In the world of water skiing, Mt. Vernon graduate Nate Smith is on top of the world. Not only is he winning nearly every tournament he enters, but he recently broke the world record at 2.5 buoys at 43’ off. And did I mention he’s only 22 years old?
Entering the professional water skiing tour at the age of 19, Smith was the youngest on the tour by nearly a decade. In his short career, he’s been named USA Waterski Male Athlete of the Year, American Water Ski Association Male Slalom Skier of the Year, Ball of Spray’s Male Skier of the Year, Waterski Magazine Slalom Skier of the Year and on, and on, and on. In addition, he won every pro tournament he entered in 2012 until last September. This year, he didn’t win the opening tournament in Melbourne, Australia, or the Masters but has won every tournament since then including a world record-setting run recently in Covington, Louisiana.
“Yeah, it’s been a pretty wild ride,” he said during a recent GeistTV interview in his backyard overlooking Champion Lake where he honed his skills.
Smith started competing when he was 8 years old. He still has his first water ski in his basement which has slowly been converted into a family-run Nate Smith shrine by his mother, Joan. Jerseys on the curtain rods, magazines featuring Smith on the cover, trophies and a stack of large checks adorn the walk-out basement just steps away from the lake he grew up on and still trains on year-round.
For those unfamiliar with how the sport works, here’s a quick primer: a ski boat pulls the competitor at a constant speed of 36 mph through a series of six buoys that are 38’ from the center of the boat. They zig zag around each of the buoys, and at the end of each pass, they shorten the rope making it more difficult to complete the pass. The tow rope is 75’ long, so when Smith did his world record run at “43-off,” he had 43’ subtracted from the 75’ rope leaving him with only 32’ of rope to navigate around a buoy that is 38’ away. Get that? The rope is 6’ shorter than the distance to the buoy.
“That’s where my height (6’2”) and agility come in handy,” said Smith with a smile.
So what does the life of a professional water skier look like? According to Smith, it’s transient to say the least. “I spend most of my time on airplanes,” he explains. “We arrive at a weekend tournament a few days early to get acclimated to the time change and weather, practice, do prelims and then compete on the final day. Then we pack up and fly to the next tournament.”
As for compensation, Smith receives a salary from Nautique Boats and D3 Skis, both of which benefit greatly from his notoriety and podium visits. Tournament travel expenses are also covered by his sponsors, allowing him to pocket any cash winnings he earns. When asked what he plans to do after skiing, he quickly responds, “There’s a guy on the tour who is 51 years old!”
To keep up with our local water ski professional and world record holder, you can follow him on Facebook (/natesmith43) and Twitter (@natesmith43) or through his website at www.NateSmith43.com.