As water skiing's most heralded professional event enters its golden anniversary, the world's best skiers reflect upon their own Masters' memories as they prepare to capture what may be the most coveted title in the history of our sport: the 50th U.S. Masters championship.
Freddy Krueger: At my first Masters on my first jump, I crashed out the front something unbelievable. The tail of my ski smacked my butt and shot about 50 feet out in front of me. I got up and tried to clear my head enough to continue, but I had to pass on my second jump because I couldn't see straight. My butt was so sore I had to sit on a pillow for the whole drive home. But my ultimate Masters memory, without a doubt, is my first win at Robin Lake. We were ski flying and there was so much drama surrounding the new format. I had two really bad jumps and then on my third, with all the pressure on, I booted a huge jump. I remember being stoked that I won, but I was also really proud of doing it on my third jump when all the pressure was on. That kind of opened the door for me to know if I had one jump left, I still had a chance to win the whole thing.
Why Krueger is gunning for the 50th: In this sport, we have so many great events, but few are long-lasting. If you think about sports like Nascar or golf, they have these long-standing events, steeped in tradition. For water skiing, I think — especially in the United States — the Masters is one of the cornerstones of professional skiing. This will be my 14th Masters and I have skied on the same waters as the greats like Wayne Grimditch, Sammy Duvall, Andy Mapple, Bruce Neville and countless others. I am so proud of my Masters titles; they are something I'll cherish forever.
Mandy Nightingale: My fondest Masters memory comes from 2003, my first Masters title. I graduated from college in May and headed straight to Bennetts school in Louisiana to get ready after a winter off the water. I remember I was a lot more nervous than usual. It was my first really big tournament after a four-year hiatus to play collegiate basketball, and my whole family was coming to watch. It was so exciting being back in the skiing world and seeing all my old friends. The finals came and I remember I was so nervous. I gave my dad a hug on the starting dock and he said, “Just go and have fun.” Well, I went out there and just had fun. I stood up and ended up winning the biggest event of my career. For me, the Masters serves as an annual family reunion of sorts. My whole family turns up at Robin Lake for Memorial Day weekend.
Nightingale's golden dream: Winning the 50th Masters would be a wonderful feeling. The Masters is such a prestigious tournament and has been in existence for so long. I always go to that event hoping for a win.
Scot Ellis: My biggest Masters memory is from the '88 event when I won my first Masters title. After getting second the year before and being in the top three or four more times than I care to remember, it was incredible to finally win one. Plus, it was the first year they had ski flying. With all the support I threw into the new format, it was rewarding to get the win. Really though, just to compete in the Masters is sick; it was the turning point in my career. It let me know that all those freezing-cold days of practice had finally paid off. My worst memory is a pretty easy one to nail. It was 2005 and I crashed in a big way, dislocating my right hip … for the second time. As it turned out, it was the last time we were to ski fly at the Masters. On a positive note, though, Tom Grey snapped some pretty sick photos of the crash.
Ellis' take on the big 5-0: Just to still be skiing after 17 Masters of my own is incredible. It's huge to be a part of what I know is going to be a landmark event in water skiing history. I hope this event goes another 50 years so I can see my own kids and my friends' kids ski in it.