Friday, September 27, 2019

Before the memory fades: The Luckson Water Ski Club of Highland Lake – Windham’s Cypress Gardens of the north

Aqua Ski Maids Ballet from left to right Barb Moulton, 
Dale Goudreau, Phyliss Coffin
By Walter Lunt

The comment, heard numerous times around Maine in the 1950s and ‘60s, went something like this: “It’s like having Cypress Gardens right here in Maine.” It was in reference to Windham’s own Luckson Water Ski Club, based on Highland Lake, which performed shows throughout the state.

The name was a merger of two of the club’s founding members. They were Harlan “Sonny” Stultz (owner of Stultz Electric in Westbrook) and Herb “Lucky” Coffin of Portland. Another early member was Walter Johnson of Windham. The impetus for forming a ski club was the intense passion for the sport. It was the bringing together of kindred spirits to form an organization that would travel the length and breadth of Maine to perform with grace and athleticism.

Other members were Ron Cole of Highland Lake, who became president of the club, Barbara Moulton and daughters Donna and Denise of Portland and Walter Johnson’s brother, John. All became accomplished showmen and water ski tournament competitors in conjunction with the Eastern Region American Water Ski Association.
Shows were conducted on numerous Maine lakes and ponds from Rangeley Lake to Brandy Pond in Naples and Thomas Pond in Casco/Raymond.

Each show featured 16 to 18 acts, including the aqua ski ballet, jumping (clearing more than 80 feet), slalom (one ski) demonstrations, barefoot and trick skiing, kite flying and the popular pyramid skiers where one performer would stand on the shoulders of two base skiers. There was even a clown act.
Phyllis Coffin, now 96, remembers a show in Bar Harbor. In addition to the coastal water being very cold, she recalled that a group of spectators approached the skiers after a performance and wanted autographs.

“They wanted to know if we were from Florida (Cypress Gardens). We said ‘No’ and explained that we were Maine-based. They were surprised but said they wanted our autographs anyway.”

John Johnson still chuckles about an incident at North Gorham Pond just before a show. He said the sponsors had built a regulation ski jump for the club to use.

“They covered it in canvas. When Sonny (Stultz) took a practice run over it the skis stopped the minute they hit it. (But) Sonny kept going, clean over the jump.” The canvas was removed in favor of the underlying plywood surface, and the show went on.

Phyliss Coffin today at the age of 96
The number and complexity of the ski tricks were legendary. One of the acts that always prompted ooh’s and aah’s from the crowd was one invented and performed by Barb Moulton. While riding a “saucer,” a round 36-inch plywood disk, she would place her forehead on a kitchen sponge and perform a headstand.

Jeff Coffin would mount a 4-legged stool on the saucer and twirl 360’s. He also demonstrated the so-called “shoe-skis,” a pair of 12 to 14-inch skis barely longer than the bindings that secured his feet. His dad, Lucky, skied with one foot on a boat paddle. There was also backwards skiing and turning 360’s on two skis by stepping over the tow rope.

Champion Ski Jumper, Walter Johnson
Most of the shows were sponsored by lake-side marinas or local chambers of commerce. All money paid to the club, said Jeff, went back into boat gas and equipment. The members skied for the fun and for the enjoyment of the crowd.

One spectacular piece of equipment that was usually featured toward the end of a show was the kite flying man, a feat that often drew gasps from the spectators. Club officials had seen pictures of the kite in water ski magazines. They fashioned one from scratch. Fortunately, it functioned properly and was always a huge hit at the shows. Sonny Stultz was the ‘high-flying man.’ One story about the kite was how it somehow became disengaged from the tow boat. It seems Stultz glided over, then into trees off the Casco shore of Thomas Pond.

Nearly all the members of Luckson Ski Club competed and placed in the top three of various categories in state championship ski tournaments, from Georgia to Maine.

The club entertained thousands over its nearly 20-year existence. None of those memories have faded from the minds of the survivors who, to this day, enjoy telling the ski stories to those of us who love hearing them. 

Luckson Ski Club Co-Founder, Sonny Stultz

Expert Skier, Lucky Coffin

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