Six orange balls bob on the horizon, as Thad Dulin adjusts his grip on the tow handle. At his “ready,” the green and white Ski Nautique 200 guns forward. Instincts take over, as the skier’s fingers tighten, his forearms extend, and his right heel presses downward. The lanky six-footer pops out of the water and attacks the buoys. Thad lays it down across a series of S turns, leaving a rooster tail of water in his wake. At 34-miles-per-hour, his body manipulates and masters up to 1,000 pounds of pull with each new angle.

In less time than it takes to post a photo, Thad’s done. He releases the rope, as a smile explodes across his face. “It’s exhilarating!” the 37-year-old declares of his renewed hobby. “It definitely satisfies my need for a rush and adrenaline. It’s the equivalent of going zero to 60, six times, in less than 20 seconds. You just want more.”   

After witnessing this spectacle of athletic, aquatic perfection, it’s hard to believe Thad ranks himself near the lower end of talent at the Lida Falls Ski Club. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. More cows know about the club than people, but that may be changing.

Two hundred head of Angus and Simmental graze just off of Highway 183, north of Easley. The 450-acre farm has been in Frank Finley’s family since 1930. He thought he’d seen it all, until two men drove down his long, dirt road almost two decades ago, asking if they could use one of his ponds to waterski. “It was kind of crazy,” the 82-year-old farmer recalls. “But I used to ski the Saluda River when I was young, and it was crowded, so I knew a little bit about it, and what they wanted.” 

“I was actually a professional cyclist for five years and raced some internationally. The hobbies I’m interested in are pretty difficult, and slalom skiing fits the mold.”—Thad Dulin

 

A deal was struck, and the duo formed their ski club, naming it for Frank’s wife, Lida, and the falls between two of his spring-fed ponds. The group first used the lower pond, which they quickly dubbed Butt-Pucker Lake, due to its abrupt, dog-leg left and right ends. A few years later, the men moved through Frank’s woods and across a pasture, to the larger, 12-acre pond, calling it Cow Lake. Members have since built two docks, including one with a slip, cover, and lift, to permanently house the club’s Nautique. Cow Lake also features a competitive slalom course with 26 buoys, and outlets to control the water’s level and condition. “They’re good!” Frank admits. “I go down and watch every now and then a little bit. They know what they’re doing. They ski in tournaments and all. It’s right interesting.”

John Cox glances at his watch in downtown Greenville. Work beckons, but he knows Chuck’s on the boat. John can “pull a Hollywood,” drive 20 minutes to Cow Lake, change into shorts onshore, meet Chuck on the dock for pick-up, ski, and be back at his desk before anyone is the wiser. “I try to ski once a week, sometimes two to three times a week,” the Trehel Corporation vice president shares. “It definitely gets my heart going. It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of work. I’ve developed a lot of really good friendships within the club.”

There was a point in the mid-’90s when John thought his best days were behind him. He claims skiing saved his life. “I skied as a kid, and even joined the ski team at Clemson when I saw my first slalom course,” he explains. “But after I graduated, kids, work, and life came along, and I didn’t ski for 12 years. I got up to 300 pounds and not in a good way.” 

Photo by Eli Warren

A friend’s plea to drive his new boat got John back out on the water, on skis, and on a health plan. He created and met a weight goal, followed by a ski goal: to qualify for regionals. With his eye on the prize, John ended up qualifying and competing at nationals, after joining the Lida Falls Ski Club. “I’d been to a coach in Charleston, and realized the benefits of getting good coaching and skiing with people better than me,” he reveals. “When I visited the club, they were better, and really good at coaching, and a whole lot of fun.” 

The club currently has 10 members, including a retired school teacher, an Asheville realtor, and a pharmacist. Men, women, young and old. The one thing that all have in common: a love to rip it ’round the buoys. Roughly one-third, like John, compete in events sanctioned by USA Water Ski & Wake Sports, the governing body. 

Others are like Thad, who enjoyed skiing as a kid, and are transitioning to slalom-course skiing. “I was actually a professional cyclist for five years and raced some internationally,” Thad reveals. “The athletics, or hobbies, I’m interested in are pretty difficult, and slalom skiing fits the mold.”   

Since joining Lida Falls a year ago, the veteran athlete says he’s able to ski shorter line lengths at faster speeds, which is how you advance in the discipline. “It’s wonderful,” he says in closing. “These are a great group of people. Everyone is so encouraging and so positive, and there’s no need to take lessons if you belong to this club. They are on the top end of slalom skiing in this region. I look at the other members and where they are in life. Wow, if I can continue to do this and be as good as they are at their stage, I really aspire to do that.” 

For more on the club, visit the Lida Falls Ski Club at Cow Lake Facebook page,
or email John Cox at johnvcox@gmail.com.