Picture yourself on a ramp close to the water, skis on your feet, a tow-rope in your hand. Suddenly, you're jerked into the water by an overhead cable circling a small lake at 20 miles an hour. You wobble a bit until you get the hang of it – so to speak – but, pretty soon, you're bouncing along the surface and looking forward to your first trick or jump.
You've just been introduced to cable skiing, a hybrid of surfing, skiing and wakeboarding that's the newest wave on the water.
Accomplished cable-skiers can do spins, flips and twists, and they can soar 10 feet above the water while rotating a wakeboard over their heads in a thrilling maneuver called a front roll.
One of the best places to try cable skiing is at Ski Rixen USA, in Deerfield Beach's Quiet Waters Park. The 2,700-foot oval course is said to be the longest of any of the 10 cable ski operations in the United States. Riders get a full minute and a half of ski-time as they complete one circuit.
"We don't have this in Seattle," said Mike Gelb, a professor of chemistry at the University of Washington, who made a stop at Ski Rixen during a recent business trip. "It's a thing I like to do that I can't do at home."
Cable-skiing equipment is adapted from snow ski lifts. The cable turns on giant horizontal wheels suspended on towers 20 feet over the water at each turn in the oval. Attached to the cable are eight to 10 leads, fastened to tow bars that skiers grab.
Gelb first tried cable skiing in Germany, where the sport was born 50 years ago. The inventor, engineer Bruno Rixen, opened the first course in the United States at the park in Deerfield Beach.
There are also courses in Fort Myers, Tampa and Orlando, making Florida the premier destination for both novice and pro participants.
The appeal of cable-skiing will not be lost on parents trying to plan a family trip that includes hard-to-satisfy teens. And while riders must wear helmets and life vests, many find cable-skiing a more relaxed alternative to boat skiing.
"When you do it behind a boat out on the ocean, it's kind of scary," said Autumn Tust, 13, "But here it's fun because you're on a lake with all of your friends." Tust took up cable skiing after she turned 12, the minimum age at Ski Rixen.
When it comes to cost, cable-towing eliminates the need for a boat, a driver and a spotter, as well as the expense of fuel, said Brita Schipner, who runs Ski Rixen USA. "With $25 in your pocket, you can go and ride."
Safety inspections are held regularly by state regulators and SkiRixen's insurance underwriter.
"They've had a good record with us," said Allan Harrison, chief of the Florida Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection.
Beginners watch a short video and must make their first circuit on a kneeboard before strapping on a wakeboard.
"You don't have to be a super athlete," Schipner said. "Basically to go out and learn in one lesson, or two hours."
Paola Oliveira tried cable skiing for the first time at SkiRixen. She fell on her first circuit, but soon was back in line to give it another go.
"I've done wakeboarding behind a boat before, but it's different," said Oliveira, an account executive for an advertising agency in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "You just have to get used to it."
If You Go
Ski Rixen USA is about a 20-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale, located at 401 S. Powerline Road, inside a county park. It is open every day, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., except Monday. Call 954-429-0215.
Other Florida cable skiing courses can be found at:
Revolution Cable is located at 17590 East Street, North Fort Myers. The hours are Wednesday through Friday, 1 - 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon - 8 p.m. Call 239-656-3000.
McCormick's Waterski Wakeboard and Cable Park is located at 2020 McCormick Lakes Way, Seffner (near Tampa). It's open seven days a week, noon - 7 p.m. Call 813-681-4441.
Wet N' Wild is located at 6200 International Drive, Orlando. Hours vary by season. Call 407-351-1800.
Orlando Water Sports Complex is located at 8615 Florida Rock Road, Orlando. Hours vary by season. Call 407-251-3100.