The King of Darkness tournament returned in full force and featured the best water-skiers from around the world.
| 11:59 a.m. June 23, 2021
High up in the darkened sky, Sasha Danisheuskaya seemingly floats with ease — like a bird caught in a strong headwind.
With the ski handle firmly in hand, and her skis spread, it’s a moment Danisheuskaya has experienced countless times all around the world. So despite being more than 100 feet in the air, it’s just another day at the office as she soars during the King of Darkness ski tournament Saturday, June 19, on Lake Hancock in Horizon West.
“You can feel the pressure of the wind,” said Danisheuskaya, who lives right by the lake. “You’re not free-falling. You just feel speed, and it’s kind of like landing with a parachute. But you can also feel in the air if you did well or if you did (badly) — if you get pulled into the boat or to the shore, you can still analyze what you did well, because the goal is to have the farthest jump.
“In the air you can feel, ‘Oh, that’s where I usually go,’” she said.
In the women’s open jump event, Danisheuskaya hit a Round 1 third-best at 52.2 meters (171 feet), before going for 49.9 meters (164 feet) in Round 3 to finish in fifth place in the Open Women’s Jump.
ART OF THE NIGHT JUMP
The skiers go about their pre-competition prep in their own way, but just about all of them have a set routine.
For Danisheuskaya — a Belarusian who has been competing since she was a child — the approach, takeoff and landing all require her undivided attention.
“When you get on the course, you just focus on the key points of your technique,” Danisheuskaya said. “When I ski, I just think about my technique and my goals.”
In the eyes of Freddy Krueger — a Winter Garden resident who finished first in the men’s open jump event — it’s sort of comparable to being a Major League hitter in the case that every set up to the ramp is a little different. There is a rhythm that you have to be in to hit it just right.
“We start turning to the ramp about 200 feet away, and at the time we’re making our turn, we’re traveling about 35 mph,” Krueger said. “And then we’re going to double our speed as we approach the bottom of the jump — hitting it somewhere around 70. All of that timing is critical. If we’re a little too early, and we’ve got to stand there and wait for the ramp to come to us, then it’s going to crunch us up.”
For everyone during the weekend’s competition, those routines stayed true, but there was a new variable thrown into the mix: nightfall.
Normally, skiers take to the lake during the day, but during the finals of the big jump event at King of Darkness, they’re asked to do it all under lights brought in that help illuminate the ramp and buoys.
“Those buoys are actually very important for us to see — we have some place very close to where we’re going to land — because without those buoys, you just end up with no depth perception, and you might as well close your eyes and hope for the best without them,” Krueger said. “Especially in Florida water — with this water being clean and clear — the light just absorbs and disappears into the abyss.
“We have a couple of tricks up our sleeves that we’ll help visually with the buoys,” he said. “You might even see we’ll spray a little soap into the water as we drive by the landing area so it leaves a little foam wash — that white of the bubbles catches the light and helps us see for the landing.”
BUILDING SOMETHING SPECIAL
Throughout the day — both Friday and Saturday — the best skiers put on a show for locals and visitors looking for an entertaining escape from the real world.
From the shoreline, folks lined up chairs to watch, as a children’s area offered games and food options to check out. But it was on the lake where the action stole the attention of those in attendance — conjuring “oohs” and “ahhhs” in the process.
While showing their talents is a self-fulfilling thing for skiers such as Krueger and Danisheuskaya, it’s also a chance to grow the sport both have loved all their lives. Both of Krueger’s children performed during the day, and Danisheuskaya got the opportunity to show out for her community.
“It’s awesome to see all the people from the neighborhood come and show their support,” Danisheuskaya said. “It’s very exciting because when you travel abroad, you don’t really know that many people, but here, you’re with your friends and family who support you. And it’s nice to see that we can promote sports, as well — hopefully some kids will see what we do and decide to join in.”