Earlier this year, the business of politics took me to one of my favorite places in the Palmetto State, the coastal town of Beaufort.
Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of leisure time in that fair city, usually during their annual Water Festival. The Water Festival, it turns out, brings together two of my favorite things: water and festing.
During my most recent journey to Beaufort, I noticed that preparations were already underway for this year’s H2O Fest, and it brought to mind my most memorable trip to that event – eleven years ago this month – when we made the trip on water skis.
“We” were my younger brother, Shawn, a well-known computer guru now living in Northeast Columbia; my close friend Joe Agnew, the Lake Murray dock-building legend who first brought The Southern Patriot tour boat to the Midlands of SC; and myself – yours truly – an aging, out-of-shape, overweight geezer who could have made a lot of money taking bets on whether or not I could actually water-ski 162 miles in a day.
Actually, this tale began back in 1959, when my dad, Ryan Shealy, was a member of the S.C. House of Representatives from Lexington County. At that time, some of the 1950’s economic development types were discussing whether or not the Congaree River could be made navigable for commercial purposes, allowing Columbia to become an inland port. Dad was a member of the legislative study committee considering the proposal, and he took it upon himself to help demonstrate for certain that the riverways from Charleston to Columbia were in fact navigable: In August, 1959, he made the162-mile river trip from Columbia to Charleston on a pair of skis. Understandably, the wire services picked up the story: Legislator Waterskis 162 Miles.
Fast-forward to the mid-90’s, when his oldest son was on a leisurely, weekend boat trip down the river with friends, when the subject of the decades-old ski-trip came up.
Maybe it was the sun and the heat. Maybe it was the distraction of the river scenery. Possibly someone had even spiked my lemonade. To this day, I don’t know what caused it… but, almost as in an out-of-body, dream-like state, I heard the words “I could do that” come out of my mouth!
And just like that, plans were being made for a water-ski adventure the following year. Never mind the fact that I had not actually water-skiied a single time since a high-school football knee injury 25 years earlier.
In late-March, 1996, I entered the frigid waters of Lake Murray to waterski for the first time in a quarter of a century. Remarkably, I stayed up for almost 5 minutes… and thought I was going to die! I couldn’t breathe at the end, and could hardly move the next day. “Never again,” I said to myself, marveling that I had entertained such a ludicrous idea over the winter months.
But the following week, I tried again, and made it 10 minutes… and then 18 minutes a week later. Before long, summertime had arrived, and I was skiing an hour or two every Saturday morning.
By this time, brother Shawn and Joe Agnew had joined me, and the planned trip had actually become a charity fundraiser for our local Chapin Optimist Club. Shawn and I would take the first leg, from Granby Landing in Cayce to Charleston Harbor, and Joe would ski the following day from Charleston to Beaufort via the Intercoastal Waterway.
At 7:00 am on a Thursday morning in July, we put two boats in the water and headed for the Beaufort Water Festival. Seven-and-a-half hours, 162-miles, five no-wake zones, one gas stop, and a few mishaps later, we made it to Charleston. The next day, Joe skied the rest of the way to Beaufort, while I took it easy in the boat.
Friday afternoon, we pulled into the marina in the middle of the Beaufort Water Festival. They sent a photographer from the local paper to snap a picture. (The Thursday trip – Columbia to Charleston – had actually been documented by Columbia TV station WOLO, which sent two camera crews with us on the trip. Later, the trip would be written up in WaterSki Magazine, a national publication which apparently covers all aspects of the sport, regardless of the blatant lack of athleticism which might be displayed by a participant.)
I guess, once again, it has now been six or eight years since I’ve even had a pair of water skis on. (I DID try snow-skiing for the first time back in 2002, figuring that if I can water-ski 162 miles, certainly I can make it down a hill in the snow. WRONG! On a record-setting cold day in West Virginia, I DEFINITELY made my first and last trip down a hill on snow skis!)
And, though I doubt I’ll be waterskiing down to Beaufort ever again, I do hope to make it to the Water Festival again. And you should, too. For information on the Beaufort Water Festival, visit: bftwaterfestival.com. (You won’t find it on their official schedule, but I recommend just hanging out on the sandbar on Sunday afternoon.)