This year's event in Lacanau, France, was defined by a record-setting performance and competing through adversity.
Jamie Beauchesne is one of the most predictable slalom skiers I've ever witnessed grace the water in a competitive environment. The free-spirited, 30-year-old from Loudon, New Hampshire, is a sure bet for a podium finish every time he hits the water in a pro event.
Jamie's Run at the Record
This year's Malibu Open in Lacanau was no different. Not only did Jamie secure the top spot on the podium for the fifth time this season, but he also set a pending men's world slalom record of 2 at 43 off in the process. “I was skiing really well in practice in hard conditions at my home site on Rocky Pond,” says Jamie. “I had a lot of confidence going into the event.”
Although it was a gloomy day for the semifinal round, the conditions were ideal for peak skiing performances. A light Atlantic breeze added a nice texture to the water, and a dialed Malibu tow boat paved the way down the course for 23 of the world's best slalom skiers.
Jamie made a mockery of his passes prior to 41 off. You could tell he was having fun on the water. “When I'm skiing my best,” he says, “I don't even know where I'm at in the course. It's like I'm lost for a second. You've done it so many times — it comes naturally.”
But 41 off is 41 off and it would take every bit of Jamie's concentration and raw skill to complete the pass, especially in a major pro event. Despite the rope being four feet shorter than the reach of the boat pylon to the turn buoy, Jamie's one ball was a thing of beauty to watch. As he stretched to full extension, he had one of those deep-carving, hellacious turns that you just want to replay over and over in your head.
After his demolition of one ball, Jamie was off to the races with his fast and radical style of skiing. The only hiccup he experienced in the pass was a gut-wrenching three-ball turn that required super-human strength to pull out of. “I came into three too hot,” recalls Jamie. “I finished the turn and the boat wasn't with me. It definitely required slack management. It was one of the most athletic turns I've had all year.”
As the boat crew rope shortened the line to 43 off at the west end of the lake, Jamie visualized his run. “I reinforced the positive,” he says. “I pictured my patience through the finish of one ball and an S-turn around two ball.”
The outcome played out much like Jamie's pre-pass mental imagery. He was propelled toward two ball like he was being shot out of a cannon and sure enough, with his catlike reflexes, a crazy S-turn guided Jamie back to the wakes with a full two buoys at 43 off and a pending world record. Just another predictable moment in Jamie's pro skiing career.
Natalie's Triumphant Return
Some people say that having a baby changes everything. So can losing one. When Natalie Hamrick, the bubbly, sweet, high-energy pro slalom skier from Greenville, South Carolina, found out she was pregnant in March of this year, she pretty much shut the door on skiing for the summer. Natalie was extremely excited about her new role as a mother and was fine with a break from skiing. But a miscarriage in April changed her outlook on things — pro skiing being one of them. “It made me examine not only my relationship with skiing, but who I was as a person,” says Natalie. “The experience made me realize that skiing's not that big of a deal, and not to take it so seriously.”
With time comes healing. Six weeks later, just prior to the 48th Masters, Natalie was given the go-ahead to return to the water. She vividly remembers sitting at home and watching her competitors carve up Robyn Lake during the live webcast of the event. “It was hard watching the girls ski so well,” she says. “I was sick not being there. It was like watching the season unfold right in front of me.”
It didn't take Natalie long to get back into the swing of skiing. She trained hard, was disciplined with her yoga and before she knew it, she was quickly back in top form.
“I realized how much I missed being a part of it,” says Natalie. “I love the competition, the people, everything.”
This brings us to Natalie's triumphant return to pro skiing at her sponsor's event — the Malibu Open. Natalie has always felt welcome in Lacanau. She won the French Masters at the international competition site in '03 and '05 and also won the Malibu Open just last year. “I feel special there,” she recalls. “The fans that support the tournament have always been very sweet to me because of my attempt to speak French with them.” Natalie needed all the support she could get from her Lacanau water-ski fans throughout the tournament weekend. Not only was she battling the world's best women's slalom skiers, but also a bad case of food poisoning.
After a modest semifinal round score of 4 at 38 off, which put her in fourth place going into the finals, she was exhausted and the only thing on her mind was getting rest. “I woke up the next morning for the finals and I was like, 'OK, let's give this a go,'” she says. “It's funny how that kind of distraction, I think, it helped me a bit. I didn't have a chance to get nervous because I felt terrible.”
Despite the discomfort, Natalie skied extremely well in the finals, running 2½ at 39½ off and becoming the only girl of the day to conquer the 38 off pass. Now that's dedication. What a way to return to pro skiing.
One Bad Flight
Ryan Fitts recalls his 200-foot out the front
“Coming into the base [of the jump], I felt pretty damn good, but as I came off the top I could feel my left ski dragging and I couldn't get it up. At that point, I was just thinking about crashing the right way. I tried to open up and catch some air resistance to slow down a bit, while continuing a forward roll and landing on my lower back. The impact wasn't that bad. I felt fine. I took one earlier this year in Australia that was twice as bad.” — RF