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Tips for a novice driver on pulling a skier in a course


swbca
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From age 14 to 45 I had drivers, a slalom course and a boat in my front yard.  Except for two seasons with Micky Amsbry skiing at our place 5 days a week, no other skiers lived within 30 miles, so I rarely drove other skiers. 

Years later . . I now have to break in a new driver with no experience in the course, but what do I know ??. 

Last summer when I pulled a 35off M8 skier behind his SN196, I remembered nothing about keeping the boat on center.  On the 3rd pass I adopted a strategy of guiding (pointing) the boat toward the next left or right gate buoy just enough for the skier to keep the boat to center approaching and through the next boat guides.   He skied into 38off with no complaints when I asked. Then when he observed the next set,  I was pulling his ski partner. He said I was within 3 or 4" of center at the gates . . it sounded like he was complaining.  No thanks to my driving, he went on to place 3rd in Men 8 at the 2022 Nationals the next week.

For a new slalom course driver, is there a simple instruction set for their first time pulling a skier ?  I know as a skier, good driving is an art built on natural talent and years of experience . . but how to guide the first time boat driver ?  (edited >> first time driving in a slalom course . . many years without a course)

Edited by swbca
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When my (then) 12/13 year old son started driving me he was safe but it was very difficult to explain with words how to drive in the middle, let alone how to dance with the skier.  I have to say, it took Surepath about a week to turn him into a serviceable driver.  Now, he might not drive like Becky L., but he's right down the pipe every time and I have no complaints.  Surepath is spendy but totally worth it, IMO, if that's an option that you are in a position to consider.   

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This would be my list:

1.  Learn how to pick a reference point on the front of the boat and use that to help find the center of the course.  Take a few passes with no skier and someone watching the boat alignment to the center of the course.  Refine that reference point until the boat is dead center.

2.  Don't overcorrect to get the boat back to center immediately when pulled to one side.  Sudden movements can be detrimental to the skier.

3.  Try to do the course correction (again, with moderate movements) when the skier is on the line.  In fact, you will need to do this to counteract their affect on the boat anyway.  If you move the boat too much while they are in the turn, you can pull them over or yank the handle away from them.

4.  In general, I would not recommend steering with two hands in the course.  It can be easy to start sawing on the wheel with two hands and that leads to abrupt movements.  If you need two hands to maneuver the boat for set down/pull up or to circumnavigate an island, that is fine and should be done to improve safety.  The movements in the course should not require both hands and the right hand should be ready to cut the throttle for emergency situations.  But, if the driver requires two hands to be in control (e.g., too much rudder torque for one hand), then go with that.

5.  Learn to anticipate when a skier will hook up after the buoy and will release after the second wake going into the pre-turn.  That is your usual window of counter-steering and course correction.

6.  Of course, the driver should tighten the line gently and apply progressive throttle to pull the skier up.  Don't slam the throttle down or start with loose line.

7.  Disengage the speed control as soon as you exit the course and pass the 55s.  Not only is speed control not needed, this gets your hand on the throttle and ready for a safe set down.

That is the basic list.  There is probably more as they improve.

 

Edited by MISkier
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The worst slalom equipment I own is between my ears.

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Chad Scott and @Luzztold me the same thing, don’t be afraid to correct early. The Waterski podcast with Becky Lathrop is a good one to listen to. I never thought about LFF vs RFF skiers hitting you differently based on that, but She said she knows to correct earlier on 2,4,6 side for LFF and vice versa for RFF. That has made keeping centerline easier. Outside of that, I’m not qualified to respond, but skiers into -38 tell me I’m a good driver

Edited by aupatking
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For a new driver, I think simplicity is key. I trained up a college girl a few years ago from not driving in the course to driving me into 38. I do not think I ever ran a 38 behind her but that was not on her.

If surepath is available then it will shorten the process but in the very beginning, it might be too much.

To start with a driver needs to do only two things.  Learn to feel the skier is first and being in the middle is second.  

The first few rides are going to be challenging for the skier but that is the price you have to pay. All the other stuff is useless if the driver does not feel the skier. Pointing the boat somewhere at a certain point is a terrible idea. It must be by feel and that takes seat time.

To learn to be in the middle there must be a semi- knowledgeable passenger in the boat helping or surepath. As mentioned above the driver needs to find a visual reference. There is no best way to do this.

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@aupatkingthat is good stuff but NOT beginner stuff

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11 hours ago, Horton said:

 Pointing the boat somewhere at a certain point is a terrible idea. It must be by feel and that takes seat time.

I may not have expressed it correctly . . When a skier is pulling the boat to the right, the boat centerline has to be rotated left to offset the lateral force caused by the skier. To keep the boat on the course centerline, when and how much I turned to compensate for the skier was by anticipation and feel.  Still probably too simplistic, but its a start.

