CARLSBAD (AP) — It was a far cry from the 80-degree water temperature he's used to, but former national water skiing champion Tom Brantley hit the waves on New Year's Eve morning for a quick practice run on the Pecos River — right where his world renowned career began.
Brantley's father, George, was a competitive skier in the 1960s, before most people even knew what water skiing was, he said. During family boat trips on the Pecos River, he remembers carrying 2-year-old Tom in his arms as they floated above the water.
The boy picked up water skiing quickly, George Brantley said, and by the time he was 15, George and his wife Nancy knew he was going to excel at the sport. Tom's parents sent him to water skiing school in Dallas, Texas, where he is now an instructor during the summers.
During the winter months, Tom Brantley said it's important to ski once or twice a week to keep his muscles in shape. Even though it was 50 degrees outside and even colder in the water on Monday, Brantley's slick dry suit kept him warm as he skied at approximately 50 mph behind his new Malibu Boat that he recently brought home from Salt Lake City.
Brantley took first at the 2001 Water Ski National Championships in Bakersfield, Calif., a moment that his parents were thrilled to be able to share in. Now, more than 10 years later, he's still in the top 10 water skiers in the world. Even a skiing crash in the off-season of 2003 that resulted in shoulder reconstructive surgery didn't deter him from sticking with his sport and competing in an international competition only five months later.
Brantley is currently preparing for his next big competition in March, he said — the Moomba Masters International Invitational Championship on the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia.
"Everything is fun about it except for the plane ride," he joked, which is a 16-hour direct flight from Los Angeles.
At the Moomba Masters, like all of the competitions Brantley enters, water skiers ride behind a professional boat driver going a satellite-regulated speed of 36 mph. To finish the course in the allotted amount of time, however, slalom skiers like Brantley ride the waves at close to 70 mph.
"The water is like concrete when you're going that fast," Brantley said. A crash at those speeds is extremely dangerous, he noted, a fear that Nancy Brantley said sometimes nearly stops her heart.
Brantley's serious competitions require a significant amount of G-force, which has surely taken a toll on his body, he said. At 33, he is near the end of what he considers a water skier's prime.
"I probably have three or four more years," he said. "I'll do it until my body says I'm done. Sooner or later, something's gotta give."
Brantley's competitions have subjected him to a life of training and travel around the world, including several major international cities.
He even almost made it to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens until the Olympic Board decided before the games that the sport has too many variables due to the motorized boat needed to pull the skier.
"We all think it should be an Olympic sport," Brantley said.
But even without an Olympic medal, Brantley still has a number of accomplishments under his belt. However, the professional athlete is first and foremost a family man.
His favorite memories as a water skier are skiing side-by-side with his three daughters, ages 9, 6 and 3, trumping even his national victory in 2001, though that's a close second, he said.
Brantley said his oldest daughter is already pretty good at the slalom routine, following in the footsteps of her father.