Jerry Nelson: Waterskiing woes

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

Summer has at last arrived, which means that the Winter That Wouldn't Go Away has finally been evicted.    

Ah, summer! The season of muggy days and warm nights, when a person no longer needs to dress like an astronaut just to go to the mailbox. Summer is prime time for outdoor recreation, with many folks spending a lot of time recreating “up at the lake.”    

As far as I'm concerned, all lake-related recreation is for the birds. This is mostly because I'm a farmer. Whenever I see a lake, I don't think “recreation opportunity”; I think “drainage problem.” I also think, “I bet a guy could tile that low spot! There's probably some awfully nice farmland down at the bottom that pond!”    

My total lack of swimming skills may also have something to do with my lake loathing. A person might even say that I'm water phobic. Taking a shower under a high-flow nozzle is enough to make me panic. Attending a staid Lutheran baptism can give me the willies.    

Much of my ill will towards lakes springs from an incident involving a former girlfriend and my sole experience with waterskiing.   

It was the summer when I was eighteen and my then-girlfriend asked if I'd like to come up to her parents’ lakeside cabin for a Sunday dinner. I stifled my fear of mass quantities of water and calmly said sure, I'd love to.    

I arrived at my girlfriend's family cabin at the appointed hour and found her father out on the deck, cooking chicken on a charcoal grill. He was somewhat of a gruff man, as I recall.

“Hiya.” I chirped as I approached. “Grilling some chicken, are we?”    

He glared back at me. “No!” he replied through clenched teeth, “’We’ aren't grilling chicken. I am!"    

There followed an awkward silence as he scowled at me while I studied my shoes. At length he growled, “You kept my daughter out awfully late last night!”     

It suddenly seemed uncomfortably warm even though the day had been quite pleasant. I fumbled for a reply. “Um, well, you see, my watch quit, so...”    

He waved his gleaming barbecue tongs at me. “Just don't let it happen again, or your watch won't be the only thing that needs repair!”    

After dinner, it was suggested that we go for a boat ride. I tried to conceal my rising panic as I asked, “You mean on the lake? Isn’t the water a bit rough today?”     

My girlfriend’s father’s face lit up. “Aw, c’mon! A little spin around the lake will do you good! Maybe we can even teach you how to waterski!”    

I glanced at my girlfriend and realized that I had to decide: should I run to my car, thus breaking up with this girl but also avoiding assault by a billion gallons of water? Or should I go for a boat ride in the hopes that I might ingratiate myself with a possible future father-in-law?    

I was eighteen and dumb and thought that I was in love. I got into the boat.    

We sped around the lake at such speeds that the overpowered boat leaped from wave top to wave top. Once my teeth were sufficiently loosened, it was decreed that the time for my waterskiing lesson had arrived. I was outfitted with a life vest (I was dumb, not suicidal) and a pair of humungous skis. I was told to simply lean back in the water, point the skis skyward and let the boat do the work. Yeah, right!    

My girlfriend's father jammed the boat’s throttle to its Warp 10 setting. The boat shot forward and the tow rope instantly went taut, spraying water and humming like a fiddle string.     

The next thing I knew, I was plowing face-first through the water, splitting the lake to its very bottom. Startled carp flopped around on the suddenly dry land. To a casual observer, it must have looked like Moses parting the Red Sea.    

After spending more time under water than Jacques Cousteau, it finally occurred to me to let go of the tow rope. I bobbed and flailed as my girlfriend’s father brought the boat around. “That was pretty good!” he said with a malicious grin. “Maybe you'll get the hang of it after a few dozen more tries!”   

There followed some sputtered profanities and a demand to be put ashore. This demand was fulfilled, and I promptly got into my car and drove home. The girlfriend broke up with me later that day.    

Which was just as well, because it took the rest of that long, hot summer to get all the algae out of my teeth.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.