HOLLAND – In a classic “Cinderella” story, members of the Holland Aqua Riders took first place at the 26th Eastern Region Water-ski Tournament this summer.
Held at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton on July 31 and Aug. 1, the tournament is one of the sport’s largest competitions.
They competed with some of the best teams and skiers, outfitted with the latest in high-tech equipment due to sponsorship, said Aqua Rider Gary E. Naples.
In contrast the Aqua Riders, who have no sponsor, use their personal equipment, some of it dated.
“Competing were some pretty big show hitters,” said Naples. “Some of the skiers performing on these teams are on the U.S. team, work for Sea World, and their teams are heavily funded. For us to win was a true David-and-Goliath story.”
Cousins Jay Drudi and Nick M. Lyman, along with Naples make up the Holland Aqua Riders’ jump team, said Karen B. Drudi, mother of Jay Drudi.
These extreme-sport athletes brought home the trophy with jumps featuring serious style and class.
They performed a pin wheel.
In the third pass, a helicopter, front flip and back flip were simultaneously performed by the team members on the ramp, Naples said.
“This is a high-difficulty maneuver,” Naples said. “It requires the skiers to know exactly what the others are doing because all three of us are on rope the same length, going at tremendous speed and trying to execute the flips simultaneously.”
The tournament was the first time Drudi, of West Springfield, Lyman, of Agawam, and Naples, of Holland, successfully completed the pin wheel, Naples said. Last year they had attempted the maneuver and Lyman and Naples suffered broken wrists.
“Truthfully? I had to be bribed into doing it,” Naples said with a laugh.
The jumping team’s practice had been none-existent the past season due to schedules, the old injuries and the teams’ personal jump needing constant repair, Lyman and Naples said.
“I don’t know how we succeeded. It must have been 70 percent skill and 30 percent luck,” Naples said. “Thankfully, the three of us have been jumping together for almost a decade so we know each other’s moves pretty well.”
“Water skiing is my favorite sport,” Lyman said. “I’ve done it my whole life and this team means a constant attempt to try new moves and perfect skills we already have.
The team’s first pass consisted of a triple helicopter where all three jumpers executed a 360-degree turn off the jump simultaneously, said Karen Drudi. Their second pass consisted of a front flip with one jumper doing a back flip while a third skier cut under the jumpers simultaneously, she said.
“We do this to go out and have fun,” Naples said. “We try and test ourselves and there isn’t any pressure to perform. That and the camaraderie of the event can’t be beat, and next year, we will go out there to have fun. Nothing will change.”
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