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Friday, March 1, 2024

Club waterski team boasts spirit and tough competition

How many students have trekked out to a lake, hung out in the sun all day and pitched tents on a beach to camp overnight for tournaments as part of normal participation in a team sport?

Or have been recognized on Bourbon Street in New Orleans as UC Davis students? Or played on Slip n’ Slides between events? Or have seen a guy ski off a 140 foot-jump in a full chicken suit? Or stampeded down a beach wearing all pink and cheering wildly for whichever UC Davis Unicorn was currently on the water?

This is all just a part of the UC Davis Club Waterski experience. And as a solid team that is now not only nationally competitive but was also named Most Spirited at the 2011 National Collegiate Water Ski Championships (NCWSC), the club says they are a team that boasts not only talent, but personality as well.

“We do things that nobody else has done,” said Scott Normandin, a senior managerial economics major who, after captaining the team for two years, is confident in the team he will leave behind when he graduates. “We’re a team that is nationally competitive now after years of not being, but we’re that team that is still down to have a good time. It’s really about who you’re skiing with.”

Last fall, the team was one of 24 teams in the country to qualify for NCWSC, giving them the chance to compete with and make their mark among the best teams in the nation.

“There were 12 teams invited for Division 1 and 12 teams for Division 2,” said Kelsey Glass, senior managerial economics major and team treasurer. “We qualified for Division 1, but going into it, we knew we weren’t going to do that well.”

UC Davis placed at the bottom of the division, though they likely would have been able to win Division 2, Glass said.

“Teams here in the western region aren’t that competitive compared to others around the country. Colleges on the east coast give out full ride scholarships for waterskiing,” Glass said. “A lot of us are here for fun. We love it, but we are at UC Davis for college.”

Going up against the best, the team naturally decided to make the trip to Louisiana for the good time, and were ultimately recognized for their collective enthusiasm and team dynamic.

“We saw some of the best collegiate skiing probably in the world [at NCWSC],” said Nate Schorer, a junior managerial economics major. “We could have skied personal bests and still come in last. We definitely went for the experience. But we knew there was an award for most spirited team in the nation, and we wanted that.”

So the team boasted their colors and mascot accordingly. Which are not the usual blue and gold and ambiguous Aggie, but rather Barbie pink and an upgrade from mustang to unicorn.

“Cal Poly has the white mustang, and we have a white horse, so seven years ago some alumni said we couldn’t be a white horse, too,” Normandin said. “So they put a horn on it and called it a unicorn.”

Likewise, the pink was adopted to differentiate UC Davis from the other UC teams.

“At tournaments you always just see all this blue and yellow and normal colors and then a huge group of pink,” Schorer said. “By the end of [NCWSC], people would recognize us in our pink shirts and say, ‘You’re from Davis, right?’”

So the UC Davis Unicorns rocked their pink gear all weekend and were finally bestowed the bragging rights for Most Spirited.

“We had a chant, and we were running after the boat anytime anyone from UC Davis was up,” Schorer said. “That was probably the best team-building and camaraderie I’ve ever experienced.”

Want in on the madness? The Unicorns are hosting a learn-to-ride day at the Bell Aqua Lake in Rio Linda on April 28.

“We’ll make it a fun day on the lake and have a barbeque. Anyone who wants to come check it out and see where we ski,” Glass said.

Prospective members do not need to worry about skill level or lack of prior experience. About half of the team learned to waterski after joining the team, Normandin said.

“Some people haven’t even been behind a boat before and some have been skiing their whole lives,” he said.

The team encourages students to come try it out, as waterskiing skills can definitely be learned.

“We’ve got a guy right now who skis once a year on the lake and already has a spot on the team,” Normandin said. “We have a smaller team so it won’t take too long to be able to compete for points.”

Glass joined the team as a beginner and, like others who have now been on the team for years, considers this decision to be one of the best she has made at Davis.

“It was really out of my comfort zone to just go all by myself and try waterskiing,” she said. “Especially without knowing anyone. But then I tried it for the first time and got a huge adrenaline rush. It’s my favorite freshman memory.”

The team is lucky enough to have what Normandin considers the best setup on the west coast.

“It’s the cheapest skiing you’ll find anywhere. We provide the boat, gas, coaching, skis, all the equipment,” he said. “The lake is just 20 minutes away. Some other schools like Cal Poly have to drive an hour.”

Still, the team will arrange carpools to shuttle first-years and those without cars to the lake for the learn-to-ride day so that they can see what the team and the waterski community is all about.

“We’re not just close as a team; we’re close with other teams across California. Going to tournaments is like going to hang out with a hundred of your best friends,” Glass said. “Waterskiing is small — all the same people go to the tournaments, so you get to see a lot of the same faces.”

Contact Normandin at sanormandin@ucdavis.edu and get to Bell Aqua Lake on April 28 to experience a day in the life of a UC Davis Unicorn.

“These are the best people in Davis for sure,” Schorer said.

LANI CHAN can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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