On the two-hour drive from Austin to the Barefoot Ski Ranch in Waco, I’ve been chattering away about my teenage summer-camp waterskiing skills. I’m looking forward to seeing if I’ve still got the chops all these years later.
Barefoot Ski Ranch Cable Park is at 5347 Old Mexia Road in Waco. For hours, admission prices, and other details, see www.bsrcablepark.com.
“How different can waterskiing behind a boat be from wakeboarding underneath a cable that’s 30 feet in the air?” I ask my traveling companion. I’ll find out soon, we agree.
Like traditional waterparks do, the 450-acre Barefoot Ski Ranch offers plenty of attractions to keep visitors busy: There’s a winding and crystal-clear lazy river for floating, a 100-foot water slide called “The Royal Flush,” a small sand beach for lounging, and a bar and grill with sandwiches, fried catfish platters, salads, and other fare suitable for bathing-suit dining. Yet it’s clear from the moment we pull into the rocky parking lot and park next to a few muddy trucks that BSR is designed for adrenaline-fueled fun. Owners Royal Wiseman and Stuart Parson, two former competitive barefoot skiers, are firm believers that the best kind of fun happens on the water.
While Wiseman and Parson are serious about both wakeboarding and “barefooting” (I feel silly when it registers halfway through my chat with Wiseman that barefoot skiing is exactly what it sounds like), BSR feels welcoming for everyone, especially beginners. Wiseman and Parson opened the park in 2012, and it has grown organically since then. “We just started teaching people how to wakeboard,” says Wiseman. Almost four years later, teaching wakeboarding and barefooting is still a major part of how they run the park, and we enjoy a first-hand taste. For $45 each, we’re set up with equipment and a two-hour pass, and Wiseman soon sends us off with an instructor to one of the four “Little Bro” teaching lakes.
I ease into the warm water, strap my feet into my wakeboard, and tightly grip the handles of the cable running above me, eager to “graduate” and make my way into the main cable park behind us. Here’s the setup: At each of the lakes, there’s a motorized cable that runs about 30 feet above the water, almost like a ski lift. The “Little Bro” lakes have one cable that runs back and forth for teaching purposes, with the speed being controlled by the instructor. At the main cable park, the cable runs in a circle around the lake, and riders (up to eight at a time) grab the cable from a pickup spot on a cedar dock.
One of the differences between wakeboarding with a cable, as opposed to being pulled by a boat, is that the start is much more sudden. It can be hard to get the hang of, I’ve heard, so I feel good when I do pretty well on the first go-around—until my instructor speaks up. “That’s about half the speed it will be out there,” he deadpans, gesturing toward the oval-shaped main cable park. There, half a dozen teenagers in brightly colored surf gear are flying across the water, using “kickers” and “rails” (white obstacles similar to skateboard ramps in the water) to propel them high in the air for flips and twists.
That’s another difference between wakeboarding from a cable instead of a boat: The long length of the vertical cable allows stunt lovers to jump much higher, take turns faster, and perform more impressive feats than they could execute from behind a boat. And so I’m a bit intimidated as I step up to the main cable park’s starting dock. Despite the patient directions and encouragement from the instructor at the dock, I can’t even get started. Each time my turn comes up to grab the cable, I’m pulled off the dock with a jerk and dropped into the water—sometimes face first. The talented and sporty teenagers encourage me as I hop out and circle back to stand in line again, dragging my wakeboard under my arm. “You’ll get it,” they say. “The start is the hardest.” And eventually, I do. But I don’t get very far—as I try to negotiate the first turn, my board takes me sideways and back into the moss-green water.
Two hours later, I’ve made my way successfully around the loop only once, but I’m feeling accomplished. Sitting on the upper patio of the Bar & Grill with wet hair and aching legs, my companion and I clink our ice-cold longnecks and congratulate ourselves, vowing to come back. Down below, other wakeboarders have joined the teenagers, and we enjoy a show as they round that first turn with tricks and jumps. We muse that it’s worth a visit just to sit up here on dry land, watching the expert wakeboarders as they swing, flip, and glide around the water in synchronicity, dipping in and out of their own wakes.
As for me, I definitely don’t have the watersports skills I enjoyed in my youth. I spent more time crashing into the water than anything else, and I’m feeling sore and a little beat-up after our two hours in the park. But I’m also feeling energized, and hooked. I’m already ready to hit the water and give it another try.