If you were born or raised in Mulwala, New South Wales, chances are you grew up wearing water skis more frequently than shoes.
32 year old local Pete O’Neill is no exception – since the age of two he has spent his life behind a ski boat and loving every minute of it. Competing and coaching at the highest echelons of national and world waterskiing, Pete’s connection to the sport runs deep.
We got chatting with Pete to find out more.
For those who’ve not yet been to Mulwala, give us a picture
There are two main lakes in Mulwala, both are manmade and specifically designed to be a water skiier’s dream. They are owned by the biggest water skiing club in the world. There’s also a huge recreational lake and long stretches of the Murray River nearby. So you’ve got good weather, great water and an awesome ski club. Whereas most Australian country towns have a footy season, we have a waterskiing season. The town swells by thousands in summer as visitors come to enjoy the river and lakes. Water skiing is in the town’s blood.
Waterskiing at the age of two? Isn’t that when most kids are starting to learn to walk?
I guess my parents were keen for me to learn. I started barefoot skiing by the time I was eight. When I turned ten I competed in my first National Championship Barefoot Waterskiing.
OK so your parents are responsible! But you’re now 32 years old. What kept you in the sport?
It’s fun and exciting and has lots of good people involved. It’s a good social sport and it feels like there is always a new challenge or something to learn. I always look forward to jumping in particular but to be honest I just enjoy being behind a boat.
Your success in water skiing didn’t stop at age ten when you made the National Championships. Tell us more.
I have held a couple of records in my time for the trick event, and there are a few tricks in the show ski world that I invented so I am pretty proud of them. I have won the overall Barefoot Nationals in the Open Mens division ten times, and have placed third at the last two World Championships. In Show skiing (water skiing is split into disciplines, like football has AFL, Rugby League, Soccer etc) I have been Show Director with my best mate Brutis Ryan. I have skied in two National Championship winning teams and I have led the Australian Team (again along with Brutis) to a second place in the World Championships.
And you’re passing your talent and expertise down to the next generation of skiers…
I have always enjoyed coaching and have been driving the boat and shouting instructions since I was 16. I have been a Co Show Director and Coach of the Mulwala waterski team and the Australian Show Ski Team. I’ve also coached many National Barefoot teams in the Junior, Open and Senior levels. But the success has always come down to the athletes and their performances. Skiing, like most sports, is about drive and passion. I think as a coach the best I can do is offer advice and let people use it if they want. Most of the successes that I have been involved in as a coach is because the skier just wanted it so badly.
Where’s the best place in the world to waterski?
Mulwala! It’s home and it’s just awesome. Although if I had to pick somewhere else, there is a place that stands out. It’s on a lake near Rotorua, New Zealand, where I once ran a clinic. We skied all day on the lake and when it came time to finish, the locals had us drive to a top section of the lake. It was surrounded by hills and the most beautiful scenery complete with islands – it felt like we were in a travel brochure. We hopped out and waded through a little creek where the water started to warm, and we soon came to a waterfall and all these naturally formed pools filled with hot spring water. It was an amazing way to wind down after a big day’s skiing.
Is there anywhere you’ve not waterskied that’s still on your bucket list?
I have been skiing in South Africa, which was incredible, but I’d love to return to travel the rest of the continent and find some more skiing holes.
You own Mulwala Waterski Pro Shop – tell us about that
I bought the shop from a friend in 2003. It has been a great project and two years ago the shop just wasn’t big enough any more so we opened up a new store, Skin Ski and Surf in Yarrawonga. I share my time between the two shops so Summer is really busy. But it’s a great place to work because when we are flat out and busy, I can disappear with some great people and go water skiing.
What boat do you own?
A Malibu Response TXI, which is perfect for what we do with an amazing slalom ski wake. But it’s also awesome for wakeboarding and it goes fast enough to barefoot. My family also has a Malibu Barefooter, which is a little more barefoot specific.
What skiing equipment do you own?
I use Williams wetsuits and their sister brand, Intensity and Gavin the owner is a skier and always listens and is constantly working to improve products. When I show ski I use Ronix Wakeboards and HO Skis as they are the best in their category.