Skiing in Western Pennsylvania usually conjures thoughts of snow, cold weather and slopes. But skiing for one Franklin Park family means water, boats and warm weather.
The Robbins family enjoys water skiing in a very big way.
Doug Robbins, 45, competes in the category for 45-to-52-year-olds, and his two children, Evan, 9, and Ashley, 13, also compete. Evan and Ashley took part in the National Water Ski Championships in August.
Ashley placed nationally in several of her competitions and Evan won the U.S. National Champion honor in the trick competition.
Other family members also get into the act. While their older sister, Katy, 17, doesn't like to water ski, she drives the boat for her siblings to practice, and their little brother, Ty, 4, is just learning to ski. Their mother, Cynda, skis for recreation.
Mr. Robbins has been water skiing for many years. Growing up in McCandless, he was taught to water ski when he was 13 years old by his father, Paul.
"Water skiing is one of those lifelong sports. Once you learn it, you can get very good at it and practice it your whole life," he said.
Both Mr. Robbins, and his younger sister, Kathy Robbins, won college skiing scholarships and competed in college.
He kept up with the sport, and when Ashley was only 4, she began skiing. Evan learned at about the same age. "I remember when I was little, skiing with dad on his skis," Ashley said.
"They are lucky because they were able to learn very young ,which is really good to develop in the sport," Mr. Robbins said.
Ashley started competing when she was about 8 years old.
"Evan was always chasing after his big sister, and when she started competing, Evan was literally sitting in tears because he couldn't compete. I told him, 'Buddy, you have to qualify,' and he said, 'OK, what does qualify mean?' "
Soon, Evan was qualifying too.
The family mostly trains at a private lake in Edinboro.
"There is a family who owns a large piece of property and lake and they graciously let those of us in a ski club use it," Mr. Robbins said.
Known as Dave's Pond Ski Club, the club members share a boat there. According to Mr. Robbins, it is an ideal place for learning how to ski and practicing because water traffic is limited.
"We have a trailer up there and spend a great deal of time at Dave's. It is a great place for the kids to develop their skills," he said.
The children also go to ski camp for a week or two in May and for a couple of weeks in the summer in Florida. The tournaments start in mid-to-late July.
"First there are the regionals, then they go on from there," explained Mr. Robbins.
There are several divisions of water skiing categories including slalom, trick, jump, freestyle and overall competitions.
This year, Evan, a fourth-grade student at St. Alphonsus School, captured several titles including: Boys 1 PA State Slalom Champion, fourth place in Eastern Regionals, 16th place U.S. Nationals; Boys 1 PA State Trick Champion, Eastern Regional Trick Champion, U.S. National Champion; Boys 2 PA State Jump Champion, seventh place Eastern Regionals; and Boys 1 PA State Overall Champion, second place, Eastern Regionals, fifth place U.S. Nationals.
"Evan also established a new PA State and Eastern Region records in Boys 1 Trick," Mr. Robbins said. Since there is no Boys 1 Jump event, Evan skis up against 14 year olds in that competition.
Ashley, an eighth-grader at St. Alphonsus, placed in the following categories: Girls 2, second place Slalom at PA States, second place at Eastern Regionals, 23rd place U.S. Nationals;
Girls 2 PA State Trick Champion, Eastern Regional Trick Champion, ninth place U.S. Nationals; Girls 2 PA State Jump Champion, Eastern Region Jump Champion, 14th place U.S. Nationals; Girls 2 PA State Overall Champion, Eastern Region Overall Champion, 14th place U.S. Nationals.
According to Mr. Robbins, Ashley currently holds the PA State and Eastern Region Record in Girls 1 Trick and she earned the Tommy Kelly Memorial Award at the 2013 Eastern Regionals for the highest overall performance among all female age divisions at the Eastern Regional Championships.
"This is the second time she was presented with this award," he said.
Evan and Ashley face challenges with the colder weather in Pennsylvania, they said. Most water skiing competitors come from Texas and Florida where it is easier to practice year round.
"They can ski practically 12 months a year in that climate. Our kids have to wear wet suits when they start out practicing in April or May and that is the earliest they can start here," he said.
Even with their busy skiing schedule, Evan and Ashley find time for other activities. Ashley plays volleyball and basketball, and Evan plays ice hockey. Both hope to follow in their dad's footsteps and get water skiing scholarships for college.
That is, of course, after they add some more titles to their skiing resumes.
"I love skiing. I want to try to set some national records," Evan said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.