A singular passion for water-skiing

On a clear, calm day, there is just one place 85-year-old Wanaka woman Pat Stuart wants to be - tearing around the lake behind a jet-boat on a single water-ski, and Christmas Day was no exception.

Mrs Stuart joined the annual family festivities at Lake Hawea yesterday morning, and was among the first to put on her wetsuit and head out for a water-skiing lap of the lake, which she managed with the ease and skill of someone half her age.

A grandmother of nine, Mrs Stuart has been water-skiing for about 60 years, after first picking it up at Pounawea, near Owaka, behind her brother-in-law's boat.

''The river wasn't wide enough to turn around in so he had to take us up so far and then sink us and then turn around and take us back again,'' she said of her early water-skiing experiences.

Husband Keith (84) also water-skied, until knee problems forced him to give it up a few years ago, and there have been many happy days spent at Lake Hawea indulging in the family's favourite sport.

''When the children were teenagers, they used to bring all their friends, and their cousins would be there, too,'' Mrs Stuart said.

''There would a real gang of us on the waterfront.''

''We might have up to 40 children and we'd be all day water-skiing on the lake.

''We've taught a lot of people to ski and we've had so much pleasure out of it and it's a good family sport.''

Following two hip replacements and two open heart surgeries, Mrs Stuart takes it slightly easier these days, opting to start in the water on two skis before dropping one, rather than a standing beach start on one ski, as she used to do.

Either way, after take-off, a single ski is the sole way she travels.

''I have a terrible job trying to ski on two now.''

She is not easily impressed by new-fangled equipment.

''I have a really old wooden ski that I loved and I could do anything on it, but it finally fell to bits, so now I'm using my grandson's ski.

''I tried a modern one and I promptly did a head plant.''

Lake Hawea is Mrs Stuart's main playground, as boat traffic there is much less than on Lake Wanaka.

''When we first started skiing [at Lake Wanaka] ... we could ski on the waterfront and there'd hardly be a boat on the water.''

Mrs Stuart was concerned a recent gash to her leg - which had prevented her from going in the water - would affect her water-skiing skills in front of the Otago Daily Times camera yesterday.

However, after getting the all-clear from the doctor on Christmas Eve she was eager to test the waters, and during a flawless display on the lake she showed no signs of slowing down.

Mrs Stuart still water-skis every opportunity she gets, whenever there is someone handy with a boat to tow her. Usually, that job falls to son Lynn or son-in-law Ken Telford.

''She just loves it,'' Mr Telford said.

''She gets out there and has a great big smile on her face and is happy as.''

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz