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Posted: 3:09 PM- PROVO -- The boat engine roared, the rope went taut and water-skier Scotcq Chipman rose out of Utah Lake's warm, brownish water for his first slalom practice run of the morning.
Chipman followed the speedboat between two buoys, then angled sharply to his right. He let go of the ski-rope handle with his right hand to make a sharp, hairpin turn around a synthetic ball bobbing on the channel, the first of six he would whip around on his slalom run down a channel flanked by reeds reaching 10 feet above the shallow lake's surface.
Returning to a two-hand hold, he picked up speed while crossing the boat's wake, then used his right hand only as he made a hairpin turn around the first ball on the channel's left side.
Back and forth he went, two hands then one, left turn then right, rounding six balls in all. Not quite 17 seconds elapsed from start to finish. But in that brief span, Chipman put his body through the torsional rigors of speeds fluctuating from 35 mph just before a whiplash-inducing turn to 55 mph ripping through the wake.
"He sure makes it look easy," said boat driver Paul Garskecq, a retired ski patrol director at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort.
So Garske made it harder for Chipman, shortening the rope by 6 feet for Training Run No. 2. The shorter the rope, the harder the whip going around the ball, the greater the need to stay true to the proper techniques of slalom water-skiing. For run No. 3, the rope was shortened another 3 feet.
Chipman, a 38-year-old meteorologist from Draper, usually trains three days a week from midspring to midfall, honing his skills for a series of competitions conducted under the auspices of USA Water Ski.
The first is SaturdayJune 30 at Sunten Lakes in Tooele County. From Sunten, a pair of lakes built in the 1980s specifically for water-skiing, competitors will go Sunday to Shoshone, Idaho, for day two of what is called the "Salt Lake to Sun Valley" event.
Nearly three dozen competitors will vie for what Gary Storey, organizer of day two's activities, described simply as "ski whiz recognition."
That recompense is good enough for Chipman, who noted, "once you get skiing, you get hooked. It's like a drug. If I don't ski three to four times a week, I go through withdrawal."
He and Garske often take turns driving the boat while the other practices turns, joined at times by some of the other 60 members of the Utah Water Ski Club. On a hot morning in mid-June, they were joined by Vickie Smoot, a 46-year-old legal secretary from Holladay who started skiing 16 years ago.
"After I had my first baby, I wanted to do something new," said Smoot, now the mother of three teenagers. "It's the hardest thing you'll ever do in 18 seconds. You never work so hard and have such a thrill in such a short time."
Chipman has been water-skiing seriously since about 1990, motivated initially by a desire to become as good as an older brother who was away on an LDS Church mission.
"Water-skiing is a lot like golf," he said. "You can ski and ski and ski for years and keep on improving into your 50s. That's why I like it so much. I have another 15 good years."
At 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, Chipman is slight compared to the best national and international-caliber water-skiers, most of whom are built lean but solid like beach volleyball players who might run 6-foot-3, 180 pounds.
"You don't need a lot of strength, but you have to be in shape," said Chipman, pointing to the physically fit, 55-year-old Garske and observing "the way Paul is skiing he could be in his best in his 60s."
Today, the sport involves far more men than women. Smoot attributes the difference to the physical toll exacted in learning to water-ski competitively.
"The learning curve is steep. You get hurt a lot," she said. "You do a lot of headers. I've been in the hospital with a sprained neck. If you're not in the right position, you turf it."
Even someone as accomplished as Chipman has been injured, twice tearing his rotator cuff.
But water-skiers are tough -- and committed to their sport.
This summer's competitions at Sunten Lakes will be overseen by Mike Parsons, a Richfield native who became hooked on water-skiing while attending the University of Utah.
Several of the Midwesterners he befriended there eventually stayed in Utah, bought property and water rights five miles south of Rush Valley in central Tooele County, and created two lakes for water-skiing. The north-south Sunten Lake is a half-mile long and 75 yards wide, while an east-west lake is 2,000 feet long and 50 feet wide.
Parsons skied on the larger lake for the first time the day before his wife gave birth to a boy 25 years ago. That son, Nick, is now ranked 15th in the world among male slalom water-skiers and the only Utahn on the professional water-skiing tour. Parsons' daughter Christine, 22, is a regional champion.
For Saturday's competition, three judges will watch from various vantage points to make sure skiers go around the slalom balls.
Competitors score a point for each ball they successfully pass. If they take a tumble on a turn, they still can pick up quarter- or half-points, depending how far around the ball they go before falling. With each passing round, the rope gets shorter.
Parsons would love to see more spectators come out to observe the daylong competition, confident they will be entertained.
"You can ski a personal best, but there's always more," he said. "You're constantly striving for perfection, which is always the next buoy."
Raising Rooster Tails
The Utah Water Ski Club will co-sponsor seven water skiing competitions this summer. All but one are at Sunten Lakes, 5 miles south of Rush Valley in central Tooele County, and are part of USA Water Ski's 136-event circuit
Saturday, June 30 Salt Lake to Sun Valley Day 1, Sunten Lakes
Saturday, July 14 Stanleys 007 Cup, Sunten Lakes
Sunday, July 15 Battle of the Buoys, Sunten Lakes
Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 4-5 Goode Utah State Championships, Sunten Lakes
Saturday, Aug. 11 Call's Fort Slalom Bonanza at Call's Fort Lake (north of Brigham City)
Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 25-26 007 Psycho Slaloms, Day 1 and 2, Sunten Lakes Source: Utah Water Ski Club
See a waterskiing photo gallery online at http://www.sltrib.com/outdoors