ORONDO — For Steve Burdick and his family of four, water skiing is more than a summertime leisure activity enjoyed only when the Columbia River is glassy smooth.
It’s a lifestyle.
Drysuit or swimsuit, early mornings or late evenings, on most days during the spring, summer and fall, the Burdick family — with mom (Carolyn) driving — are out on the water knifing through chop and brisk water. They have to; it’s a prerequisite to compete at the national level.
Steve and his two kids, Jayden, 12, and Sarah, 10, typically compete in 15 to 20 slalom water skiing competitions around Central Washington and the Pacific Northwest each year. Just last month, the trio competed in the 79th GOODE Water Ski National Championships in Chicago, Illinois. Steve finished fourth in the Men’s 3 Slalom Division, Jayden took third in the Boys 2 Slalom and Sarah placed first in the Girls 1 Slalom.
“She just blew it out of the water,” Burdick said. ”I skied pretty well and my son did as well, but my daughter knocked it out of the park as far as performance goes. She ran a whole pass better than anyone else in the division and locally, she set a PNW record that had stood for 27 years. She killed it.”
In slalom competitions, skiers choose a starting speed and predetermined rope length — maxing out at 75 feet — ski through an entrance gate, around six buoys and then out an exit gate.
“If you miss any of that or fall, then your tournament ride is over,” Burdick said. “But if you make it to the other end of the lake you have to choose to either speed up or shorten the length of the rope. Each division has a max speed, so for instance, Sarah’s max speed was 30 mph this year, Jayden’s was 32 mph and mine was 34 mph. So essentially if the skier is going the max speed, the most buoys with the shortest length of rope are the winner.”
The national championships, which draws between 500 and 700 skiers from around the country, lasts a week. But competitors are given just one practice run and then have one shot on their event day.
“So you only get one chance to post the best possible score within your division,” Burdick said. “There’s not a lot of room for error.”
This past year was the fourth time the Burdicks have competed in the GOODE National Championship. Two years ago, the tournament was in Florida and Jayden was the No. 1 ranked skier in the country in his division.
He missed being the national champion by inches, Burdick said.
“It’s a very finicky sport; anything can happen. Just because you are the No. 1 seed doesn’t mean you’ll finish in the Top 10,” he said. “You only get one chance, so if something goes wrong, your ride is over.”
Getting into the sport
Burdick, who grew up in New Hampshire, got into water skiing while working at a summer camp out of high school. That’s also where he met his wife, Carolyn, who worked as one of the water ski instructors.
When they decided to have kids and move out west to Orondo, the Burdicks took advantage of the Columbia River’s easy access while joining a few private ponds in the state.
“We ski up by Sun Cove and belong to the Rock Island Ski Club,” Burdick said. “We also have a membership to a lake in Maytown on the west side that we use as well. It’s a family affair. Most parents who have kids that travel for soccer or volleyball, they’re part of the travel group but they don’t participate or compete. That’s what's cool because I get to compete with my kids and experience the same kind of stress, nervousness and anxiety that they go through.”
“Both my kids work really hard at doing their best every day and it’s a great way to teach perseverance, attitude and all the things you want to raise your kids to be. I’m super proud of what they’ve accomplished and what they can accomplish in the future.”
Since getting back from Chicago, the Burdick’s have already competed in four tournaments at their new maximum speeds — both Jayden and Sarah bumped up a division — and have three more on the schedule. Their next competition is at Tate Lake south of Othello this weekend.