On a lake that straddles the 49th parallel, local cottagers negotiate Canada–U.S. relations on waterskis
ix young skiers glide atop a lake so still and dark it could pass for a giant slab of stone. Through the early morning mist, they stretch their arms out toward each other to clasp hands. Then, with quick movements, they climb on top of one another like coordinated ants muscling a prize for their queen—hands gripping shoulders, feet stepping on thighs. Eventually, they form a pyramid skiing through the water: three bodies anchoring the base, two strengthening the middle, and one little girl perched bravely on top.
Jamie Teetaert casts a watchful eye from the spotter position in the boat pulling the skiers. His unshaven chin and intense focus on the young skiers makes the 27-year-old former ski-club president seem much older. Suddenly, he lurches upright in the back of the ski boat and taps his head. The six forming the pyramid carefully dismantle so the boat can return home to the clubhouse and scoop up the next set of skiers.
Now, it’s time for the ballet-line team to do its thing—10 female skiers pulled behind the boat at once, all at the command of 25-year-old Amie Teetaert, Jamie’s sister, who is arm-in-arm with her adolescent team. Her mouth is pressed into a hard line, her face stiff with concentration as she leads the skiers through their practice. On her word, they turn their heads in unison toward the clubhouse. Amie’s face softens, and, along with her comrades, she flashes a toothy smile and gives a synchronized wave to an imagined crowd of onlookers.
Once the team finishes its dance on the water, the boat pulls them near shore where they let go of their ropes, still holding on to each other in a line. The girl on the end swings them around like a chain until they’re facing the shore squarely, gliding toward the shallow water together, still smiling and waving as if it were effortless.
At the shore, they drop their composure. For the first time, they seem like kids enjoying a morning at the cottage. Moments ago, they were star athletes.
ogether, siblings Jamie and Amie are a revered duo. They are expert waterskiers and their ski club, Club de Skinautique, is at the heart of the cottage community here on Metigoshe Lake. Near Turtle Mountain Provincial Park on the southern edge of Manitoba, the 1,500-acre lake is split by an invisible line, most of the water residing in North Dakota. There are no floating buoys to mark the divide and no walls slicing through the surrounding forest. But the residents of the roughly 2,500 homes and cottages on the lake all know exactly where Canada ends and America begins.
“That cabin is in Canada,” Jamie says as he drives the boat to the ski club, motioning with his chin, “and their dock is in the U.S. There’s nothing like waking up in Canada and having your coffee in the States.”
You might think that a lake that spans an international boundary would have a naturally divisive culture. But here, the commitment to waterskiing overrides any national allegiance. Club de Skinautique’s 38 members, mostly children and young teens, hail from both sides of the border. The American and Canadian skiers maintain a competitive rivalry, but the club brings the countries together, holding their practices and performances on the American side. In the summer, the team practises every Friday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning to prepare for three big shows a year. “You really commit when you join the team,” says Jamie.
The jovial Skinautique clubhouse could have been plucked from the set of the ’90s TV show Saved by the Bell. It’s a green-and-blue shipping container sitting at the base of a hill, tucked away in a quiet bay where the club’s members can train, test new ideas, and minimize the disturbance to the other lake inhabitants. The property belongs to the lake association, which allows the club to use the land as a practice area. The sloped hillside behind the clubhouse forms natural bleachers, perfect for an audience.
Inside the clubhouse, the interior shiplap reveals decades of handwritten jokes, notes, and drawings revealing the friendly American vs. Canadian teammate rivalry since its first performance on the lake in 1958.
The club owns two boats, twin-rig 150 Hydrodynes—ski boats originally designed as racers, with flat bottoms to create less drag. The flat bottom makes the Hydrodyne ideal for skiers, because the wake it creates is small, while the boat is sturdy enough to accommodate two 150 hp motors. The club raises funds to pay for boat and motor maintenance, gas, and insurance by charging admission for its shows, selling concessions, and collecting a fee from its members, the youngest of which is only seven. Since the ’60s, the club has trained kids to perform jumps, barefooting, ballet, trios, and the crowd favourite: pyramids.
“When we first joined the team, we struggled to do the pyramid,” says Amie. “Now, we’ve got so many talented kids on the team that we can do it any time. It’s nice to see how much we’ve grown.”
The Teetaert siblings both joined the club in 2007, as teenagers, and have been coming to Metigoshe since they were born, driving in with their parents from Brandon, Man.
“We’ve always said that the lake is more than just a summer cabin. It’s like Brandon is our winter cabin, and the lake is home,” Amie says.
Jamie and Amie’s dad, Jim, has been visiting friends on the lake since the ’60s. When he and his wife, Corinne, began dating, in 1980, he brought her along with him. Soon, they were spending much of their summers at a friend’s parents’ cabin that was rarely used. In exchange, Jim and Corinne looked after the place. They started making upgrades to the cabin at their own expense, first installing a new bathroom and then a kitchen sink.
“We thought maybe it was time to consider buying,” Corinne says. “Thankfully, the Muirs let us make an offer.”
The cabin is a simple pine-clad three-bedroom bungalow with a vaulted ceiling. “We’re in the Canadian bay, and we have a great view down the main lake,” says Jamie, who helped his dad build a tiered deck out front last summer. “We just installed a hot tub into it—perfect for a dip after skiing.”
Jamie rarely stays put at the Teetaert cottage. Instead, he floats among friends on both sides of the border, helping earn him the informal title of Mr. Metigoshe. He built his own 160 sq. ft. bunkhouse so he wouldn’t wake up the family when he came back to the cabin after socializing late into the night at friends’ cabins or at a karaoke bar in town.
