8 July 2021

Full speed ahead

Did you know that waterskiers can reach speeds of 70 km an hour? Or that a water skier accelerates and decelerates faster than a Formula One driver? That’s quite a rush – and one of the reasons why Travis loves his sport.

It didn’t start that way, though. When he first put on a pair of skis, he was only three years old. His parents had borrowed a boat to take the family on an excursion to Albert Falls Dam in Pietermaritzburg, an hour away from his home town of Umhlanga. At the time, he recalls, waterskiing was just a great way for the family to spend some time together.

By the time he was 10, Travis knew this was more than a fun weekend pastime. His brother (who, incidentally, has also qualified as a CA) had also started getting into the sport more seriously, and Travis’s enthusiasm reached a point where he was spending most of his free time on the water.

All that practice started paying off: ‘I was 15 when I realised that this was something I could take seriously,’ he says. That’s when he started taking part in international tournaments, winning 14th place at the European and African Youth Championships in 2012. Hugely encouraged, he entered the Under 21 Championships during his matric year. It was a bit of a gamble; Travis was, after all, three years younger than most of the other contestants. He was also facing significant exam stress. In fact, since the competition took place in the middle of exams, he received a special exemption so that he could write at a later date.

Schooling done, Travis started his studies in accounting – a discipline which, given its precise nature, may seem at odds with his craving for speed, but made perfect sense. ‘My grandfather was a CA and my dad owned his own business, so I was always interested in the way companies worked. More than that, I thought that a solid understanding of finance would stand me in good stead no matter what career path I followed. After all, even if you’re a doctor, you need to know how to manage your accounts. Plus, numbers came naturally to me.’ In fact, Travis had already proved his business acumen while still a teenager, when he was awarded a license to sell waterskiing equipment in South Africa on behalf of a French company. The venture did ‘phenomenally well’, and it was this early success that stoked his passion for business, Travis says.

But wasn’t it difficult to find time for training while completing a notoriously gruelling course? No, actually. By this time Travis was commuting regularly between Durban and Bird Valley Estate in Pietermaritzburg , so that he could spend more time on the lake – which is where you’d find him every weekend. He also got into the habit of spending South Africa’s winter months in North Carolina, where he’d supplement his training by teaching people how to master the sport. That said, he took a brief hiatus from waterskiing while completing his honours – there was simply too much to deal with from an academic perspective.

Things changed again when Travis started working, though. ‘Everyone told me I would never find the time to train when I got a job, that I couldn’t do well at both, but in fact, I found that it was the perfect way to deal with the stress of the workplace. It really helped me to have something to focus on outside of work. It keeps me fired up.’

Then came COVID-19, and from being a weekend stress release, waterskiing became a major focus once more. Travis’s family had relocated to Bird Valley Estate permanently in March 2020, just as lockdown began. Combined with the move to remote working, this gave him the chance to invest more time in training. He had already resumed his participation in tournaments the year before and was more enthusiastic than ever. He dedicated more hours than ever to his passion – and noted that it was starting to pay off.

‘I started running really good times, and a lightbulb went off: I realised that I stood a chance of breaking the South African record,’ Travis says. The problem, of course, was that tournaments couldn’t take place during lockdown – but that didn’t deter him. When the circuit picked up again this year, he was ready. ‘It took me three tournaments to break the record – but I did it!’ he says. His first attempt, at a tournament in Stellenbosch, was sabotaged by poor weather conditions; his second, at the SA National Championships in March, saw him achieve a personal best – but still that record remained out of sight. Then, just as the season neared its end in April, Travis decided that he would host his own tournament. It was a crazy notion: setting up a tournament requires a lot of administration, and Travis was still working 55-hour weeks.

The effort was worth it, though: in his second round, Travis equalled the South African waterskiing record. ‘I was over the moon!’ he enthuses.

It was a moment that will live forever in his memory – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be bettered, he insists. ‘Now I’m a co-record holder, my goal is to go ahead and break the record,’ he says. Soon, he’ll be on his way to Florida to train for the world championships – and, although he is planning to return after the tournament in October, Travis admits that he has his eye on a permanent post in Florida. It is, after all, the waterskiing capital of the world.

He’s also interested in growing the sport. Between 2013 and 2020, Travis was part of South Africa’s waterskiing committee, which focused on developing awareness and raising the sport’s profile. During this time, he also launched his own campaign to attract newcomers onto the water, which was ‘hugely successful’.

Watch him achieve all his goals – and do it at speed!