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Thunder Lake Show: Reviving Water Ski Spirit

Thunder Lake Show: Reviving Water Ski Spirit

Just shy of 10 years since the iconic Water Ski Spectacular team hung up their skis for the last time, Sea World Gold Coast has recently revived this world-class extravaganza with the rollout of the Thunder Lake Stunt Show. A delightful fusion of modern day extreme-sport madness with the vintage classiness that water ski shows just seem to ooze, it is an action-packed 30 minutes of family friendly fun.

No longer just a ski show, the Thunder Lake Stunt Show follows a classic ‘good vs evil’ storyline, as the Sun State All Stars battle it out with the Bay City River Rats to be ‘rulers’ of the lake. Ski, slalom, barefoot and wake stunts combined with high-powered jet skis make for some jaw-dropping moments. On the shore, the BMX performers bring a new element of awesome to the show, pulling huge tricks down a massive ramp, just metres from the audience. This combination of land and water stunts have proven to be a great success as the crowds roll in day after day to fill the Sea World show arena with endless applause, oohs and aahs, and a whole lot of laughs!

It is a surprise to many to learn that the original Water Ski Show was the very foundation of Sea World as we know it today. Established in 1957 as The Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens and situated where Emerald Lakes Golf Course now lies, the Water Ski Show expanded to an entire water-based theme park in just over a decade. When Sea World opened its gates in 1971, the Water Ski Show was one of the main draw cards, featuring some of the greatest water skiers from Australia and around the World. The effortless grace with which they performed was mind-blowing. Pulling off jumps, flips, tandem and barefoot skiing as well as the ever impressive Human Pyramid, it was a show that inspired many to take up the sport as weekend hobby and for some, a career goal! Glamorous costumes and ear-to-ear smiles, the show wowed audiences for more than five decades before taking a final bow in August 2009.

Gary Reid, a member of the ski team during those final years went on to become the founder and executive show producer for Showtime FMX. Showtime FMX produces all the high action shows for Village Roadshow Theme Parks, as well as a plethora of world-class shows for large corporate events and festivals. Gary always dreamed of bringing back the ski show. After three or four years of bouncing the idea around, things got serious about two years ago with the unveiling of the new stunt show pitch. Finally getting the nod at the beginning of 2019, it was a whirlwind four months of preparation. Set builds and team training along with hours of rehearsals and fine tuning, the crew performed their first show in April this year and have continued to develop the show as they grow.

Wanting to uphold the reputation of the original show, Gary sourced some of the world’s best athletes and transformed them into performers for this next-level entertainment spectacle. The cast is a supreme group of elitists, collectively holding more than a dozen Australian and World Championship titles. These include: Keenan Derry, 2x World Junior and 6x Australian Barefoot Ski Champion (Men’s); Abby Hicks, 2x Australian International Show Team member and 3rd on the World Junior Barefoot Championships; and, Bailey Hyatt, 2018 Team USA World Champion and one of only four women in the world to land a front flip off the ski jump. Adding to that are two- time Pro Freestyle Jet Ski Champion Michael Ratti, as well as a couple of Pro BMX riders that are current competitors on the World Tour, and you’ve got an all-star team bringing you a stellar show!

Asked if they found it hard to step into the role of performer as opposed to competitor, with such a high level of athleticism, the answer from the cast was a resounding “No”! “I’m loving it!” exclaimed pro BMX rider, Chris James. “It’s a perfect balance of performing (tricks) and acting. We are here to do the job that we were hired for, but learning the acting along the way has been great.”

Entertainment manager, Lisa Mallory added, “That’s the good thing about Showtime FMX. It offers everyone the ability to do things they’ve never done before, but still continue with what they love. They’ll never come and only do just what they can. They’ll continue to grow in all different areas and all different ways.” By cross performing and training up in different roles, the cast are given an opportunity to continuously up-skill and push their own personal game to new levels. For many of the team, this job is a dream come true and provides them with an opportunity that many athletes do not receive – that is, being paid to do what they love week in week out, and allowing them to continue to grow in both their chosen disciplines as well as pursue new activities within the performance.

Adding to their new skills is that of maintenance of the equipment for each of the shows. Like any craftsmen, these performers take extreme pride and care for their ‘tools’. With a high level of difficulty in many of the tricks they perform, these guys need to ensure that their equipment and props are in A1 condition before each and every show. Just as a base jumper would only ever pack his own shoot, the Thunder Lake Stunt Show team carry out the majority of maintenance work on their gear.

The Thunder Lake Stunt Show is sure to please both young and old. But while entertainment is at the forefront of the show, the backdrop is just as exciting, particularly for the local businesses and trades.

The producers matched the highly professional cast and crew with state-of-the-art equipment and boats. With their freestyle jet skis costing $50,000 each and a custom- built pontoon boat truck coming in at around $150K, there was no expense spared in making this show one to remember. “To put on a world-class show, you need to spend the money,” explained Gary. Luckily for this Gold Coast business, the majority of this money was spent locally. Teaming up with the likes of JSW Powersports, Malibu

Boats and AJSP (Australian Jet Ski Parts), all the boats, jets skis and equipment were purchased from local Gold Coast businesses. Additionally, the construction crew for the set build was with a local building company, providing ongoing work as the show continues to expand. Over half of the 20 full-time staff are Gold Coast locals, and many of those who were outsourced from overseas shows now call the Gold Coast home.

This show has done a lot for the local economy and will continue as the show’s popularity grows. Not only has it directly provided numerous jobs, the show is also a massive draw card for both domestic and international tourists. Needless to say, it has re-ignited a spark for the young people to get into power water sports as well as into BMX. The predicted overflow for local businesses from those inspired to be involved in skiing and boating and possibly turn it into a career is exciting.

Gary shared how he got into his dream job. “I remember when I saw the show as a 16-year-old in 1991, and thought how cool it would be to work at Sea World. Four years later, I got a job skiing here, which was a dream come true. On the first day of (this show’s) rehearsals, the comment ‘This has been a dream since I was a kid’ could be heard many times. We have had a lot of interest from locals asking what they need to learn to work here, which is great. It gives people something to aim for. It’s one of only a handful of full-time water ski shows in the world.”

The show is a wonderful addition to the Sea World entertainment schedule and one that we hope stays alive just as long as the last ski show did. It is a true spectacle for the entire family that leaves you laughing out loud at the slapstick banter between the two crew, while your heart races and you fist-pump the air as they pull off some death defying trick. It is a not-to-be missed event that will leave you beaming.


By Lowen Taylor



(Published in the Oct-Dec 2019 edition)



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