The Aqua Jays are aiming to win the national championship after earning the Division 1 Wisconsin State Ski Championship in Wisconsin Rapids in July and the Mercury Open Water Ski Show Tournament crown in Janesville in June.
"We’re going for the triple crown at nationals. We want to regain the national title," said Tim Cullen, Rock Aqua Jays president. "We didn’t win it last year, but we came very close. When you come that close, you want to try harder to get back on top."
The Aqua Jays have won 17 state championships and 19 national titles since 1961. Dave Rezin, show director, said winning that many championships puts a target on their backs.
"We’re like the New York Yankees," Rezin said. "We’ve had a lot of success, so that’s why a lot of other teams like to see us lose.
"Every time we win, it builds confidence in our skiers. It helps us get ready for the next tournament."
Barefooting acts, swivels, pyramids, jumps and strap doubles are all on the Aqua Jays’ agenda for nationals.
"We’ve been focusing on this since last September. Two weeks before the tournament is when we really like to push," Rezin said. "We try to gain as much consistency as possible, and we focus on execution and high-developed techniques. We will be doing other unique acts that we perform during our shows. We will be doing a variety of techniques."
The Aqua Jays will kick of the competition by being the first team to perform.
"We’re going to go first at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13. We won the state competition, so we got to pick first," Cullen said. "We hope a lot of people from the community come out and support us."
Cullen said the team is looking forward to hosting nationals again after a one-year hiatus.
"We’re going to be welcoming thousands of people to Janesville, so we want to have the site prepared and run as smooth of a tournament as possible," Cullen said. "Every year, we want to add something that’s better for the skiers and spectators."
Traxler Park is an ideal location to host the national championship, Rezin said.
"The best of the best are invited to compete," Rezin said. "I think we have the best site in the United States, or even the world, for a ski show competition."
When the Aqua Jays aren’t performing in tournaments, they’re delighting local fans with twice-weekly shows at RAJ Stadium. The Wednesday and Sunday evening shows generally run from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.
"We have two teams. We have an ‘A team,’ which is our performance team. We have a ‘B team,’ which is a development team that usually includes younger skiers," Cullen said of the 180-member team. "When we prepare for the national tournament, there’s usually about 110 people that help make that happen."
The Aqua Jays choose a different theme for their performances each year. The theme for this year’s program is "The Legend of Zorro."
"We try to select a theme that the audience can relate to. For example, if I choose ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’ it would include characters that the audience would know," Rezin said. "Primarily, we select a theme that judges and audience members can relate to and understand. We select a theme that would make a spectacular show, and each show is set in the city of Janesville."
Besides the shows and tournaments, the Aqua Jays also conduct the Learn to Ski event in which they teach residents how to water ski. This year’s program will be held at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, in Traxler Park.
"That’s the event we get the most questions about," Cullen said. "People want to bring their kids and grandkids down to learn how to water ski."
Cullen said his family has been involved with the Aqua Jays since 1977.
"I used to be one of the skiers, and now I’m one of the boat drivers," Cullen said. "At 46, I let the younger people do the skiing. I stay on the boat and hope they do well.
"It’s a family environment. There’s many second-generation members. It’s a nice, family atmosphere that you can be competitive with."
The team has received plentiful support from the community and the city, Rezin said.
"We wouldn’t be able to have a quality team or a quality ski show site without the support of the city," he said.
Eyes on nationals
Looking to derail the Aqua Jays’ triple crown hopes are last year’s Division 2 national champions, the Twin Lakes Aquanuts.
"We took first place last year, and we’re hoping to repeat," said Cindy Amore, Aquanuts president. "We’re going to be on our best game. We’re going to fine-tune what we do on the water and onstage."
So far this year, the Aquanuts have taken third place in the Mercury Open Water Ski Tournament and in the Division 1 Wisconsin State Ski Championship.
The group performs at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend at Lance Park in Twin Lakes.
This year’s Aquanuts program features a game show theme, with ballet lines, aerial jumps, pyramids, barefooting techniques and comedy all woven into the performance, Amore said.
"It’s about a game show host that’s high maintenance and a production manager that provides comic relief," she said.
It takes the efforts of more than 100 members to put the team on its winning ways. Team members range in age from 8 to 52, and some of the boat drivers are in their 60s, Amore said.
"It’s an ageless kind of sport," she said. "The boat drivers are just as important as the skiers. Without either one of them, the show doesn’t happen."
Amore has been involved with the Aquanuts for more than 25 years, and now her children are involved as well.
"It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great family sport," Amore said. "You get to know other families. It’s one of the more active nonprofit groups that I’ve been involved with."
Team benefits community
The Minneiska Water Ski Team recently showed off its skills by taking second place in the Division 3 Wisconsin State Ski Championship in Wisconsin Rapids.
"We did really well," said Julie Abramson, team treasurer. "It was a long weekend of water skiing, but it was a lot of fun."
Despite the impressive finish, Minneiska will not be participating in the national tournament this year.
"Too many members had other commitments, so we’re not able to compete in the nationals," Abramson said.
The group performs its weekly shows on Saturday evenings at Scenic Ridge Campground on Whitewater Lake just southeast of Whitewater.
"We get a lot of people from the campground. We get a lot of people from around the lake," Abramson said. "A lot of people from the community come out and see the show."
Besides providing entertainment, the approximately 30 Minneiska team members give back to the community through an annual benefit show.
"Every year we talk about what we want to do a benefit for," Abramson said. "We’ve done benefits for the American Cancer Society and the food pantry."
Back to basics
The Lauderdale Lake Aqua Skiers is a young, up-and-coming team with about 30 members.
"The average age of our members is 13, but we have whole families involved as well," said Bill Simo, team president. "We have grandkids to grandparents, which is very unique. That’s one of the things that we’re proud of. We do this as a family."
The group performs at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at Babe Mann Park in Elkhorn and at Lauderdale Landing in Elkhorn five times a year.
"We do a basic water ski show with costumes, music and announcing," Simo said. "We usually do a theme, but since many of our members just joined last year, we thought it might be difficult to work on a theme.
"With our team being young, we want them to learn the basics."
Because team members are concentrating on honing their skills, they have not participated in any tournaments this year.
"We used to be very competitive, now we’re just out to have a good time," he said. "We just want to teach people the sport of show water skiing."
The team is looking for more members. For more information, go to Laswaterskiteam.com.