Nebraska Water Ski President skiing at sunrise
Allie Hinrichs, Nebraska Water Ski President skies at sunrise. Courtesy of Garrett Stalling

The UNL Water Ski club is open to anyone interested in trying something new.

And they do mean anyone.

“We’ll take anybody, even if they don’t know how to ski because we’ll teach them. It’s open to everyone and anyone,” Nicole Van Ess, the women’s ski captain, said.

Nebraska Water Ski is a Recognized Student Organization (RSO) that competes competitively every weekend in September across the Midwest. 

Van Ess and her twin sister, Nina, also a club member, have been waterskiing since they were about 9 or 10 years old at the lake by their house in St. Michael, Minn.

The Men’s captain Ryan Wortmann started skiing and wakeboarding on a lake by his house in Bellevue, Neb. when he was young. 

“Waterskiing for me is a sense of empowerment while the world’s at peace,” said Wortmann, who is studying voice performance and business administration at UNL. “It’s a way for me to get away from the real world. Waterskiing brings just this calmness and this peace.”

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Nebraska Water Ski’s Ryan Wortmann. Courtesy of Cecilia Wortmann.

Allie Hinrichs is the club president. She is a senior Biochemistry and Nutrition and Health Sciences double major who finds a sense of peace in skiing.

“Being on the lake is my break from school,” she said. “Go out to the lake and there’s nothing more relaxing than just getting out on the water and hanging out with friends for a couple of hours.”

Most mornings during the Fall season, Hinrichs starts a long day of practice by putting the boat in at Capital Beach Lake in Lincoln at 6 a.m. 

Then, she says “hopefully the plan is to just keep having the boat running all day with new people jumping in to drive and then take breaks to go work on homework.”

UNL provides the boat and vehicles for the Nebraska Water Ski club to travel to Capital Beach, the other two lakes the club practices at and competes in tournaments. Capital Beach doesn’t have a course for Slalom or jumping, so the club also practices at Shortline Lake in Syracuse and Championship Lake in Ashland.

“They’re just awesome people for letting us use their lake at some point because otherwise, we’ve got nothing,” Hinrichs said. “We have no course, no jump, and we’d just kind of wing it at tournaments.”

Collegiate competitive water ski includes three events; slalom, jump and trick. Only the scores of the 5 A team athletes are factored into the team score at competitions. However, the B team allows other skiers to gain experience. 

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2019-2020 Nebraska Water Ski Club. Courtesy of Angela Hinrichs.

Last season, Nebraska Water Ski club consisted of 10 women and 18 men, with varying levels of experience. Taryn Spence, the current vice president, had never water skied before her freshman year of college. 

“If you’re coming in new, we teach you almost everything,” Wortmann said.

New and returning members usually go on a trip to Bennett’s Water Ski and Wakeboard School in Zachary, La. in May to hone their skills and bond as a team.

Because of the pandemic that trip was canceled this Spring.

“Next season, it’s just gonna hurt because we didn’t get time at Bennett’s,” said Spence, who is a native of Saint Petersburg, Fla. “That week of camp, a lot of our newer skiers will go so that it helps them build up their technique and experience.”

Hinrichs is spending her entire summer working at Bennett’s, and waterskiing. She will not compete this fall in order to save her last year of eligibility for her fifth and final year of college.

“I want to build a better team this year, so that my fifth year we can try and actually be competitive,” she said.

COVID-19 is threatens that re-building plan.

The National Collegiate Water Ski Association hasn’t made a decision about the 2020 Fall season but the spring season, which is much less competitive, was canceled. This season is used for teaching new skiers techniques but also how to drive the boat.

Every member is required to pass the Nebraska Boater’s Safety Course in order to drive around their teammates for practice at Capital Beach. They also learn how to back up a trailer and put the boat in the water. 

Nebraska Water Ski and their sponsor Omaha Marine provide members with waterskiing gear.

“Collegiate skiing is the best way to get into waterskiing,” Hinrichs said. “It’s so much cheaper to join as a collegiate skier than to try and just go straight into it.” 

Despite this, Nebraska Water Ski and other collegiate water ski teams struggle with finding women who are competitive skiers.

“[It] is the biggest issue because a lot of them just get worried, or the time [commitment] is just such an issue,” Hinrichs said.

Spence thinks this is because of how women are raised.

“Women aren’t necessarily put into the water sports type of category. So I think a lot more guys are given the opportunity to do it as a child,” Spence said.

Nebraska Water Ski can be seen with their boat on UNL’s campus, recruiting new members at the Big Red Welcome and outside the Student Union.  

“People of all different shapes and sizes can join and they can excel,” Wortmann said. 

Hinrichs says Nebraska Water Ski’s members’ interests are varied. But they all have same love being on the lake.

“We’re just a bunch of random college kids who wanted to try something new.”