Skills and thrills on the water

An award-winning water ski show team struts its stuff in Oldsmar for fun and for free.

By TERRI BRYCE REEVES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 10, 2007

OLDSMAR - It's hailed as one of the best water ski show teams around, winning the past five Southern Regional Show Ski Championships.

Its members have performed in China, Spain and the United Kingdom. Soon, they'll go to Malaysia.

It is the Tampa Bay Water Ski Show Team, which performs a free weekly show awash in squeaky-clean fun on Tower Lake behind the Oldsmar Flea Market.

During the show, lovely ladies in a synchronized ballet line float by, smiling and waving. Daredevil ramp masters thrill audiences with their 40 mph flips, heli-spins, and gainers. The grand finale features the whole team skiing in a three- or four-tier pyramid.

One of the water wizards is Andrew "Jungle Boy" Proses, who was named top male skier at the Southern Regional Show Ski Championships in June.

Proses, 24, started skiing at age 4 in the South China Sea when his family was stationed in the Philippines, earning him his nickname. Now he skis part time at Cypress Gardens, as do many team members.

It's fun but risky, he says.

"You have to be careful on the flips because if you over-rotate you can hit your face and if you under-rotate you can land on your back," he said. "That can really hurt."

His father, Oldsmar city engineer Bill Proses, should know. He tried to learn some of the same tricks his son can do.

"I tried to jump, but crashed every time," the svelte 60-year-old said. "I barefooted one time successfully, but had many painful failures."

Still, Bill Proses has an important role in the team, often serving as a base of a pyramid or lifting a female high above his head.

He said the team is like a big family that skis together, plays together - even dyes their hair together.

"When we went to the nationals (in 2000) we all bleached our hair," he said.

That year, the team placed second, wowing audiences and judges with its seven-man front flip over a ramp.

The ski team mourns together, too.

Recently it held a memorial show for Thomas Kranendonk of Land O'Lakes, a 16-year-old former member who died last month in an unrelated accident.

The group has about 115 members. Half ski. Others drive boats, play music, announce the shows, sell concessions or make costumes.

Performers' ages range from 6 to over 60.

Vickie Wilmouth of Tampa has been a member since 1991. She runs the music portion of the show.

"Through the years, we've seen quite a few young people come through," she said. "It gives them a place to go and a nice social life."

Steve Sacone is club president and a general manager of a manufacturing company.

Ten years ago, he came to watch his daughter learn to ski.

"They said to come out and give it a try," said Sacone, 53. "A week later, I was in the show. Ten years later I'm still doing it and having fun."

Now, he skis along side his son Tyler, 12, a trickster for the team.

The team holds ski camps in the summer for novices eager to get their feet wet, or those who wish to improve their skills.

They also perform at special events, parties, festivals and political rallies.

A couple of weeks ago, the adults were asked to perform at the Lake Como Family Nudist Resort.

They wore their costumes.

Not surprisingly, it was a very outgoing audience.

"They had more cheers and screams than anyone," master of ceremonies Peter Fernandez said. "It was quite the fan club."