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'Hit it!' heard more than ever

These days a shocking array of towables with people attached at the hips, knees or feet zip across lakes. If it floats, it'll find fans.

September 07, 2004|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

Castaic Lake — Victim No. 1 strips down from Puma sweats to a pink and black bikini, straps on a life vest and dips her angel-design wakeboard into the glassy water. The teenager squirts a mound of shaving cream into the bindings to slick the neoprene and slips off the stern, tow line in hand.

"This is cold!" she yelps, bobbing. But in seconds Karen Zieger forgets about her chicken skin. She's up on the board grinning, lanky arms taut as she hopscotches the frothy wake to blaring hip-hop from a passing speedboat.

In a single lap around this scrub-lined lake, she zips by a hydrofoil skier floating 2 feet above the water, another wakeboarder, a little kid on a big red ski tube and a skurfer, a ski/surfer, balancing on a surfboard.

Three decades ago, we either crisscrossed the wake on a pair of skinny boards or rocketed off the lip on the black innards of a tractor tire. These days, stoked by boredom, we'll ride "anything that floats," says Cary Flebbe, Castaic's sun-kissed senior lifeguard.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Hydrofoil water ski -- A caption with a photo in Tuesday's Outdoors section identified a hydrofoil water skiing device as an AirChair. The photo showed a Sky Ski.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 14, 2004 Home Edition Outdoors Part F Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Hydrofoil water ski -- A caption in the Sept. 7 Outdoors section incorrectly identified a hydrofoil water skiing device as an AirChair. The device in the photograph is a Sky Ski.

Recreational restlessness inevitably clutters boats.

"As a person gets out there on a kneeboard as their first experience behind a boat, before long they see someone out on two skis or maybe barefooting or on a hydrofoil or a wakeboard, and before you know it, that person then is out trying all of those types of things," says Steve McDermeit, executive director of USA Water Ski, the national governing body for organized water skiing and towables.

Ski tubes, which come in shapes as varied as an Apollo space capsule or a hot dog, swarm Los Angeles County reservoirs. But only a fraction of the millions of U.S. water skiers has ever seen a hydrofoil ski, says Bob Woolley, the founder and owner of AirChair, the Lake Havasu company that co-holds the patent.

Though more than a decade old, the invention draws stares. The rider hovers a couple of feet above the chop, guided by the bladed metal rod, or hydrofoil, protruding from the ski's bottom.

Woolley understands the reaction. "When I first started messing with the prototypes, I was just building something to have fun with, but I couldn't ever go out and ride it without drawing a crowd. Everyone would follow me and yell and scream, 'What is that thing?' "

The Zieger family has learned to dodge the AirChair and countless other devices in the Castaic Lake flotsam. Forget about weekend outings, says Karen's dad, Gary.

By 11 a.m., the churn of 500 boats and 150 personal watercraft -- the reservoir's mandated capacity -- turns the place into a wall of white water that's useless for anything but ski tubing.

So the Ziegers go on a Tuesday. Early. When the water's glassy and there's little competition to get out and do their thing.

"Down!" yells Karen's friend, holding up the red flag that indicates to other boaters that a boarder -- or skier, or tuber, or other rider of foaming wakes -- is floating nearby, having swallowed or inhaled a small portion of the lake.

Karen is lying on her back, buoyed by her life vest and the board, when her dad circles back to give her the tow line and another shot at jumping the water kicked up by the boat.

"Is the water really cold?" asks her friend, who will soon become victim No. 2, hugging her legs tight.

"It's warm when you fall," Karen says.

Then she grabs the line and yells, "Hit it!"

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