The King of Darkness water ski tournament will return to Horizon West for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 6.
“We wanted to show the sport to a larger audience and show them what it is about and bring in new blood, really focusing on children and families,” event co-host Dana Garcia said. “We just want to show that we are a family sport when it comes down to it.”
This year, there will be a new section added to the tournament — the show ski component.
“Typically, (with) water skiing and wakeboarding and show skiing — we’ve always gone separate routes,” Garcia said. “One of the things my husband and I have kind of grown aware of is that we all are one sport, and we need to support (one another) and really act as a family, and we thought that the show ski group would … be a great family entertainment show.”
For pro water ski jumper and Orlando local Freddy Krueger, this event provides an opportunity to compete locally — at night — while sharing time with family and friends.
“I literally live two miles away,” he said. “Obviously, I’m looking forward to competing. They are adding the slalom event this year. … It’s going to be a full-fledged slalom event. So, we are going to add that little pressure cooker in, and then my boys will actually be jumping — they are kind of exhibition — to show the kids (that) this is a family event.”
Differing from other sports, the culture of the event is what makes water skiing — and King of Darkness — unique.
“In (all of the) tournaments, everybody tries to treat the athletes well and make sure everybody is taken care of,” Krueger said. “The Garcias, with their kids being pro skiers, they’ve got a feel for what we need and what we like. I always kind of say the athletes never go for wanting (something else) when we are here. … But, we are also here … to entertain a crowd. So, there’s a show that’s got to go on, and it’s got to be done. I just feel like the professionalism from when we start on Thursday morning with the slalom (preliminaries) to when we finish Saturday night — everything runs like a well-oiled machine.”
For Taylor Garcia, being one of the athletes competing this year is both exciting and nerve-wracking.
“I’m definitely excited and nervous — but mostly excited,” he said. “I’ve been trying to catch up to Freddy (Krueger) for a couple of years now — about six years of getting beat by Freddy — he’s one of the best jumpers of all time, and it’s an absolute honor to compete against him. It’s definitely been an adjustment period, going from idolizing him and trying to learn from his style and the way he jumps and incorporate that into my own skiing, to now (going) off the dock right before he goes. So I’ll be getting ready, and Freddy will be getting ready right behind me.”
Skiing at night and in the dark is no easy task. There are several lighting elements that must be working just right for the jumpers to be able to go off the ramp and land perfectly.
“The lightning of the site (during night jump events) is difficult,” Krueger said. “If the ramp starts to get too far off the shore, then we use construction lights, and then we use spotlights that you would use in a theater and stuff like that. But, when the ramp starts to get too far off the shore, or if one shore is too wide, then all of a sudden, you can’t get the light to reach. And, lighting up the ramp is one issue, but lighting up the landing is another.
“So, this is one of our favorite facilities to do that, because as you drive in, you can see how the lake actually kind of narrows right where the ramp is,” he said. “So, we have this great opportunity to light everything up. And so, as far as night jumping tournaments go, we’ve had some of the biggest distances and best competitions in the world right here.”
Staff writer Andrea Mujica covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. When she’s not on the sidelines, you can find Andrea coaching rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere.