From a cow-ridden river in Serbia to a skier's paradise in Acapulco, Srdjan Dragic is one seriously lucky guy.
It all started with a text message. Srdjan Dragic (Serg, for all intents and purposes) normally doesn't check his phone messages in the presence of company. This time, however, at a bar with his friends in Belgrade, Serbia, the 24-year-old was waiting to hear back from someone who could change his life. Gordon Rathbun, owner of Ski Paradise in Acapulco, Mexico, was looking for a boat driver to help run his 19-year-old tropical water-skiing destination.
“I stared at the phone for about two minutes straight,” Serg says. “I read the message up and down, inside and out, trying to find some flaw or something to prove that this wasn't real. I was in complete disbelief.” When the reality of the situation sank in, Serg turned to his friends and said, “I'm going to Acapulco” — give or take a few profanities.
Leaving behind the snow of Eastern Europe, Serg embarked on what would become seven months of working with the world's most talented water skiers and coaches. He felt like the luckiest skier alive.
Coming to Acapulco barely scraping his way through 32 off, Serg was prepared to put everything he had into becoming the best skier he could be. All he needed was someone to help him. Lucky for Serg, he had a laundry list of phenomenal coaches and skiers to assist him on his quest.
After several months of working with the who's who of the sport, Serg's skiing is at a whole new level. In just a few short months, he's getting down the lake at 38 off and his 35 off pass is just as reliable as the sunny weather in Acapulco.
Though living in a multimillion-dollar villa overlooking Acapulco Bay, learning from the best of the best, eating like a king and partying it up every night is something worthy of the deepest shade of envious green, you shouldn't begrudge him. Serg is generous, and his knowledge is now your knowledge.
For a visual learner like Serg, there is no better skier to watch than Mr. Slalom himself, Andy Mapple. When Andy puts on his ski, you'll immediately notice he stares at the course for a good 10 seconds before every pass, clearly visualizing each turn, edge change and buoy from entry gate to exit gate. “When Andy goes skiing, he goes 100 percent,” says Serg, clearly in awe of his childhood idol. “He was taking one set a day because he was giving everything he had in that one set.” Running 41 off at 34 mph from the dock every time he hit the course, Andy didn't miss the pass the entire week he was in Acapulco. How's that for motivation?
After watching Andy, everything he worked on throughout the week began to untangle and instantly clicked. “I was trying for two days to master my edge changes,” says Serg. “That's probably the biggest thing I took from Andy. I was struggling advancing my ski in the edge change, and I was having a huge problem counterrotating my hips, but the second I saw him, everything suddenly made sense, and I thought, 'Yeah, I've got this.'”
Spending a week with seasoned and incredibly decorated pro Wade Cox, Serg could have taken an innumerable amount of technical advice from the slalom superstar. Instead, the biggest lesson he learned was about the psychological facet of the sport.”I'm not sure if he even realized what he did,” Serg says. “He taught me all about the mental aspect of being relaxed and confident right from the start and throughout the course. And for me, that's something very valuable.”
For someone who has been struggling immensely with nerves through the gate, hearing tips about loosening up before a run from one of slalom's greats was the ultimate counsel.
“What Wade thinks before his opening pass is the most important thing I could have learned,” says Serg. “When I was skiing with him, he was trying to relax me before the gates. I used to be really tense and my first pull through the gates was always very difficult. Wade showed me to shake off the nerves — literally — because if I'm calm in the beginning, I will be calmer through the rest of the course and have more time to think about the buoys as they approach.”
Finding Serg struggling in the course, taking fall after fall for poor positioning and technique, pro skier and coach Seth Stisher advised him to forgo the limitations of the buoys and focus on free-skiing. Once Serg did this, all the problems he encountered (keeping his head vertical and improving edge changes) significantly diminished.
“Getting away from the slalom course and free-skiing helped me keep consistency throughout and helped me get used to not falling so often by concentrating on my technique,” says Serg. “When I got back to the buoys after three weeks with Seth, it took me some time to adjust, but I could feel the difference right away and my course skiing was so much better because of it.”
With improved technique and consistency, Serg was able to better focus on another skill of his — coaching. “It was a great experience to sit in the boat while [Seth] was instructing,” he says. “I learned how to communicate better with the students and explain correct technique just by listening to him coach the other skiers. He has a way of saying things so that each person understands in their own way, and [I took] so much from that.”
The West Coaster
Taking what Serg learned from Seth out of the course, U.S. Open champion Marcus Brown did what he does best — helped this traditional skier take what he mastered through freeskiing and adapt it to the West Coast slalom technique.
“I was watching Marcus' style before he got here, and I really liked his turns,” says Serg. “[He] showed me to lead with my hip and keep my shoulders level through the whole course, which made a big difference in not falling so often in my offside turns.”
So how did Serg adapt to the West Coast style? It goes back to what Wade taught him — focus through the whole course and take it move by move.
“Skiing with Marcus, I learned to think all the time,” Serg says. “From the pull to the turn — everything. He told me to always think about my hip being the first to go through every move, and that helped me to maintain my speed in my turns and it kept me fluid.”
Marcus' determination to advance his style did not go unnoticed by Serg. “I respect him because he is confident in his abilities and is committed to making the West Coast style available and understandable for skiers of all skill levels,” he says.