Few athletes can say they have competed on behalf of UCLA while wearing a costume.
“We all ski in fun outfits – people like to wear mullets under the jump helmets and go off the jump, people will wear their school flag as a cape,” said senior Maddie Brooks.
Ten members of UCLA club water ski traveled to Zachary, Louisiana, last weekend to compete in the National Collegiate Water Ski Association Division 2 Nationals. The team held its seed to finish in 10th place, and Brooks finished second overall in the individual competition.
“The site is notorious for being one of the greatest sites to host tournaments,” said senior Julia Schulte. “It has two lakes right next to each other so you get to see every single skier go and you never miss a single event.”
During the course of the three-day tournament, the Bruins competed in three events – jump, slalom and trick.
In the jump competition, in which athletes ski off a 5-foot ramp and are judged based on how far past the ramp they land, UCLA placed 12th. Brooks led the Bruins with a fourth-place finish overall, jumping 59 feet. Junior captain Connor O’Toole jumped 58 feet and was UCLA’s top finisher in the men’s competition with a 33rd place finish.
Brooks said jump is a particularly difficult event for the Bruins because they do not have a jump ramp at their practice lake.
“A lot of people will go off the jump ramp at a tournament for the first time … because we just don’t have a way to practice (jumping),” Brooks said. “We’ve had a couple tournaments where three or four of our five women land jumps, which is pretty good.”
The Bruins again finished 12th in slalom, despite a second-place finish by Brooks. In slalom, athletes ski around six buoys, and if they are still up they continue to ski around those six buoys at increasing speeds until they fall. Once the skier hits a maximum speed, the rope is shortened. Brooks skied 76 buoys, until the fourth buoy at 32 mph and 22 feet off.
Junior Destiny Brown led the Bruins’ fourth-place finish in trick, a tournament in which skiers have 20 seconds to do all the tricks they can. Brown finished tied for 13th in the women’s competition, and fifth-year student Seth Baker finished 18th to lead the UCLA men.
The team also competed at nationals last year, but O’Toole said this year was different because of the cross-country travel and the number of skiers the team brought.
“On the first day (last year) we only had like four skiers total, guys and girls,” O’Toole said. “This year we had 10 skiers total, so that was a big difference. We could get a full score for everything.”
This increase in size over the past few years has correlated with an increased competitiveness. The team is now able to have five people compete in each event and have people specialize in one or two events.
“The focus … when I first came in was more about having fun and just getting up, learning to ski,” O’Toole said. “We still definitely have that, but we’ve shifted more toward a competitive team. Now in meetings we discuss what are we trying to do this weekend, how do we think we’re going to do it and then compare it to how we did last weekend.”
Brooks said very few members of their team came into UCLA with competitive water ski experience, and some never water skied at all.
Because most people on the team have recently learned how to water ski competitively, O’Toole said the older skiers have a good idea of what issues the newer skiers are having because they also started from square one not too long ago.
“I think it helps a lot as far as for team dynamic,” O’Toole said. “It keeps us wanting to do better … especially when someone’s really good and you hear that they were at the same point you were like two years ago, it gives you a concrete goal to shoot for that you know is attainable.”