go of the handle during the pre-turn phase with the outside hand, extending your inside hand gradually toward the boat. As the ski rolls over and begins the turn, grab the handle again with your outside hand and pull it toward your hips as the ski finished the turn.

On competition ski boats the pylon is mounted in the center, ahead of the engine. This makes it easier for the driver to keep the boat in a straight line when a stong slalom skier is crossing back and forth because the pull is from the center of the boat, not the rear.

If you have a lot of observers aboard an outboard or a sten drive, try to shift as much weight forward as possible to help the boat plane more quickly. Also, be sure the engine or outdrive is trimmed all the way down into the water for maximum acceleration.

Outboards generally have the smallest, flattest wake, but they have a lot of turbulence directly behind the boat. Stern drives generally have the biggest wakes.

Most drivers tend to pull skiers around a bosy of water in large, looping circles. However, as athe boat circles it begins to run over its own wakes, which means the skier is constantly battling rough water. The easiest way to prevent this is to drive in what I call the “eye of the needle” pattern.

As for lining up for the course, it’s very important to the skier that you are lined up dead center with the driver’s gate buoys and moving at a steady speed 300 feet before you enter the course.

When doing tricks, having an edge catch is one of th trick skier’s most dreaded falls. Most of the falls in trick skiing aren’t very bad, but when an edge catches, it slaps you down so fast you don’t know what happened.

Once you’re comfortable, you may hold your arms out to the sides for balance as if you were a tightrope walker. While it’s a natural reaction, you should not flap your arms like a bird. Too much arm movement will rock you off your pivot point and make you fall.


Barefooters prefer a 100-foot rope, rather than the standard 70-foot rope. This is because there is less turbulence behind the boat at these lengths.

Formula for how fast you should go: divide your weight by 10, then add 20.

Always keep your toes up! All it takes to send you tumbling forward is to catch one toe.

Keep your arms straight, shoulders rolled back, and upper body strong. You should ski in a position that looks very much like sitting in a chair. Stay low, keep your knees bent, and keep those toes up.

Do not dig your heels into the water. The water should be breaking just below the balls of your feet, not slapping at your arches.

If you try to plant your feet on the water in front of you and they keep getting pushed back, chances are you aren’t bending your knees enough and keeping slight pressure there.

For a barefoot start: Instead of staying inside the wake directly behind the boat, move toward the outside of the wkae so that the back foot on your slalom ski will be next to the wake when you take it out and plant it. (If you ski right foot forward, go outside the right wake, so that your left foot will be next to the wake). The smooth water just under the curl of thte wake is where you’ll place your back foot when you’re ready.

As your driver pulls you up to barefoot spped at about 25 mph your should start the step-off process.

Make sure your arms are straight, shoulders rolled back, and knees well bent. Keep your weight over the ski but take you back foot out and place it on the the water heel first, slightly in front of your other foot. It should be slightly in front of your shoulder, with your feet shoulder-width apart.

As the boat accelerates, gradually shift your weight to that foot, unweighting the foot in the ski.

Once you’re actually barefooting you’re probably going to wonder how to stop. When you are ready to stop simply stay in a sitting position and let go of the nadle and lean back; you will gradually slide to a stop.

Barefooting falls seem to happen in a heartbeat. And it doesn’t matter how competent a barefooter you are either.

Before the season and at the end of the season are the best times to work on your technique, adjust your skis, change equipment, or deal with anything that affects how you ski. Once your’re in the season, it’s best to work with what you have and not make radical changes.

You know from the first rounds of skiing each year which muscles get sore, so concentrate on them in the gym.

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