Alpena brothers making waves in water skiing
ALPENA — Sitting in their Alpena dining room, the two boys with surfer-dude blonde hair and braces don’t look like world champions.
The 11-year-old isn’t one, yet. But Will Meinhardt is quickly catching up to his 14-year-old brother, Reid, who last year was ranked number one in the world in his age group in slalom water skiing.
“There’s a lot more upstairs,” murmured the older Meinhardt brother, adjusting the white ribbons of the medals he won in August when he took first place in two skiing categories at a national championship in Louisiana.
Lifelong Alpena residents, Will and Reid were both on water skis by the time they were three, swept into their dad’s hobby and sometimes held in his arms as they splashed across Long Lake.
Now, the boys are setting state and regional records and making friends from around the world as they quietly pursue — and achieve — greatness, learning lessons about hard work and stick-to-it-iveness along the way.
Though both boys usually enjoy trick skiing the most, they have mastered slalom skiing, in which a skier runs as many passes as possible, weaving among buoys and pulled by a boat going faster with each pass.
If the boat isn’t getting faster, the rope connecting the boat to the boy gets shorter, until the skier has to stretch and lean to make it around a buoy.
Reid, who earned enough points at August’s championship tournament to be called the best in the world, can get around a buoy on a rope that ends a foot-and-a-half short of the marker.
“That’s pretty good,” Reid said, talking comfortably in his family’s State Avenue home on Monday.
Trick skiing — in which Reid earned enough points at nationals to beat not only his age group but all the adults and other youth at the competition, as well — involves completing as many spins, flips, and whirls as possible in two 20-second passes.
During the second pass, “you put the rope on your foot, which sounds crazy,” Will said.
Toe work, as it’s called, earns more points and is more fun to watch, incorporating graceful movements almost like a dance, said the boy’s mom, Anna Meinhardt, as Will shared a smartphone video of one of his trick runs.
Will placed first in the country in his age division at the August competition, in which the Meinhardt brothers made a big splash.
“We won a lot of it,” Reid said.
Many summer days find the boys zipping down Long Lake, entertaining residents as they practice slalom runs.
Trick skiing requires safer water, where no passing boats could make even small waves that could lead to a sprained ankle. The brothers say they’re lucky to have access to a friend’s personal lake in an old quarry for the hours of practice they put into getting so good.
Though Alpena offers good training spaces, much of their work is done in Florida, at a professional water skiing school where young people from all over the world flock in hopes of excelling at their craft.
The boys have friends from Argentina, Russia, Germany, Columbia, and other faraway places. Sometimes, Anna Meinhardt said, Will and Reid are the only ones on the dock speaking English.
Many years, the boys can only get to Florida during school holidays. The coronavirus pandemic has been a good fit for their sport, though, they said. Not only are they safely socially distanced when outdoors behind a boat, they have also been attending school virtually full-time, making way for training trips to Florida.
It took him three years of falls and failures to learn to do his first flip, Reid said.
“As a mom, you want to be, like, ‘Why don’t you stop trying,’ admitted their mother, describing watching her son crashing into the water dozens of times in a row.
When he did finally learn a flip, though, he took to it instantly and learned eight more in no time.
Sticking with a discipline has taught them about pursuing goals, the skiers said.
Before the national competition, Will set his sights on standing on the five-person podium. He worked hard to earn a spot in the top five — “And then I took first,” Will said.
Reid was slowed by an injury several years ago, and Will is catching up to his older brother, holding four state records and winning five state state championships. Reid holds five Midwest records, which Will may break before too long.
Competitions, though they come with fun travels and stops at Chick-fil-A, mean a lot of pressure for a skier driving across the county to only ski 40 seconds and maybe fall.
The experience teaches them it’s OK to try and fail, the boys’ mom said — and to have fun along the way.
“Hard work pays off,” Reid said, a row of his and his brother’s medals and trophies stretched in front of him. “The more you work, the better you’ll be.”