- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

BELLEVUE, Iowa (AP) - Many pastimes and hobbies are passed on from generation to generation. But few can claim, with pride, that you start at the top and finish at the bottom.

That’s the case with the Ski Bellevue water ski show team. When performers do their pyramid tricks on the Mississippi River each summer, the lightest skiers have to be on the top. Often, that means the youngest skiers.

Longtime member Dave Valant said it’s important that children join the club each year to make it work; the club needs those “brave little ones, to climb to the top.”

About 20 years ago, that was his son, Mike, who at age 27 is now the group’s president, the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/1cybt3R ) reported.

“He was born in June and was in a car seat under an umbrella at ski practices as an infant,” Dave remembered. For the Valants, skiing the river is a way of life.

Practices for this year’s season started on time for a change.

“Without any flooding this spring, we were able to start on our normally scheduled date of May 1,” Mike Valant said. “Most years - like the last two summers - we don’t get on the water until nearly June. Even then, June was flooded out so we couldn’t really ski until after the Fourth of July.”

The club’s roots go back to 1982, though performances didn’t begin until the early 1990s. Max Reed, who founded the team, still sits on the board of directors and helps build all of the ropes the club uses, Mike said.

It was Dave Valant who really helped the team evolve.

“My dad really helped make the team what it is today, creating shows with real acts, act orders, writing themes and adding music,” Mike Valant said.

Dave was influenced by a trip to Rock Island, Illinois, to watch the Backwater Gamblers ski team.

“I thought, ‘Gee, with a little more work and a little more effort, we could put on a show like that,’” he said.

Early on, Ski Bellevue put on themed events, such as pirate shows, Westerns and even a murder mystery. But the layout of the river “stage” to audience didn’t allow a close enough view of the performers for themed shows. So, in the mid-2000s, the approach was changed to thrill shows.

That approach was ratcheted up when Mike went off to college and joined the Five Seasons Ski Team in Cedar Rapids. That’s where he met Brian Menge.

“I recruited him in to Ski Bellevue, where he has been extremely valuable in helping us with boats, docks, ropes, show directing … you name it, he has given his time and insight on it,” Mike said.

Menge, who lives in Cedar Rapids, is one of four or five Five Seasons Ski Team members who regularly performs with Bellevue. Several Ski Bellevue members ski for both teams, as well.

“If they need me to ski, drive a boat, fix a boat … whatever they need, I’ll do it,” said Menge, who also has skied professionally at Sea World in San Antonio, Texas. Mostly, however, he is skiing or handling boat maintenance this year for Bellevue.

He said the Cedar Rapids team has twice as many members as Bellevue’s 30 or so, but isn’t skiing at a much higher level.

“The number-one thing Bellevue has is they’re non-competitive, where others like ours are competitive,” Menge, 30, said. The lack of competition seems to raise the morale among Bellevue skiers. “For the most part, it’s local people. There’s a real unique bonding, with all age groups.”

That continues this year. Parents and other volunteers are crucial in making the shows run, according to Dave Valant. Cody Hickson and Amy Bacon were elected as show directors, taking over for Mike Valant. And a new emcee, Nick Walters from the Five Seasons team, will describe the action this season.

“We are also working on getting our four-high pyramid back on the water,” Mike said. “It’s been a couple years since we have had enough time, practice, skiers to do one.”

And, although he’s undoubtedly working his way to the bottom, Mike, and his wife, Amye, have young Parker Michael who could one day be geared up for the top. He was born in January.

“I can’t wait to get him on skies,” Mike said. “He has already had quite a few boat rides and plenty of hours down on the beach at ski practice. I hope he takes to it as well as I did, and, if he doesn’t, I bet I’ll love him just the same.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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