A TURNING POINT – THE JOKER’S WILD
The UPS truck pulls to my house with a special delivery from HO Sports. I have been waiting for months, and I tear into the large box with great anticipation. A swash of primary colors covered in plastic emerges from the cardboard cradle. I’m ecstatic to see my new baby for the first time. Its name is the Joker. I designed it: the pad, the strap, the board itself; all of them are exactly to my specifications. I know we have a solid performer, but the graphics from the guys at HO have elevated the board to a whole new level. They are unlike anything I have ever seen in water skiing, let alone on a kneeboard: bold, colorful, and engaging. They just reach out and grab you.
I fixate on the character in the center of the board. He stares back with red eyes, yellow cheeks and a white face. Pointed ears peak out from under his floppy jester’s hat. In an instant I know that I will transform myself into the cartoon character I’m gazing at.
I tell my wife Shonna about my plans to become the Joker. She agrees completely, and it’s a rush to get ready for my upcoming photo shoot. Her sister volunteers to sew the festive costume in record time. Shonna finds the makeup and pointy prosthetic ears. In the next few weeks everything comes together like clockwork.
At Mike Mack’s place on the Parker Strip of the Colorado River, it’s time to shoot pictures with Rick Doyle. The water is glass calm, the sun is golden, and Doyle takes more than a hundred slides of the Joker laughing mischievously while he carves and flips. When we get back to the dock the man himself, Herb O’Brien of HO Sports, is there to greet us with an ear-to-ear grin of his own. The Joker kneeboard is his creation too, and I am the living expression of his vision. Herb poses with the Joker for a few more pictures.
On the Parker Strip with Herb O’Brien, 1994
Everything leading up to this moment feels right. I know that our morning shoot will result in some of the best pictures of my water skiing career. In the days before digital photography, it takes a few days to get the slides back and find out that they do. I send a few of the best pictures to the HO factory in Redmond, WA.
When the guys at HO see the photos they’re excited. They instantly put together a full-page ad featuring the Joker. Magazines around the world run big and bold pictures. I score the cover on South Africa’s Power Boat & Ski magazine. The smoke and mirrors is working.
Another Round of Press for Playing the Fool. (Doyle, 1995)
My mental picture is reality. I am the Joker. A wild card. Something unexpected. A guy who can fill in wherever he is needed. It feels so good to be riding the wave one more time.
Images (used with permission)
Cover Image: “Adventures in Water Skiing: Part 2, Kneeboarding,” photo Rick Doyle, 1994
“Power Boat and Ski – Cover,” photo Rick Doyle, Spring, 1995.
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