Erika Lang Keeps Setting Water Ski World Records, One Trick At A Time
by Bob Reinert
Put Erika Lang behind a powerful motorboat, and she can do things no other woman ever has.
That was the case again in May, when Lang nailed another water ski tricks run in Groveland, Florida, to establish a new world record.
Riding under puffy white clouds and a pale blue sky, the Phoenix native performed a dizzying series of turns and spins while connected to the tow rope by her left foot. Then, in her second pass while holding the rope handle with her hands, she flew back and forth over the wake, performing a more impressive flip each time.
It was just another day for the world’s best trick skier.
Lang scored 11,360 in that May performance to eclipse her previous world record by 100 points. It was only the latest achievement for the 27-year-old whose resume also includes world No. 1 and two world championship titles — not to mention a handful of U.S. titles. After winning a tricks gold medal at the world championships earlier this month in Lake County, Florida, Lang is now set to compete at the Pan American Games that run Oct. 20-Nov. 5 in Santiago, Chile.
Growing up, Lang balanced her water skiing with gymnastics, reaching as high as Level 10 in the latter. That’s one step below the elite level in which the Olympic gymnasts are ranked.
“I was super busy growing up, but I kind of had the best circumstances and all the right resources available for me,” Lang said. “It kind of all worked out.”
Lang took water skiing seriously but only spent an hour or two a day on the man-made lake where she grew up while she devoted five to seven hours a day to gymnastics. The dual focus proved to be a winning formula, however, as Lang has broken the world record tricks score six times in the past decade.
“I just picked up things quicker than a lot of my other competitors, I guess,” she said. “I’ve always been really naturally gifted with the kind of acrobatic type of things, flips and everything, and the gymnastics only added to that.”
As she prepared for her busy fall, Lang, who also holds down a full-time job in pharmaceutical sales, took time out to reflect on her many achievements.
She attributes her success on the water to discipline, perseverance and time management.
“Anyone can want to be the best at something or want to be a professional athlete,” she said. “But it really comes down to really taking action and actually pursuing it.
“Whenever I was trying a new trick, I would never go in until I made it. I’m out there (on the water) until I get it done.”
Trick skiing competitions feature two 20-second passes where competitors do a series of tricks that carry various point values. On the “toe pass,” skiers stand on the ski with one foot while the other is fastened to the tow rope. The “hand pass” is a more traditional style with skiers holding the rope handle with their hands. Lang said proper coaching and guidance are crucial in choreographing it all.
“You wouldn’t really be able to learn it on your own,” she said. “It’s one thing to know how to do the trick. It’s a bunch of tricks all combined together. You wouldn’t know what to do if you didn’t have that.
“Linking all the tricks together and everything is the second part of it. And make sure it’s fast. Not every trick links together, and there’s a lot of rules to it. You can’t repeat tricks.”
Her first world record of just over 10,180 points came in 2013. She has since raised that by 1,180 points.
“There’s so much that goes into upping that record, especially when the level has gotten so high now,” she said. “Any little increment is a big deal.
“It’s cool to just be pushing the sport. I’m trying to take advantage of it while I’m still young, you know? And try to push the sport as much as I can for as long as I can, really.”
Lang works hard on and off the water to maintain her position as the world’s best women’s trick skier.
“I’m always working and making sure my body is in prime condition,” said the 5-foot-1-inch Lang. “I do a lot of off-water training and making sure I’m strong because I know it’s super important and that’s how you prevent injuries. I’ve just always been really strong.
“For my sport, it’s better to be agile versus just super, super strong. You don’t want to pack on a bunch of muscle because you’ll be heavier.”
She applies her early gymnastics training when adding new tricks to her repertoire, doing so incrementally.
“I don’t just go for it,” Lang said. “I’m pretty strategic in my learning, pretty calculated, I guess.”
Next, Lang said she would like to raise her world mark closer to the men’s record of 12,590 points, set by Patricio Font Nelson of Mexico.
“My biggest goal, really, is to just push the sport to the highest level that I can before I’m done,” Lang said. “I’ve been able to get the trick skiing almost up to the level of the men’s. We’re just missing a couple tricks, but we’re pretty much at that level of the men, which is really cool. I guess I was sort of like the pioneer.”