LAKE OZARK — The wooden deck at the Alhonna Resort is warm to the touch. College students lie on their backs and listen to the sounds of Jimmy Buffet.
Once in awhile, they turn their glances from the clear blue sky overhead to the glittering Lake of the Ozarks.
But these 56 college students aren’t your average sunbathers. Instead of bikinis, they wear dry suits. Instead of trying to get a tan, they’re contemplating 360s and perfect runs.
Welcome to the world of competitive collegiate waterskiing, which came to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks on Saturday.
The competition was hosted by Kansas State, whose team finished second at last year’s national competition. Missouri’s brand new team was along for the ride.
Kacie Kenefick, a sophomore at MU, was skiing competitively for the first time. Before her first run at the slalom course, she stood up on the dock and stared at the lake below.
Her eyes were wide.
“I’m wondering why I got into this in the first place,” Kenefick said.
Together with a fellow first-time competitor, sophomore Jenny Boughton, Kenefick walked down to the dock to wait for her turn.
Underneath the canopied dock, the temperature seemed to be almost 10 degrees colder. As the girls stood shivering, they heard that the water temperature was a frigid 46 degrees.
Minutes later, the towboat came up next to the dock. It was time. Kenefick said she was almost hyperventilating as she waited in the water for the boat to start.
“I was just thinking, ‘Please let me get up, please let me get up,’” she said.
It was all worth it for Kenefick. She said she has been skiing since she was nine years old and loves the way it makes her feel.
“I feel like I’m free when I’m out there,” she said. “I can feel the wind and the air and the water.”
Missouri may not have had the experience or talent of the other college teams at the competition. But the Missouri team didn’t seem to mind its inexperience, choosing instead to focus on having fun.
All the skiers relaxing on the deck stood up to watch Kansas State’s Cale Burdick.
As he started the course, he darted in and out of the buoys deftly, leaning so far to one side that his shoulder looked almost parallel to the water. His spray was so high on one turn that he was hidden from view.
Siblings Nelson and Laurie Runkle shared a special handshake after both competed in trick skiing for the first time.
“It was awesome; I love to live on the edge,” Laurie Runkle said after wiping out in the middle of an attempted 360-degree turn.
The competition and fun will continue tomorrow for Missouri’s water-ski team, which will likely finish at the bottom of a six-team field.
Team President Laura Hollanbaugh was happy with the results, though. She said all the Missouri skiers want to come back, despite freezing cold water and tough competition.
“Everybody had a good time,” Hollanbaugh said. “All the teams are really friendly, and it’s more like a big campout than a competition.”