USA Water Ski & Wake Sports

Slalom Priorities - The Order of Principles Matters

Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of The Water Skier magazine, the official publication of USA Water Ski & Wake Sports. If you are not a member of USA Water Ski & Wake Sports and you are interested in receiving the quarterly magazine, join now.

 

Written by Seth Stisher

Photography by Gordon Rathbun

 

 

Instruction - Slalom PrioritiesSlalom skiers continually discuss body position using words like stacked, strong, aligned, etc. Many coaches teach the powerful, stacked position as idea number one.  I’m not saying any method of coaching is wrong, but I personally believe that proper slalom skiing is built in a different order. Check out these principles, which are set in order of priority, but also in order of sequence as well.

 

1. BALANCE:  Before any wake crossing effort is exerted, a balanced, athletic stance is paramount. It’s the prerequisite to all athletic movement. Skiers and future skiers should first learn to stand with equal pressure on both feet as they ride down the lake.

 

2. ATHLETIC ALIGNMENT: Don’t confuse this with what old school would build as a fighting position through the wakes. This is simply learning to stand in an aligned position where your body exhibits great posture, but without sacrificing balance on the balls of both feet. This is where far too many people start leaning back…which is one of the few things I will say is simply WRONG.

 

3. MOVE FROM THE CORE: While maintaining the aforementioned alignment, moving your center of mass (basically your core at the risk of over-simplifying) in the direction you wish to go is what gives the ski the input it needs to take you there. So, in order to go left you shift your center of mass to the left and in order to go right you shift your center of mass to the right. Additionally, while making this shift or fall in the desired direction, keep your mass moving forward as well by keeping forward pressure in your hips and forward flexion in your knees and ankles. Quick note, if you drive the hips forward without flexing the knees and ankles forward you will end up simply throwing your weight to the back of the ski, which is not what we want.

 

4. MAINTAIN CONNECTION: If the aforementioned steps are done properly, this step should be easy. You are now coercing the ski to head in the desired direction, however, by being balanced,  aligned athletically, and making your movements with forward pressure, you are staying in contact with the rope (your torso connects with your arms) allowing the boat to tow you most effectively and efficiently. When you have created edge pressure on the ski and it heads right or left, rope load increases and pressure is built because you are deviating from the boat’s path. When that pressure increases, the above steps will ensure you are able to harness that pressure (aka the load on the rope) and direct that pressure to the ski, which creates your speed and gives you the ability to ski back and forth across the wakes with increased efficiency.

 

Instruction - Slalom Priorities5. SWING OUT CARVE IN: Once you’ve mastered the ability to create direction change while maintaining balance, alignment, and connection, you can then establish a rhythm of riding back and forth across the wakes lightly while maintaining all of this. After you have passed through the wakes, you will want to maintain the connection, and the energy created will ideally give you a little swing and cause the ski to cast or roll out onto the turning edge (if it helps at this stage, you can give your hips a little progressive push in the direction the ski is traveling to sort of aid in the ski in rolling out to the turning edge). Once the ski rolls out, while maintaining the same stance we have discussed, you will allow your body to fall or shift to the inside edge (in a very subtle way) so that the turning edge of the ski stays pressurized and carries you back toward the wakes for your next wake crossing. Please note that the ski will carve on its own because you have previously rolled it out onto the turning edge, so your shift to that inside edge doesn’t need to be too intense and should always include the forward pressure we discussed in Priority #3.

 

6. CONNECT IT ALL WITH RHYTHM: Continue this same flow with each successive wake crossing and turn to truly learn to swing behind the boat and carve through the turns with rhythm. It is also important to note that you don’t need to ski excessively wide in learning this process. You will only go as wide as your efficiency carries you. Learning this rhythm of swinging and carving is the basis of slalom skiing.

 

So, what’s the point? The point is that you must learn/teach balance and rhythm before you teach power. Power is created through effective movements and rhythm rather than by sheer force and an active fight or lean against the boat. This method is a much less intimidating way to begin a skier’s slalom career as well. Give it a shot!

Seth Stisher can be found coaching at his SkiSeth Training Center at Oz, in Charleston, South Carolina, or at any number of locations around the world through his traveling waterski clinics. Check out SkiSeth.com, or email bookings@skiseth.com to arrange ski sessions with him.  He is sponsored by Connelly Skis, MasterCraft Boat Company, Eagle Wetsuits, PureFood and H2OProShop.com.