COLUMBIA — The sounds of Bob Marley played quietly through the PA system as skiersarrived at Lake Sundance in southwest Columbia early Saturday morning for a slalom and trick tournament hosted by the families of Jack Daugherty and Michael O’Connor.
As the day went on, the pile of water skiing equipment grew larger in Daugherty's backyard, and families gathered underneath canopies to watch the tournament.
O’Connor’s wife Nancy calls the group of skiers her summer family.
“We are all basically family around here,” Nancy O’Connor said. “We get sad when they go to Florida every winter to keep water skiing.”
Skiers from Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois and Nebraska participated in the USA Water Ski event on Saturday at Lake Sundance to spend time with family and friends and to increase their rankings as competitive skiers.
Jack Daugherty built Lake Sundance in 1984 after the Columbia-resident decided to create a ski lake inspired by the tournament lakes he loved competing on in the Lake of the Ozarks region of Missouri. The 25-feet deep lake, which lies in Daugherty’s backyard, boasts a long stretch of water capable of holding USA Water Ski-sanctioned events.
Because no age requirement exists in USA Water Ski events, skiers as young as age 5 were able to compete in the event Saturday alongside skiers in their 60s and 70s.
Luke Jergensen, a 5-year-old skier participating in his first tournament, slalomed down the course at 19 mph to the cheers of his fellow-skiers and spectators. He successfully rounded all six buoys on his first competitive run and quietly clapped to himself as he exited the lake after his runs.
Although many children participated in the event, most of the day was spent with men’s and women’s competition.
Erin Daugherty, daughter of Jack Daugherty, has seen her share of success in competitive skiing. A sign at the entrance to the lake’s main dock reads “Lake Sundance – Home of the 2008 Women’s II Slalom Champion” – an accomplishment that seemingly everybody in the summer family is extremely proud of.
Erin Daugherty mainly focuses her energy on the slalom course and did not participate in the trick portion Saturday.
“I absolutely love the physical and mental challenge that skiing is for me,” Daugherty said. "It's a blast."
Although Daugherty attended college in Orlando, Fla., where water skiing competitively happens year-round because of weather conditions and the abundance of lakes in the state, she now prefers living full-time in Columbia.
“Water skiing year-round is an abuse on the body that is too much for me at this point,” she said. In a good year, water skiers in Columbia can train from late March to early November before the temperature gets too cold.
During the winter months, the O'Connor family stays in Missouri but still visits West Palm Beach a couple of times during the season to whet their skiing appetites.
After the 36 skiers completed two runs on the slalom course, 25 returned to the dock house to prepare for the trick tournament.
One by one, each skier was given two 20-second runs in which they fit in as many tricks as possible to accumulate points. These points will be factored into their national rankings and possibly allow them to move on to larger tournaments in the future.