originally posted April 30, 2011

If you grew up where I grew up, this sight is nothing new.  You know it immediately.  Not because we all had boats, but because we lived in a small town.  And on any given weekend throughout the summer, you could go to the river, hang out on the dunes, and hop a ride in one of several ski boats playing for the weekend.  Riding behind a ski boat, whether on skis, or on my preferred kneeboard, is an interesting experience.  Being pulled along under only the power of something external to you–hanging onto the ski rope, knowing that letting go meant you were in the drink, waiting for the boat to circle back.

But this post is not about skiing, or kneeboarding, or neighbors generously using what they have so that everyone can enjoy the experience.  This post is about wakes.

A wake is those waves you see.  It is the churn put out by the combination of the boat prop (the center “V” in the water) and the physics of the boat cutting through the water, leaving a trail (the wider “V” in the water).  And no, this post is not about the wake we leave or the water we churn.

So what is the point?  I set out to write a post about rewards.  And when I came across this picture, in God’s funny way, He brought my thoughts together through the image of water sports.

You see, if you are on the water, holding onto a ski rope, and you do nothing but stay up, physics will naturally have you in the middle of the wake–just behind the inner V and inside the outer V.  You can rest there in a sense, because it takes the least amount of energy to just ride along.

But the true joy of riding behind the boat is getting outside the wake.  For those who have been in the boat or behind it, the first measure of success is getting up.  The second measure is getting outside the wake.  And when that happens for the first time, the entire boat erupts with cheers–having been sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for it to happen.

Getting outside the wake is hard.  It takes different muscles than you can imagine.  In ways, you lean away from teh source of power–the boat–while pulling hard on the rope.  Seems pretty anti-thetical, eh?  Then, you push the outside edge into the water, angle your body and board, and go.

There is no room for timidity in trying to get outside the wake.  If you are timid, you will get caught up in the “chop” at the very edge of the wake.  Look at the picture–see that water turmoil at the top edge of the wake?  It is merciless–and it will take the edge of your board and flip you like nothing.  And it is choppy.  Sitting at the edge of the wake is the most brutal ride.  Whether on skis or a board, the vibrations of all that churned water pound through the board, rattle your bones, and bounces your rope-holding arms up, down and sideways.

And when trying to get outside the wake, if you spend too long on that edge, you will eventually pull back, sit up, and let natural physics pull you back behind the boat.

Timidity is a recipe for disaster.  Because even if you do just slightly creep over that wake edge, check out where that chop is falling–immediately outside the wake.  If you just creep over the edge, not only does it take an incredible amount of energy to stay in that timid spot, you are also at risk for the wake pushing you over.

But the best ride is outside the wake.  the smoothest water is out there.  Those rooster tails you see in water sports happen when the board slices through the water out there.  The best pictures come from there.  And the best feeling of holding the rope with one hand, leaning over as far as you dare, reaching out with the other hand, and dragging the free hand in the water.  Not only does the board spray water, but the hand shoots it’s own rooster tail as well.

That is why the boat cheers when someone gets outside the wake for the first time.  And though the first time outside the wake results in a surprised skier who ends up losing focus and crashing, it is a taste of the big time.  And the next time up, timidity is gone.  Confidence rises.  And they get outside the wake quicker–and aren’t so surprised to be there.

Then they watch others ski.  They know what it “feels” like, which muscles it takes, and how to lean appropriately–so they watch better skiers.  They watch and learn.

They learn that you don’t have to spend so much time on the chop.  You can angle more sharply and shoot outside the wake quickly–skipping entirely the wake chop and undertow next to it.

They learn that one-handed rope-holding is not as scary as it looks.

They learn that leaning over to touch the water at 20mph looks like an amazing experience.

And they learn that crashing out there isn’t so bad.  Some crashes are even more spectacular out there.  I remember my brother, as he learned to slalom (one ski), he did great–and then he stepped out of the ski before letting go of the rope–and cartwheeled across the lake.  Spectacular wreck, no injuries, and the exhilaration of his first successful slalom.

This is why the boat cheers.  Yes, the success of getting outside the wake is great.  But more than that, the boat cheers because we all know the exhilaration to come.

It takes muscle tone to get outside the wake.  It takes confidence, a bit of fearlessness, and a respect for the water.  It takes the assurance of the boat driver–knowing that when the skier says “hit it,” the immediate, loud, sound of the boat must be ignored in order to get up.

It takes forgetting that you are traveling anywhere from 20-35mph with only a life jacket on you and a flagger in the boat for protection.  Because if you wreck, it is the flagger’s job to alert the driver and lift the flag up so other boats will keep their distance.  And it is the life jacket’s job to keep you afloat.

And that is all you need.  An attentive flagger–and a life jacket.

Get outside the wake in life.  You’re already “up.”  But if you are spending your Christian life lazily just holding onto the rope and getting pounded by the wake, you are missing out.

Get outside the wake.  Lean back, pull on that rope, angle yourself out of the rut you are in, and shoot out beyond the chop.

For God drives your boat.
For Christ is your flagger.
And the Spirit is your life jacket.

And that is all you need for a life of adventure and exhilaration.

Get outside the wake.

photo by Ariel da Silva Parreira 

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