ON THE RECORD
On a trip to the River in 1995 Mike had another challenge for me. He had taken a ride on his foil from Mike Mack’s shop to the Roadrunner floating bar and back behind a sit down Sea-Doo. It was a round trip distance of about eight miles. Just for fun he had counted how many flips he had done in a row.
Mike told me the story of his ride, regaled in his “youthful” performance at the age of 47, and paused without telling me how many flips he actually did. He was a skilled fisherman holding out a tasty piece of bait. I took it hook, line, and sinker.
“O-kay, uncle Mike, so how many flips did you do?” I asked dutifully. He was always a fan of the guessing game, and I had to narrow it down.
“100?” I asked.
“Higher,” he replied with an impish smile.
It went on like this until I came up with the final number: 147. It was the first consecutive flips record on the hydrofoil, and the most I had ever heard of anyone doing in one ride on anything. I had read about one of the flying Tolzman brothers making eighty something front flips in row off the jump ramp, but that was over numerous rides. Mike had done it in a single ride. More than 100 flips in one ride seemed like a lot of flipping, but obviously not impossible if Mike had done it on the “sperm of the moment” as he is so fond of saying.
“Now you have to break my record,” he informed me.
“O-kay uncle Mike. How many do I have to do?”
“At least a hundred more,” he said with a mischievous twinkle in his green eyes.
Little did I know his prodding wasn’t so much about me breaking the record, as it was his plan to smash whatever I did. If he had said 300, 400, or 500, I would have done my best to hit the mark, and probably would have done quite a few more than I ended up doing. But he wanted the number “low” enough so that he could easily top me on his next ride.
I went out on a Friday afternoon. Mike drove and my wife counted off each flip with a clicker. My ride took about two hours. I went back and forth across the wakes with front rolls, but after I got over about 100, I wanted to make sure that I topped Mike’s record. I did a front roll across the wakes, then cut back and set up for the same trick. I reached my goal of 250 as we neared Mack’s shop. My abs were a little sore, and I was a little tired. Riding and flipping for nearly two straight hours was not part of my training. So I just called it a day without a fall, and skied into shop. My official count was 254.
I reveled in the record for the next two days. 254 consecutive flips honestly felt like quite an accomplishment. People on the River congratulated me. No one believed I had done that many. No one in skiing had ever done that many. I gave uncle Mike a good-natured ribbing about him being over the hill as I enjoyed my moment of consecutive flips fame.
Mike was champing at the bit to reclaim his title, but it was a crowded weekend on the River, and the water was too rough for him to make a serious attempt. He waited impatiently while I basked in the short-lived glory.
Sunday afternoon rolled around, and the weekend warriors pulled their boats out for the long drive home across the desert. It was finally time for Mike to try to reclaim his title. Mike Mack took the helm of his Ski Nautique, and I manned the clicker. Uncle Mike absolutely breezed through the first two hundred. But after a while he did all of his flips in the same direction, and each new backside roll put another twist in the rope. The growing tension in the line hindered his riding. It was obvious that he was struggling. So he came up with a workable, but energy draining solution. After every 20 flips or so Mike pulled up on the rope hand over hand. The handle bounced on the water and spun freely to take some of the turns out of the rope. Sometimes the handle recoiled wildly, and it even hit Mike in the head a couple of times. The maneuver was ugly, but it worked. Mike kept flipping and surpassed my short-lived record.
Somewhere in the 400s, he got some weeds wrapped around his foil. No problem. It was a common technique to do an air roll to whip the weeds right off. In the 500s he hit a reed in the water, and he was nearly down. That was a bit more serious because reeds didn’t always come off. It took him several tries to clear the stubborn tule, and it was obvious that he was getting tired. But those weren’t the only struggles: the sun was going down and the boat was running out of gas. In the 600s we just cruised back and forth upriver from Mack’s hotel, so that if we ran out of gas we could float back with the current.
The boat was on fumes, and it was well past legal darkness. Mike kept flipping, and after every 20 back rolls he pulled up on the rope to take out the twists. Mack and I held two equal and opposite thoughts in our minds. The performance we were witnessing was totally unbelievable, but at the same time it was perfectly plausible because it was Mike Murphy.
Mike finally went down in darkness and I had to strain to see the numbers on my clicker: 708. It was another one of his legendary skiing performances. In the days and weeks that followed we all wondered how many he could have done with a swivel on the line, enough gas in the boat, and plenty of daylight.
Air Chair ran a full-page ad featuring the story of our consecutive flip antics on the River. Mike was featured as a senior citizen dressed up like a snowbird with the headline “The Old Man and His Chair.” It challenged any rider to come out to the River and try and break the record. If done successfully, the rider would get a free Air Chair, $1000 dollars, and reimbursement for the cost of their flight. But before anyone accepted that challenge, hydrofoiling had its first World Championship and a series of events on the Professional Water Ski Tour.
Don’t let this “old man” fool you…he kicked my ass! (WaterSki Magazine, 1996)
Images (used with permission)
“Adventures in Water Skiing: Part 3, Hydrofoiling – Cover,” photo: Ian Lauder, 1999.
“The Old Man and His Chair,” WaterSki Magazine, April, 1996, 75.
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