World-renowned water skier Tony Klarich has been skiing since 1969. Today, he’s a world champion in freestyle water skiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding and hydrofoil, and he’s amassed a whopping 10 national and world titles. He’s been called “the guy who can ski on anything,” and this past summer, he upped the ante with his “50 for 50” — skiing on 50 different objects for his 50th birthday.
When did you first get the idea to celebrate your birthday going 50 for 50?
When I was about to turn 40, I started brainstorming with my buddies. Should I do 40 miles to mark the milestone or ski on 40 different objects? We started making a list, and I thought, yeah, I can do this. I started looking at everything. What’s flat? What can I ski on? And my grandma’s going, “Sure, take my picnic table!”
How did “40 for 40” go?
The first time you do something like this, it’s a cluster. You make mistakes. I did it on my actual birthday in November; it was cold, it was raining, and I was wearing a full wetsuit. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it.
How was “50 for 50” different?
This wasn’t just a riding demonstration. I wanted it to be a show in 50 acts, so I chose things that would be dynamic. To ride the suitcase, for example, I went to the thrift store and bought a loud Hawaiian shirt, grandpa glasses, and sandals with the white socks pulled up. I told the history of wakeboarding through costumes and items, and I did the same for hydrofoiling. My uncle, Mike, rode an 11-foot 3-inch Sky Ski (the tallest hydrofoil on record) twice; he set a Guinness World Record, and I skied on the Guinness Book of World Records.
As you look back, does one item stand out?
There was this giant rainbow flip-flop sandal. It took eight tries, but I did it.
What motivated you to excel in water sports?
You know, competition was never huge on my family’s radar. Our style was more freestyle. I loved creating new tricks and new ways to ski.
What has been your most satisfying accomplishment?
When I won top honors in the Master’s division of the World Wakeboard Association U.S. Nationals and Worlds in 1996. I worked hard for two years leading up to that, proving that I could be a water skier and a wakeboarder. It was hotly contested; it definitely wasn’t a gimme.
What’s next for you?
We’re working on a documentary about my family, which should be out early next year, and I’ve been selected to compete with the U.S. Water Ski Show Team in the 2016 World Championships. I’m also experimenting with how many different things I can ride behind. Anything that generates power could work … a drone, a swimmer, a bicyclist, a dogsled team and maybe the Goodyear blimp.