Show-Skiing: Extreme Summer Fun

Show-skiing turns up the volume on what you know about water sports.

Cabin season is upon us, which means the boats are out and the water sports have begun. Lakes are speckled with families tubing, wakeboarding and water skiing—but not often do you see the kind of skiing Grant Robinson does. Show-skiing is water skiing for people who want to do more than simply be pulled behind a boat. When Robinson was introduced to the sport in 2007, he says, “I thought you had to be a circus clown to join one of these show ski teams.” But a friend advised that as long as he was interested, the team would teach him the rest, “so I just went in with both feet.”

Members of the Balsam Lake Water Ski Show team display their skill and showmanship.

Robinson grew up in Rock County, which he understands to be the only county in Minnesota without a lake. “So I was deprived of water skiing as a child,” he says. But when he met his wife, Erika, while working in Edina, he got an education. She was from a family that would go weekly to a cabin and as a child, water skiing was a major family activity.

That family cabin, on Balsam Lake in Polk County, Wis., is where the entire family goes nearly every weekend in the summer months, and is where you’ll find the Balsam Lake Water Ski Show Team. “I fell in love with Balsam Lake and water skiing on Balsam Lake,” Robinson says, so he and his wife restarted the team with a family friend.

The cabin was purchased by Erika’s grandparents in the 1930s, and their family was a part of the water skiing team when it originally started in 1960. But the team “got lost or dissolved,” says Erika’s sister, Kristine Mullmann. “Grant and Erika were looking to start a team up there, and they went back and found the Balsam Lake water ski logo,” she says. And that original logo is on the team’s gear today.

As daunting, or circus-worthy, as some of the team’s tricks may seem, Robinson says most things, such as barefoot water skiing (which is exactly what it sounds like), could be taught to a willing participant in under half an hour. And age has nothing to do with it. Robinson’s nephews, Mullmann’s sons, have been water skiing since they were 2 years old.


Mathew Mullmann, 10, and Brady Mullmann, 7, are a part of the Balsam Lake water ski team, with about 20 other kids, and have been water bugs for years. “The pictures are crazy,” Kristine says. The 2-year-olds are hooked up to a “boom” on the side of the boat, so the adults can be right there with them while they start learning.

For the kids, the joy they find in water skiing is pretty clear. “Going fast and gliding,” is the best part, Mathew says. But “getting the spray in my face,” is something he could live without.

While Brady agrees that speed is a cool-factor, one of the hardest, and best, parts is simply “getting up out of the water.”

For the parents, the best part is “watching them be challenged with the different activities,” Kristine says. “And slowly they’re accomplishing and achieving their goals.”

While the skill levels vary with age, Robinson says “what I love about show-skiing in general is that you can have a 3-year-old and a 75-year-old skiing on the same team, enjoying the same passion.”

The Balsam Lake water ski team isn’t the only team Robinson is a part of, though. The Midwest Ski Otters, which does shows in White Bear Lake, has roughly 115 members of all ages, and the training for all these events isn’t light.

For the Midwest Ski Otters, Robinson and his skiing partner practice doing lifts (much like pair figure skating) every Sunday night in a pool in White Bear Lake to prepare for the summer season. “You have to be interested in putting that much time into it, which not everybody is,” he says. And practice in a gym before hitting the water is a must for building pyramids, and for the girls’ ballet line, “which is a number of girls learning a dance routine on and off the water,” he says. While he is comfortable with lifts and pyramids, there are some aspects of show-skiing he will avoid.

“I’m not a jumper at all,” he says. “I like my knees. I figure if you haven’t learned how to do inverted flips by the time you’re 30, you probably shouldn’t start.”

Between the two teams, shows run all summer long. Midwest Ski Otters have a show every Sunday night on Little Goose Lake in White Bear Lake, while the Balsam Lake ski team has three shows throughout the summer. One the weekend before the Fourth of July, one the weekend after, and one the weekend of Labor Day. “The Fourth of July may seem ideal to do, but when we’re putting on a show, safety has to be our No. 1 concern and priority,” Robinson says. With high boat traffic, and often a lot of alcohol being consumed on the Fourth, the team passes on that holiday. Plus, “we don’t want to monopolize the lake when everyone is trying to enjoy it.”

While show skiing is clearly a big deal in this family, what’s more important is simply time spent at the lake with the family. “I think Balsam Lake is still a bit of a kept secret,” Robinson says. While many people in the metro area head to Brainerd, Balsam Lake has all the amenities you need, he says. With restaurants, a marina and great waters for fishing and water sports, “there’s no place I’d rather be in the summer.”

That sentiment is echoed by many Edina residents. According to the Balsam Lake Homeowners Association, after Balsam Lake area cabin owners, Edina is the community with the highest number of homeowners on Balsam Lake. And “many of these cabins are generational,” Robinson says, meaning several Edina families are enjoying the same cabin.

This may explain the sense of community on the lake, and likely, many will agree with Robinson when he says, “There’s not anything I’m more passionate about than water skiing, Balsam Lake and Edina.”