When instructing a new driver, I learned they have to avoid trying to drive the boat down the center as if there is no skier.  If you let skier pull you off center, there is no graceful way to get it back to center fast enough.  That was the mistake I made on the first couple of passes pulling my friend after 30 years of no driving through a course.

Edited by swbca
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@swbcaagain the focus is on feeling the skier. If you learn to know where the skier is you can move the wheel accordingly.

Yes when the skier is leaving one ball the nose of the boat need to briefly point left and so on. Ideally the pylon moves very little. I get that driving without a skier is almost harder but that is where a new driver can find their visual cues. 

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Time...that's really the only thing, I have been fortunate enough to be driving 39 and deeper since I was around 11/12 so I dont really remember what i was taught other than getting yelled at if it wasn't in time / swerving to much.

 

It takes time to learn and the more you pull someone the easier it is to sync up with them, while they are learning do not try to do the hardest passes run some easy ones, so they can get into a groove.

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It also helps to have a skier willing to run some passes behind a new driver to give them a feel for the pull a skier can put on a boat and where in the course. They have to learn sometime and getting them behind the wheel as much as possible is the best way to do it. I've been able to run my normal passes right up through my hardest behind just about every new driver we have ever worked with. (mid 35)  I know that driving comes into play alot more at 35 and shorter. 

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I have broken in more drivers over the years than I can count.  By far the most important aspect is the new driver must understand he has alot to learn and be willing to take feedback - the good, bad and ugly.  I'm happy to work with any driver, no matter the level, who is willing to learn.  There is no substitute for time in the seat and being comfortable in that particular boat.  Some boats are just way easier to drive than others.

If the driver thinks he is doing awesome while running over boat guides and no clue what is happening on the other end of the rope, its a lost cause. Save yourself the frustration.

For the skier, you need to keep all feedback positive and encourage the proper things to do differently.  Run easy passes until the driver gets comfortable with whatever pass or how you happen to pull the boat around.,  Both of my kids started driving for me when they were 10, BUT they had spent alot of time driving tricks, then driving each other and mom for slalom before they drove for me.  I ran lots of 28s and only shortened when I thought they were ready.

If your new driver happens to be your wife, forget all of the above and just say "you are doing great dear".

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@Bruce_ButterfieldBest thing that ever happened to my marriage was when my wife said she would never drive. 

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One of the most commonly overlooked areas for new drivers seems to be that the "driving" needs to start before the course, meaning before the 55s. You know that feeling when the boat is coming with you in the move out, or in the glide the boat is not with you. Tough variable to have in a really critical area of the pass. That and an over-counter on the move-in that puts the boat a couple feet left at the gate, yikes. Very short rope at 1 then.

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@jhughes Yes but to those reading this and thinking about driving that first 5 or 10 rides.... don't worry too much about this. If you are driving your 100th ride and you are not lining up straight and early then we have an issue.

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For a novice I’d ride as observer and help find centerline and when there, make them develop a reference point on/in the boat. Kind of like those “Bull’s Eye Boat Sights”. Coming from a 196 that if you feel like your in the center, you’re in the center 😎, my first wide boat was my 2014 Prostar. If I felt like my right foot could just about hit the boat guide, I was on centerline. From there, pick the furthest reference point down the lake you can find and focus on it, correcting towards it in rhythm with your skier

Edited by aupatking
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For the few drivers I have brought into the sport here is my path. 

1. Have the driver ski. Someone who knows what the line feels like before pull up, not driving straight, distracted, handle pulling at drop all make a huge improvement. A lot of that stuff is 100% easier if you've experienced it first hand.

2. Be sure they are comfortable maneuvering around the course (and in general) slowly, as if to replace a hit ball. If they can't reliably drive slowly how can they retrieve you when you fall and get hurt? Inboards are unique in slow moving situations.

3. Can they pull a skier correctly on a long free ski, if not fix this first. 

4. Our lake has a tight turn in and turn out at each end. I have all new drivers do several simulation runs before ever pulling a skier just to get the feel. Same for islands. This also teaches them to be conscious of where the wake/rollers go during drops.

5. Repetition. Lots of 22-32 off easy passes. Don't be the skier who tries to train a new driver by attempting to yank the boat around at your hardest pass. When I get to my harder lines I am not as smooth and fluid as I'd like. I'm doing a disservice to a new driver by being an inconsistent skier when they're first learning. After a bunch of 28's I'd have my other driver take over for my 32/35 runs and the trainee watched at first.

6. More practice. Time in the course. Time with different skiers. Did I mention time. Like every other aspect of this sport, you're not going to improve quickly skiing 1 set a week.

 

 

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