Bob LaPoint is like a big ole bear. In fact, I often imagine him wrapping his massive arms around a tree trunk and ripping it from the earth. The five-time world slalom champion is known for disfi guring pylons and yanking boats out of the course. But he’s also a thinking man, and on and off for the past 30 years he’s been applying that brainpower to designing skis. The key is in the testing, he says — what looks good on paper doesn’t always work in real life. I can picture him, arms crossed with one hand on his chin, contemplating his next design tweak. I caught up with LaPoint not too long ago to learn more about his recent design work for HO and to take in any wisdom he had time to share about equipment adjustments, technique and who would win a boxing match between his HO teammates.
WATERSKI: Will Asher and Marcus Brown are about to throw down in the ring. Who are you putting your money on? Bob LaPoint: I would have to go with Will because he has the reach, but I don’t know if I’d ever want to bet against Marcus — he’s a scrapper. The only problem with Marcus is that his dreads might get in the way.
WS: How did you become involved with HO? BL: I started with HO in 2007, and it was actually kind of a fluke. I was visiting Lucky [Lowe] two years prior and hadn’t skied in several years. Chris Parrish was there, and I got in the boat to watch him ski. At the time, he was riding an O’Brien Sixam. After his set, I looked at his ski and thought ‘This thing could be better.’ The next thing I know, I’m flying up to the O’Brien factory in Redmond [Washington] with Chris to make him skis, and that was the year that he dominated. At the end of that season, he moved to Team HO, and that’s when the door opened for me to design skis for the company.
WS: When did you first start designing skis? BL: The first ski I can remember designing was for Maharaja back in the mid-’70s with my brother Kris. It was one of the fi rst fi berglass skis. Kris is also heavily involved with helping me with R&D for HO.
WS: What are the main attributes of a great shortline ski? BL: Without getting too technical, a ski that turns the same way on both sides of the course, maintains really good angle and stays in the water. It’s a challenging balance, but it’s what drives me to keep evolving as a designer. We’re constantly testing. It’s not like we come out with the A2, and then say that in two years we’re going to introduce a new ski. From the day a ski goes into production, we’re already thinking and working on stuff to improve it, and it’s a constant evolution. We’re really happy with our flex patterns and rocker lines, so lately we’ve been testing diff erent shapes to see what we can get out of it.
WS: How much does a skier’s weight and body type come into play at shortline? BL: I think what Nate [Smith] has accomplished [has] opened some eyes. He’s very light for his height, and he’s had some incredible performances over the last couple years. Strength to weight is always important. Think back to Lucky Lowe 20 years ago. For a guy that was 6 foot tall, he was pretty light but incredibly strong — arguably the strongest pound-for-pound skier. Ideal makeup is to be tall and lean but still have some strength. Strength is a relative thing. If you’re using good technique and getting good leverage, strength isn’t as important, but you still have to have it. A guy like Will [Asher has the prototypical body type. He’s got long arms, good reach and is super strong. Then you have to look on the flip side, which makes you admire guys like Marcus Brown and Terry Winter and what they can accomplish. They aren’t as tall, but because of their technique they can hang in there with the top guys.
WS: Tell us about your R&D with Will Asher and what it’s like to have him as your head tester. BL: I can remember my first test session with him at Wade [Cox]’s place. My initial thoughts were that he didn’t have much to say, and that he couldn’t really put into words what he was feeling on the water. Five years later, he’s the best ski tester there is — he has a feel that not very many people have, and he’s able to translate what he experiences on the water in a detailed manner. And I’m sharing my knowledge with him on how to take that into the actual design, so I think we’re a good team.
WS: Are there any misconceptions about ski design that you’ve debunked? BL: It’s all trial and error, and that’s the thing about testing. You can have ideas that look great on paper, but the bottom line is that you have to go out and ski and see what works. One misconception example is that in order to make a ski faster it needs to be stiff er. But if it’s too stiff you’ll actually lose speed. Also, back in the day, skiers used to believe that you had to have a small ski to keep it in the water, but I think I debunked that back in the ’80s when I was on a ski that was equivalent to the width and surface area of a 70-inch ski when everyone else was riding 65-inch skis. People think you have to have a small ski to get it to turn, but that’s not true anymore. If you’re debating between two ski lengths, I would always recommend going with the bigger size.
WS: Can you give some general guidelines for newbie equipment tweakers? BL: The first thing I would have them do is take the wing off . If you’re skiing at 34 mph and below in the 15- to 32-off range, I recommend taking the wing off your fin. It allows the skier to feel what the ski is doing and it forces them to make it decelerate and turn and not be dependent on a wing. I think a wing hinders skiers at slower speeds, and I’d say 90 percent of the time it’s hurting. I would also start with factory fin recommendations. From there I recommend small adjustments — five to 10 thousandths at a time. You can chase your tail around in circles and not find a perfect setting. There’s going to be compromise, and unless you have a lot of time on your hands, it’s best to find someone that has some knowledge to help.
WS: How do we get more people interested in our sport? BL: I’m looking at it from a ski design standpoint because that’s what I do. You have to have a ski that performs but is easy to ride. We’re actually working on a ski right now that’s kind of a radical departure from a traditional water ski, and you can ride it at 26 mph in the slalom course and have fun. That’s the key to [getting] people involved; you have to make the sport easier.
Establish a Baseline If you’re going to tweak your equipment, remember this: “Always have a baseline fi n setup and ski,” LaPoint says. It’s easy to get lost in your equipment adjustments, so it’s not only important to document your fin and binding changes, but you should have your key settings to fall back on during the testing process to gauge where you’re at. Also note: Just because a certain fin setting works for a pro skier or one of your skier partners doesn’t mean it will necessarily produce the same result for you. “Testing skis and fi n adjustments can be a time-consuming process,” LaPoint says. “You have to have patience.”