Editor’s note: Over the summer we were introduced to the very interesting story of water ski fanatic Shannon St. John, who was nearing completion of a years-long quest to water ski on all seven of the ancient Greek seas. For those who don’t know, those are the Adriatic, Aegean, Black, Caspian, Mediterranean, Red, and Persian Gulf. Before August, St. John had water skied on all six, with just one left, the Caspian. She reached out seeing if we might be able to help find a company or person somewhere along the edges of the sea that could offer her a pull on her water ski. Unfortunately, we were not of help, but St. John was undeterred. She’d made it this far and continued to search until she made it work. When she returned, we asked her to write a story about the entire 14-year process of skiing all seven seas, and she happily obliged.
On my 64th birthday in August, I completed one of the strangest quests in watersports: becoming (to the best of my knowledge) the first person to waterski on each of the Ancient Greek Seven Seas.
I grew up waterskiing on Lake Maitland, part of the Winter Park Chain of Lakes in Central Florida. I was always passionate about it, but never had my own boat or equipment, so lost access when I moved north as an adult. A trip to Michigan gave me the opportunity to get on skis again after a 17-year gap, and once again I was hooked. Within a year I had bought a boat and began skiing regularly with my family during summers in North Carolina. Since returning to Florida, I’ve skied at least once a month for the past 8 ½ years.
Because of my work with international nonprofit organizations, I have been extremely fortunate to be able to travel throughout the world. My first of the “Ancient Seven” in January, 2005 was a complete fluke. I was taking a brief vacation in Aqaba, Jordan; happened upon a tourist stand offering watersports, and was able to zoom around the busy Red Sea port for 15 minutes on a slalom. It wasn’t until eight years later on the Adriatic in Croatia, when I similarly stumbled upon a seaside resort hotel with a giant “WATERSPORTS” sign, that my husband suggested the idea of the Seven Seas.
The Persian Gulf was next. On business in Dubai I had a spare morning, and my taxi driver “knew a guy” who had a boat and skis. The start on a men’s slalom with a giant boot and broken rear strap was a little rough, but eventually I got up and was skiing around with skyscrapers in the background.
I managed to accomplish the Aegean, Mediterranean, and Black Seas in one trip in 2017 thanks to the persistence of local friends and travelling companions in Greece and Varna, Bulgaria. (Special thanks to Wave Sports in Santorini and Water Ski Zone in Paros.)
By far the greatest logistical challenge was the last sea, the Caspian. The Caspian is surrounded by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan. Not exactly water-skiing hotspots. Even with the help of my friends at Water Ski magazine, my skiing pals and their pro-skiing friends, and my professional contacts, finding a beach and a tow vehicle was tough. Finally, by internet and phone, I found the Dalga Beach Water Park in Baku, Azerbaijan. The manager Fuad agreed to rent a jet ski, and my son John and I were off to the Caucasus!
The morning of the planned attempt, however, wind and waves were crashing over the 6-foot sea wall. No jet skis would be rented there that day, or likely the rest of the week. Another promising lead at a more secluded beach also came up empty. We were just about to give up when at sunset we spied two jet skis coming from an unknown location. We rushed over by foot, and negotiated in sign language and limited English to rent a Yamaha VX WaveRunner the next day. With John driving and oil tankers in the background, we took off to the amazement of onlookers who had never before seen a water ski. I now believe that Baku has the potential to be the next great watersports destination: modern, remarkably safe, miles of clean beachfront, excellent tourist infrastructure, and plenty of oil wealth.
My advice to anyone who is interested in traveling to ski is, “go for it!” Your best bet in the most remote places is to bring your own ski equipment (I used a Sportube travel case) and confirm in advance that a tow vehicle will be available. Then, be kind and patient. You will be amazed at all of the random people willing to help!
My thanks to all the friends, family members, and complete strangers who bought into this crazy quest and made it possible.