by Marjo Bliss
While today’s ski boats might be easier to drive, you can’t rely solely on fancy gear. Until computers take humans completely out of the driver’s seat, use the following 10 tips from tournament drivers Tommy Harrington, Jeff Gilbert, Gordon West and Chris Eller to enhance your skills behind the wheel.
1. Balance the boat so the spray is equal on both sides. A balanced boat is not only safer, it’s also easier to maneuver and provides a better pull for skiers.
2. For slalom, never let the skier feel an increase of speed around turn islands. Have smooth transitions; excess speed makes the skier feel fast and fatigued.
3. Get the skier in line and going straight as quickly as possible. Focus on the entry gates and not the pre-gates for the initial lineup. Look ahead down the course.
4. Don’t let skiers pull you offline or tip the boat during their pullout or turn-in for the gates. Maintain a level and smooth approach all the way through the ball one boat guides. The approach is the most critical time for the skier in the course.
5. Focus on placing the boat where it is supposed to be at all times. Point the boat’s nose opposite the skier when the skier releases off the top of the second wake and into the pre-turn. Do not turn the boat, but slightly point the nose 2 to 4 inches in the correct direction. When approaching each boat guide set, have the boat perfectly straight and the pylon in the center of the boat guides. The pointing of the nose happens between the boat guides for each buoy.
6. When the set is finished, bring the platform to the skier and turn off the engine. This goes for recreation and tournament driving.
7. With the introduction of speed controls it has become easy to maintain a set speed for tricking, but it’s still critical to keep the boat straight. To keep a straight line, pick out a tree or other landmark on the distant shore to drive or steer toward. While turning around with a tricker, back off the throttle slightly so you don’t slingshot the skier.
8. A good trick driver needs to have a lot of patience because there is a lot of turning around and picking up the skier if he is working on new tricks.
9. When driving jumpers, understand what the jumper wants — requested speed, letter and boat path — prior to leaving the dock. On your return route, make sure your path keeps the water smooth for the skier approaching the ramp for his next jump.
10. When free-skiing, keep the speed consistent by using the tachometer instead of the speedometer. Typically, this is a 1-to-1 ratio (3,100 rpm equals 31 mph). It’s important to know the size and ability of the skier, as this makes a difference in the amount of throttle used and approximate speed required for a safe, fun ride.