Hanging on by a Rope

photo by Corban Franklin
photo by Corban Franklin

Hanging on by a Rope

Summer is here, and for a lot of us, lake days are what it is all about. Whether you are spending the weekend with family or with friends, summers at the lake make for some great memories, especially when you are speeding across the water being pulled behind a boat on a tube, a knee board, or skis. Tubing and knee boarding are both thrilling and can be physically demanding, but they require little skill. Skiing, however, requires balance and practice and can challenge your body with significant cardio and strength training. It is difficult, but for those who know what they are doing, skiing can provide a lifetime of summers full of excitement and fun.

Ralph Samuelson could never have imagined all the joy his invention of water skiing has given so many people all over the world. When he began experimenting with two boards and a clothesline for a towrope 100 years ago on July 2, 1922, a sport was born that has challenged, frustrated, and been enjoyed by millions, including many people in Texarkana.

A century later, a hazy sun slowly rises over glistening turquoise dyed water in Zachary, Louisiana as wildlife chirp, whistle and sing a wakeup call to students attending Bennett’s Water Ski & Wakeboard School. The faint scent of eggs, bacon and pancakes wafts through the dorms. The start of a Mastercraft boat engine growls in the distance as staff prepare water ski equipment for students. It’s already hot and muggy in this tucked away bedroom community of Baton Rouge, LA, but it doesn’t matter since most of the day will be spent on the water learning a much more advanced version of Samuelson’s invention.

A voice over an intercom wakes the students, “Attention, breakfast will be served in 10 minutes in the dining hall, then stretches and warm up in the driveway.” It’s the voice of Anne Bennett, a championship water skier, now aged 65. She and hardworking husband Jay founded the school in 1980 and still run it today. Anne can still often be seen gliding down the lake in her off time.

One of those groggy students heading to breakfast is Cole Shipp, who is there with his father, Chad Shipp, from Texarkana.

It’s 2016, Cole’s first time at Bennett’s, and by the end of the week his goal is to be a slalom skier—a person who can ski on a single ski.

Cole attends the school two more times in following years. Now age 17, he reflects, “Bennett’s is a lot of fun and I’ve made several friends there who I still talk to,” says Cole. He often showcases his skills for friends on weekend trips to the lake. “When I was thirteen, I slalomed thirteen miles across Lake DeGray. I was so tired!” he exclaims.

Fast forward to June 2022, and it is Cole’s 14-year-old sister, Caroline Shipp, following in her brother’s footsteps or skis.

Caroline’s goal is the same, to become a slalom skier by the end of her one week stay. “I want to learn to slalom because so few people do it anymore. I already surf and wakeboard and I ski on a pair, but I want to slalom.”

Both Cole and Caroline have been pushed to learn water skiing from their dad, who learned how to ski on a pair around age 4 at Lake Greeson, taught by his parents. “My mom cut up some old adult skis, painted them yellow, tied them together and we hit the water. My dad was a boat dealer, so we spent a lot of time on the lake. I learned to ski behind a jet boat! My parents skied most summer weekends, so it was just natural that I’d learn to ski, too. I was on a slalom around age 8. And that pair of yellow skis is still in my attic.”

Chad says bringing his kids to ski school is a luxury that’s not required and that both could learn to slalom ski at any local lake, but Bennett’s is great father/kid time. “It’s a unique place only 5 hours away and one that is sought after by pros and college students from all over the world. I just enjoy the time alone doing something fun with the kids that doesn’t include video games or electronics.”

Chad never attended any ski schools and never competed, nor will his kids. “This is strictly for fun and the memories we’re making,” he says.

As a boy, Chad read Water Ski Magazine and paid attention to the sport but attending a ski school wasn’t an option. “We went to a few competitions at Champion Lake in Shreveport as observers. It’s fun to watch,” Shipp stated.

“As far as Bennett’s goes, I might be living vicariously through my children,” he laughs. While most parents drop their kids off here for the week, I rent a lake cottage and stay with them and get a lot of great photos. In the evening, the lake is turned over to the college kids who work at Bennett’s, and we watch them slalom and do tricks and jumps. I feel very at home in this environment,” he says.

For anyone who wants to learn to ski, Shipp recommends patience and practice. He says it’s not as easy to learn like other water sports, such as knee boarding, surfing or wakeboarding. “Standing on a skinny slalom ski at 30-plus mph will definitely result in some hard falls, and it takes a while to get the hang of it, which is why so few learn it anymore.”

As for Ralph Samuelson, no doubt he’d be happy to know just how much his sport has meant to so many, and if the Shipps have anything to say about it, it’s a legacy that will continue for another 100 years.

photo by Corban Franklin


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