The Mulwala Water Ski Club’s Show Team has certainly had some diverse cultural experiences in recent years competing and performing all over the world.FIONA BLICK July 15, 2014 3:37pm
However, the phone call that Ski Coordinator Pete O’Neill received Thursday morning two weeks ago started a chain of events that saw the small band of world champions set off on an all expenses paid trip to Turkmenistan.
Where I hear you ask?
And that is the very first question Pete asked to H2O Events organiser, Jack Ellison, who was put in charge of planning a ski show for the President of this small Middle Eastern country.
“I thought it was a made up place from the movie Borat, but it is very real, it has real people, real buildings and a really wealthy President,” Pete told the Yarrawonga Chronicle.
“I got the phone call from Jack on Thursday morning and Brutis Ryan, a club legend, and myself did a lot of running around organising things and then on Saturday morning we were travelling to Melbourne to catch the first of four flights to Turkmenistan.”
This small country possesses the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources and, although it is wealthy in natural resources, most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert.
It borders Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan and lies on the Caspian Sea, which is where the Ski Show Team performed.
As well as Pete and Brutis, six members of the Mulwala Water Ski Club Show Team went – Brant Ryan, Darren Strawhorn, Brayden Wilson, Ash Milner, Kate Green and Natasha Prentice.
“There were also different groups travelling from Sydney and Wisconsin and we all met in Istanbul on the Sunday, only three days after the initial phone call,” Pete said.
“So why there for a ski show?
“Well, the President was having his birthday and had come to the World Wind Surfing Championships held at the town of Awaza on the Caspian Sea and our performance was the opening of the competition.
“Apparently the President had decided last minute that he wanted to go so that’s where he went.
“In Turkmenistan, the President gets what he wants.”
When the group arrived at the capital, Ashgabad, it didn’t appear the airport received a lot of visitors.
“After two hours of customs we still ended up walking out the back and helping the one baggage handler get the bags in; he was nice enough to stand back and have a smoke while the ski team unloaded the bags.
“From there we caught another plane to the regional city of Awaza which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
“The roads are huge freeways and the airport is a giant building, as if 20 planes a day went there, but we were the only one.
“We stayed in a large Thailand-style resort, the Yelken Yacht Club Resort, but apart from us and the wind surfers, we didn’t see anyone.
“I am not sure if this is because it wasn’t the season for travel or maybe no one goes there, but it was like building the ten kilometres of the Gold Coast and then leaving it empty.”
One of the funniest things Pete said happened occurred when Brutis needed to fix a ski and had to borrow a cigarette lighter.
“Brutis explained it to the translator who wasn't that good with either language to be honest but then the translator accidentally insulted the guy with the lighter.
“Brutis spent ten minutes with hand gestures explaining that he just wanted to borrow the lighter and not take it from him.
“To think all that commotion over a single lighter; the joys of travel.”
Pete said the actual show went well despite having to perform during a desert sand storm, crashing waves and constant backwash.
“Before we new it the President, who had sat down 25 minutes earlier, was walking up his green carpet (he only walks on green carpet and has a team of trucks beating him to wherever he goes and laying it down), getting into his white gold-plated Mercedes and driving himself away; he gave us a wave as he left,” he said.
Natasha Prentice told the Chronicle the whole experience was “surreal”.
“To see the desert and then the most amazing buildings in the middle of nowhere and walk along the spice markets in Turkey on our stopover, it was all fantastic,” she said.
“I especially liked flying business class, I really recommend that.”
Ash Milner agreed.
“It was all awesome,” he said.
“When I told mum I was leaving the next day for Turkmenistan she thought I was fibbing.
“I have been given so many opportunities skiing and we are off to Wisconsin at the end of August for the World Water Ski Show titles.
“This trip to Turkmenistan has given us valuable experience in the lead up to the world titles.”
Ash praised his bosses at Lake Mulwala Roofing, where he is an apprentice plumber.
“They let me have that time off no questions asked; they are very supportive.”
Pete summed up the trip beautifully saying “all in all it was a wild experience, to be teaching one day and a couple of days later walking through the Blue Mosque in Turkey, to be wakeboarding the next day in the desert and then surfing a man made wave in Singapore on the way home”.
“Sometimes waterskiing throws us a hell of a ride,” he said.
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