Sunday, December 03, 2000

Water skiers laugh off cold self-torture

'Ski, Freeze or Die' is annual event

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWTOWN — His face was flushed, his hair was wet and the cold water and air had turned his feet and toes a holiday red. He shook and shivered as he left the lake and peeled off his dry suit.

        “It's fun, a fun event,” said Ken Hawley, who is 46 and lives in Hyde Park. As he skied across the lake, his goggles had turned frosty. “Now I need to get my toes warm.”

        It's called “Ski, Freeze or Die,” an annual event held the first Saturday in December, except the skiing here is not on a snow-covered slope, but on the wind-whipped surface of a lake.

        For the past four years they have been coming here, to a tiny pocket of Newtown tucked away at the end of a gravel road, where they have planted palm trees and constructed a tiki hut, erected a sign — “Entering Palm Beach County” — all of it overlooking a 140-acre lake that was once a gravel pit.

        But even before Newtown, the event stretches back almost 20 years, to at least 1982, held at different lakes or stretches of river in the Tristate.

        By early afternoon Saturday, about a dozen water skiers had assembled. They built a robust fire near the dried, withering palms, made a pot of chili and offered hot cocoa and coffee. The wind was stiff, the lake choppy, the temperature in the teens.

        The weather was perfect for Paul Hudak, of Norwood. “If you're not going to freeze, it's not worth it,” he said.

        Kent Arnold, of Mount Lookout, runs the Extreme WaterSports Ski Club, which has about 15 members and conducts water-ski tourneys during the summer at the lake.

        Mike Erdman, 40, of Anderson Township, dressed in a dry suit, was the first to race across the lake.

        “When your skin hits that wa ter, you feel it,” he said. “Your feet and hands feel like somebody hit them with a sledgehammer — they go numb instantly. Now I know how they felt on the Titanic.”

        “None of us have a life,” suggested Chris Nelson, 40, of Wilder, Ky.

        Gary Schaffeld, 46, of Deer Park, slipped across the lake at more than 30 mph, the motorboat kicking up a heavy spray that slapped at his face.

        “Woo, baby,” he said as he got back to the dock, looking a bit weather-beaten. “That was downright painful. The spray off that boat was a killer.”

        He turned and walked off for the fire and a bowl of hot chili.


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- Water skiers laugh off cold self-torture
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