Ray McCracken

Ray McCracken

Ray McCracken can picture the move in his mind.

He knows the mechanics of what is called an invert: While on a wake board � the water skiing version of a snow board � you ride up the boat�s wake and catapult into the air, somersaulting as you go, and land on the board on the water�s surface.

The lifelong Sandy Creek Township resident has taught others to do an invert. He is confident that 50 years ago � or 30, or 20 � it would have been just another trick in his repertoire.

But, at age 80, landing an invert has been elusive.

�In my mind, I know how to do it,� he said. �My body, I haven�t gotten convinced yet.�

For McCracken, riding on the water, be it on skis or a wake board, is serious business, even at an age when most people have given up the physically demanding sport. He�s not one to just go out and ride around. He doesn�t fish, swim or boat recreationally.

�Most people look at skiing as just going out and having fun,� said McCracken, who built his own five-acre lake to ski on. �Every time I�m going out, I�m practicing.�

He prefers to trick ski, moves such as holding the rope with his toes, jumping while spinning 360 degrees and stepping over the line. If you can do 10 to 20 such tricks within a 20-second run, that�s competition-caliber competency.

McCracken has won his share of competition awards over the years and expects to enter two tournaments this year. He said he likes trick-skiing tournaments because there are classes for each five years of age.

�That is the only sport I know that does that,� he said.

The hot water sport these days is wake boarding, which has caught on with the young crowd. McCracken likes to wake board, but the competitive aspect goes against him � he has to compete against 30-year-olds.

The desire to ski has kept McCracken young. He works out three times a week and plays basketball so he has the strength to ski. Although he�s been retired from carpentry and construction for 18 years, he still keeps his hands in the profession.

�He put on two roofs this spring,� said McCracken�s wife Jane, who no longer skis. �I guess he�s still working.�

�Everyone I know who skis seems to stay in pretty good shape,� McCracken said. �You don�t see any overweight people at tournaments.�

But, McCracken knows he will never be able to ski as well as he used to.

�Old age catches up with you,� he said, noting that, at 80, he feels old.

He has good knees and ankles and has never been injured, but doesn�t have the stamina he once had.

�When you get tired, that�s when you get hurt,� he said.

But, McCracken can�t imagine not strapping on his skis or board. Although he spends most of his time on the water these days trying to perform tricks that he used to be able to do, he�s always thinking about adding a new wrinkle.

�There�s no end to the things you can learn,� said the father of four and grandfather of nine.

�It�s kind of like running,� Mrs. McCracken said. �It�s addictive.�

McCracken started skiing when he was about 20, before water skiing had come into its own. At the time, most people balanced on a 2-by-4-foot plywood board, called an aquaplane. He would aquaplane around Sandy Lake with about 15 other enthusiasts.

He had some instruction on skis, but was essentially self-taught. The mistake many skiers make is trying to impose their will upon the conditions created by the boat, he said.

�If you let the boat pull you, it pretty much works,� he said. �If you try to beat the boat, the boat wins.�

It�s a message he has tried to teach to pupils over the years � more people than he can count.

�I have people who say I taught them to ski and I don�t have any recollections (of them),� he said.