SCHUYLKILL - With clear, sunny skies and mid-winter temperatures, the Black Rock Skiers were able to end a two-year drought and host their annual New Year's Day water ski on the Schuylkill River early Thursday afternoon.
After facing an ice-covered river in 2002 and rainy winter weather last year, an estimated crowd of 40 people made their way to the boat dock to watch the skiers celebrate the new year in typical Black Rock Skier fashion. Joining the Black Rock Skiers were some compadres from the Port Indian Ski Club.
Bob Cullum Jr., club treasurer, said the opportunity to actually ski on New Year's Day had all of the skiers especially pumped up.
"After having it postponed two straight years on New Year's Day, we were excited to get out here today and have a great time," he said. "In fact, this is the longest we've ever been out here on New Year's Day."
With a clear backdrop sky enhanced with a slight chill in the air, the skiers prepared themselves, both mentally and physically, as they made their way to the dock.
One of the first skiers off of the dock was Eric Stout of Mont Clare, whose enthusiasm was obviously apparent.
"I look forward to this every year," said Stout. "The water is really high and smooth out there. It is definitely good skiing water. It is also great to have so many people here to see us ski today."
Clad in his favorite Philadelphia Eagles Chad Lewis jersey was Cullum of Royersford, as he took his turn into the water. To the delight of the crowd, Cullum skied forward with one foot while waving to everyone.
"I always like doing something special for the crowd that shows up for this event," he said. "We keep getting bigger and bigger every year. We are hoping that this is a sign of good things ahead. With the weather being so unpredictable last year, it'd be super to have some good outdoor activity weather this year."
Prior to getting into the water, club veteran Gary Noll, of Audubon placed his hand in to feel how cold the water was.
"The water temperature is around 42 degrees," Noll said. "Usually when the water temperature is in the 30s, your hand will tingle a bit. You can actually keep your hand in this water for a few minutes."
Noll worked his way to the end of the dock and with a tug of the rope, he was off and into the water. Noll showed off his abilities by skiing backwards with no hands and with one foot in the stirrup.
"I had only a couple of toes in there keeping me up," he said. "Usually you stick your whole foot in with the strap around your heel, but I was only able to get a few toes in there. This is a dirty job but someone has to come out here and do it."
Also skiing without skis were Craig Frech of Douglassville, and John Ross of Mont Clare, as they both enjoyed traveling a good stretch down the Schuylkill on Thursday.
"It wasn't bad out there," said Frech, a 15-year veteran of the club. "I just wanted to keep skiing so I wouldn't land in the water. It's never bad when you manage to pull off a barefoot run."
"Both of us had to travel down the river a bit to where the water wasn't active," said Ross. "You need to get a good burst of speed going so you can maintain your balance while barefoot."
Sarah Ross of Mont Clare showed the gentlemen she had game by taking her turn out in the river.
"I haven't skied in quite a while," said Ross. "I missed it. It felt great being out there. I was having a good time and the water felt wonderful."
Not to be outdone by his daughter, Bill Ross donned a wetsuit and joined in on the festivities.
"I couldn't have Sarah go out and then not go out there myself," he said laughingly. "Oh, this is definitely a great day for skiing."
One of the last Black Rock Skiers to enjoy the thrill of watery chill was Mark Plotts of East Pikeland. Plotts held on to a ski boom while making his way down the Schuylkill.
Stout said Plotts is infamous for the shoes he wears while water-skiing, known as "Plotts Paws."
"Most people go out and spend a lot of money for specialty shoes to go water skiing in," said Stout. "Mark goes out and finds these sneakers that are similar to those type of shoes. We call them his 'Plotts Paws'. It's hilarious that he's able to find a new pair almost every year."
Plotts said he doesn't go water skiing without them, "They are very comfortable and do the job. I've become known for wearing these, so I'll continue to do so."
Following a long afternoon of water skiing, most of the skiers enjoyed complimentary hot chocolate and chili waiting for them on the shore. Noll said this was definitely one of the best skiing days in club history.
"This was such an awesome time out here," Noll said. "We couldn't have asked for better weather, and what a way to ring in the New Year."