Amie, on the other hand, is faithfully home by midnight. With practice dominating weekends at Metigoshe Lake, she values her rest. She rises early, eats a healthy breakfast, and waits for Jamie to groggily open his eyes and come to the main cabin. “You can give more to practices if you’re…awake for them,” she says. “But Jamie’s more of a night owl.”
Luckily, there’s no hangover to deal with—though he may stay up until three in the morning with parents from the ski club, Jamie is the designated driver.
The Teetaerts are tightly knit with the Americans on Metigoshe, even though every visit requires crossing an international border. Since a change in regulations last year, residents passing from the Canadian side to the American side, or vice versa, are required to phone in their arrival to customs and border protection. Once back on home soil, they must phone again, declaring their return.
“Even if you’re just going on a boat ride, you have to call when you get home,” says Amie. “It’s annoying, but it’s a small price to pay to enjoy the lake.”
s the darkening sky threatens practice, rain starts to cut through the mist. The kids and a couple of parents dash to shelter, but Jamie keeps his place in the boat. As the Teetaert siblings have gotten older, they’ve scaled back their formal involvement with the club. They still perform and mentor, but it’s Neil Albright, a 53-year-old American cottager, who leads the team as president.
Neil joined the club in 1979, and has maintained his athletic physique, thanks to a long career as a professional waterskier. He left the club in 1984 for a job at SeaWorld Ohio and returned to the Metigoshe Lake team in 2015, eager to bring back the skills he had learned.
“Endurance!” Neil calls out through the rain, zipping up his windbreaker and pressing practice onward. The cold rain is no deterrent for Neil. He is used to intensity and pressure—once, he skied on the Red Sea for King Hussein of Jordan.
“What’s the temperature out here, like 50 degrees?” one of the young members squawks through the ice-cold rain as four teenage boys—ready for the challenge—begin to lay out their skis on the dock side by side.
“What’s 50 degrees in Canadian?”
A few chuckles bounce among the parents who are watching practice. The Canadian–American rivalry begins.
A parade of teens driving Sea-Doos suddenly storms the bay through the rain. They may as well be clad in leather jackets and sunglasses—these are the cool kids, late to practice. The younger club members ogle from the sidelines with hearts in their eyes.
“Here come more Canadians, like the Hell’s Angels themselves,” one dad quips.
“You can’t be a waterskier and not be a bit of a show-off,” another one laughs.
As the Canadian Sea-Doos approach, four teenage boys sitting on the dock—three Canadians and one American—are waiting to begin endurance training. The ski boat is going to pull the boys around the bay to see who can last the longest.
And they’re going to do it barefoot.
Neil tells one of the PWC drivers to follow behind the boat to scoop up the boys as they fall. As the boat pulls away from the dock—all four boys trailing behind—and sets out around the bay, the skiers shed their skis and start skidding barefoot over the water’s surface. Faces twist and contort as the boys find their balance. At 65 km/h, barefooting is tough on the feet, but lasting the longest means coming out a champion.
“Bring America home! U-S-A!” Neil chants from the dock with a few fist pumps, rooting for the one American skier. Two boys drop off on the outer edge of the bay, but they’re so far out it’s impossible to tell which two they are.
The PWC that is following behind halts on the water to scoop up the fallen boys. The two returning teens climb out of the water at the clubhouse dock, faces marred with disappointment, and plop down, each rubbing his sore feet. Both are Canadian, and the American teammates are excited that their country still has a chance to win. The air is staccatoed with a chorus of Canadian and American chants as the younger members begin placing bets on the two skiers left.
“Barefooting makes you such a stud,” one dad says from the sidelines. Far on the other side of the bay, another skier drops off into the water, having made it about halfway around the circumference of the club’s practice space.
The huddle holds its breath as the last skier continues to ride the water. He finally comes into view.
And he’s Canadian.
The clubhouse bursts into a roar. The winner is the teenager Riley Chen, and he could very well be the next Metigoshe ski celebrity. Jamie isn’t one for whooping, but he quietly smiles from the boat, proud that Canada took the cake.
Amie claps for Riley from the shore, a sweater over her head to stay dry. A school of young waterskiers surrounds her, mirroring her applause.
Riley beams as he climbs onto the dock. He shakes his long, wet hair from his eyes and gently pads across the dock’s floorboards on his sore feet. He nods to his teammates with humble pride.
As thunder rumbles in the distance, Neil calls practice to a close.
Teammates and parents dart through the rain to put away wetsuits, hang up skis, wind ropes, and lock up the little boxcar clubhouse. Friends wrap each other in towels for warmth, and even pass around a warm mug of coffee.
For these cottagers, despite coming from opposing countries, there are moments, like these, where national borders are forgotten and nothing else matters when the team is at the clubhouse together. Home isn’t Canada or America.
Home is Metigoshe.
Vanessa Kunderman is a journalist, poet, and fiction writer based in Anola, Man.
How anyone can get up on waterskis
1) Start in a sitting position in the water, with your ski tips out and your knees bent at 90 degrees. Don’t bend more than that. Your butt will drag too much to get liftoff.
2) Stay sitting as the boat starts to pull you at half-throttle, and resist the water in front of you by applying pressure forward with the bottom of your feet.
3) Keep the rope handle close to your hips. Too high and you’ll fall backward; too low and you’ll fall on your butt.
4) Keep your shoulders back. Resist the urge to roll your shoulders forward; that puts the weight on your toes.
5) Once you find your balance, stand up slowly. Every move should be slow and precise. Otherwise, you lose form and tip over.
6) Try dropping a ski. Slowly lift that foot up and down, up and down, finding your balance. Once you’re comfortable, point your toe. The water will pull the ski off (fast). Slowly return your foot down on top of the back binding. Don’t rush. Once you’ve regained balance, slide it inside.
This story was originally published as “That Familiar Pull” in the Fall 2017 issue of Cottage Life.
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