Skiing abroad provides opportunities for Aqua Jays
Janesville's Rock Aqua Jays water ski team has been performing on the Rock River for 50 years.
JANESVILLE Nearly a half million Chinese dressed in traditional garb chanted welcome to the Rock Aqua Jays and Chinese water ski show teams.
The skiers were on their way in 1999 to the opening ceremony that celebrated 20 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“When we got through the sea of people to the tall government building, officials stood on the balcony and spoke to the masses below. Then they released balloons and doves. It reminded me of the opening ceremony of the Olympics and gave me goose bumps,” said Gerry Luiting, veteran club member.
“They looked at us as Team USA. We were literally representing our country,’’ he said.
The Aqua Jays, an amateur team, beat out professional water ski shows and other amateur shows for the invitation and became the first amateur team to water ski in China, Luiting said.
Luiting and his wife, Cathy Luiting, have led five other Aqua Jays’ 16-member delegation trips to the Peoples Republic of China since the team’s first trip in 1999. They also have led Aqua Jays to perform at the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville in 2007 and to the United Arab Emirates to perform during the Formula One Boat Race in 2008.
Individual club members have skied abroad in Japan, Jordan and Jamaica, Luiting said.
The Aqua Jays were first exposed to performing abroad in 1975 when Tommy Bartlett needed a boat driver for a show in Okinawa, Japan.
“J.R. Wilson drove in that show. It was quite an honor for our club,’’ Luiting said.
Since then, a number of people have been invited by Cypress Gardens, Stars of Florida and other places to ski abroad, Luiting said.
“It’s rather prestigious to be viewed by other countries and other places. It’s also a good tool for encouraging younger skiers to learn more (show ski) acts and a great experience to see and explore other cultures,’’ he said.
It also has been personally important to the Luitings, who as veteran skiers are approaching the twilight years of their careers, he said.
“Competing in nationals is awesome and fun, but to explore other countries, get to meet new people and experience new cultures is like frosting on the cake,’’ Luiting said.
Luiting plans shows abroad so he knows which skiers, boat drivers and equipment to take to perform a number of acts.
But things never turn out as planned.
“Never yet has the show been produced exactly the way it’s been planned. We even make some changes while on the water,’’ he said.
Luiting predicts more trips abroad for the Aqua Jays.
“We do continue to have feelers out there as far as requests for shows,” he said. “And every time the world economy picks up, we get inquiries.”