Travelling with kids: Like a duck to water - finally - in Sri Lanka

I am with two children in Sri Lanka. I want them to learn a new skill. But I hide a shameful secret. I have tried waterskiing. Two times. Both times, I failed.

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I am with two children at the Sri Sunshine Diving School in Sri Lanka. Our hotel’s concierge, the Taj ­Bentota, has assured us this is the best place to learn and enjoy water sports. The children want to go on a banana boat. I want them to learn something new: a new skill – surfing or waterskiing perhaps. But I hide a shameful secret. I have tried waterskiing. Two times. Both times, I failed.

The first time was in the United States, in my 20s. A group of us signed up for classes in Michigan. After a couple of attempts, everyone had stood up on the skis, and allowed themselves to be pulled for a few seconds before falling off into the water. Not me. I couldn’t even stand up. I squatted on the skis, and watched the water rush into my face, gurgling and overwhelmed. Try as I might, I couldn’t stand up.

Nearly a decade later, I tried again, in Goa. This time, I was a mother with young children. The same thing happened. The two young men who taught me shouted instructions from the speeding boat. “Stand up. Lift yourself up,” they shouted. Easier said than done. It was humiliating.

This time, my two daughters are watching me.

At Bentota, we try everything. The kids and I go on a water tube, then a banana boat. We scream, and get dumped into the water when the boat flips. We come up giggling. We go on jet skis, screaming all the way. Then it’s time for a lesson. It’s a choice between surfing and waterskiing. The coaches advise that surfing requires a few days of practice. Water skiing is easier, they say, not knowing my humiliation in this area. You can be successful with just one lesson, they say. I snort.

“Why don’t you kids try it?” I say. “These are the kinds of skills that are better acquired early. It’s like cycling. Once you learn, you’ll never forget it.”

First are onshore lessons. An instructor makes us stand in a line on skis, and teaches us how to squat, slide, then lean forward and stand up. We do this for nearly half an hour. He corrects our technique. Then comes the final reckoning: a lesson on the boat.

“I know that we have paid for three,” I say, “but why don’t you give the two children a little bit of extra time instead of me?”

“Are you sure?” asks the instructor.

It’s his raised eyebrows that do it. I decide to take up the challenge. What was the point of telling my children to take risks and try it if I was afraid to fail?

We get on the boat. The children go one by one. ­After many attempts, they’re able to stand up. I watch them with pride and anxiety. Soon, it’s my turn.

I slip my feet into the skis. The boat is fitted with an aluminium rod to hold, instead of long ropes. I squat on the water using my skis. “Don’t be in a hurry to stand up,” says my instructor. The boat starts with a loud rumble. My heart skips a beat.

“Slide forward,” shout the instructors. I do as I’m told. I try to stay calm and focus on their instructions. To my delight, I stand up. I hold on for dear life, with wind and water rushing at me. It’s exhilarating, but the best part is the look of admiration in my ­children’s eyes.

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