Five years ago, when I was asked to join the Lake Oswego Women's Waterski Club, I almost turned it down even though I have lived on a lake and been boating on it for over 20 years.
I love boats but have deep-seated trust issues with water.
My Puerto Rican grandmother was afraid of water. She would often say, "el mar es traicionero" The sea is a betrayer. As far as she was concerned, we were surrounded by sharks, barracudas, and a Bermuda Triangle. As far as I was concerned, I loved swimming in the ocean as long as I could see the bottom.
I only jumped in when socially necessary.
However, I considered accepting the invitation to join the waterski club for one reason and one reason only: I loved the woman who invited me. Being around her, under any excuse, made me happy. I wanted to be a "someone" on her boat.
When I came clean and told her I didn't ski, she shouted with over-the-top enthusiasm, "YOU CAN FLAG!!!"
"YES, I CAN!!!" I responded, and just like that, I became part of a sports team for the first time in my life.
I didn't think twice when she had asked me to wear a bathing suit underneath a dress so I could easily slip it off and jump into the lake while being photographed for a local magazine. As a matter of fact, I was looking forward to getting past this socially necessary water moment to go on her boat.
Until I met the rest women at our first social event and instantly felt like a fish out of water. They all loved to ski. Some were good, others hadn't skied in years. Those that didn't know how to ski genuinely wanted to learn, and I didn't.
I became overwhelmed with Imposter Syndrome, feelings that make you think you're a fraud even though you're eminently qualified for a job, deserved that raise, or earned your good luck. I was exceptionally able to be a flagger, but I began to question if they really need me in that boat, or if I deserved to be there.
Then I noticed not everyone brought a bathing suit to wear underneath their dresses and weren't going to jump. I wondered why I hadn't thought of that, quickly regretting wearing a dress that showed the straps of my bathing suit beneath.
After a group photo on the dock, dresses began to come off, and all the women with suits lined up to get ready to run, and jump in the water. I heard one of them say, "let's all grab hands."
NO! Wait? WHY?
Too late. We held hands, and I found myself running towards the lake with them, but when I got to the edge of the dock, I stopped and let go. I stood there for five seconds, long enough to look back at the women in dresses.
I was going to be a fish out of water, no matter what, one if by land or two if by sea. I had come dressed and ready to join and jump in. I was a fish out of water in a bathing suit, ready to flag, prepared for a revolution. I rebel-yelled as I jumped and hit the water, and everyone cheered.
It was one of my favorite and most memorable moments of my life.
I have seen some of the most spectacular sunrises on those boats. I became a dam great flagger and even gave waterskiing a shot once when one of the women got in the water with me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, "I will hold you until you take off." I was only up for 15 seconds, but the boat cheered as if I'd skied the whole lake.
I made close friends that otherwise I would have never met because I wasn't supposed to be there, and our lives, very different. We didn't all live in the same neighborhood or had kids the same age, schools, or work in common. Some women were single, some married. Some were mothers, some not. And thanks to me, we didn't even share a love of skiing.
Over time, I recognize a set of unspoken values everyone bonded over, making this particular group of women, inclusive, authentic, and genuine. I believe these values came from generations of boats before us teaching girls how to ski, arms around, holding them in the water, watching them let go while tied to a rope from a boat full of people cheering them on.
I wrote the following poem, thinking that women should start waterski clubs, even if no one has boats!
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