We regard with awe and admiration those people who have seemingly boundless energy: the spirited child who can run around barefoot in the grass from sunrise to sunset; the guest at the wedding reception who dances to song after song after song; or the 85-year-old man who hasn’t missed a golf outing with his buddies for the past 50 years.
Yes, those people have us all shaking our heads, smiling and wondering, How in the world do they do it? Sea Ray’s classic line of Ski Ray boats has their owners asking the same question. How does this one boat—after more than a decade of being off the market—remain ever reliable, lively and tireless?
Joe Weinstein was so baffled by the amazing condition and price of the 1996 Ski Ray 185 Spitfire he saw advertised in the paper in 2010, that he brought a friend along to make sure the whole thing wasn’t a scam. “I said, ‘This sounds too good to be true,’” Joe says. “We went for a ride and when we got off the boat, my friend said, ‘That only happens once in a lifetime. This boat is what it is.’”
Sea Ray developed its Ski Ray line in 1991, targeting hardcore water-skiers who wanted a fast, nimble and reliable ski boat to hone their skills. The line grew to five models, including the 190 Ski Ray Outboard designed by world champion water-skiers Ricky McCormick and Susi Graham, and national-level water-skier Bobby Reich. In 1999, Sea Ray discontinued the line to focus on its other models, but many sporty and sleek Ski Rays continue on alive and well.
On this mid-October day, three of them dart around on Lake Windermere. Carving crevices in the glass-flat water, the boats weave back and forth with a youthfulness that belies their true age. Though the three vessels have a similar look and feel to them, the owners behind the wheel show the true versatility the line begets.
Joe and his wife, Jill, use their blue 185 Spitfire to help expend the energy of their four children, who range in age from 10 to 18. On weekends, the family trailers the boat to their lake house in the Ocala National Forest, the removable swim platform making the towing process a cinch. Once they hit the lake, they spend hour after hour wakeboarding, tubing and wakeskating, like skateboarding on the water. “We literally run it out of gas as many times as we can fill it up,” Joe says with a laugh.
Doug and Cynthia Asbell bought their blue Ski Ray 190 SK/OB brand-new in 1996. The pair have enjoyed water-skiing for more than 30 years and recently started passing down their knowledge to their nieces. “We prefer the outboard,” Doug says. “It has an unusual prop on it that’s made for low-end pull, so it pulls you up on skis very easily.”
And finally, there’s Carl and Jean Campbell, who own the oldest of the three models here today: a 1991 Ski Ray 21 closed bow inboard in red. The Campbells, who have been water-skiing for decades, have a son who competed in national-level water-skiing tournaments during Ricky McCormick’s time on the circuit. No matter if they’re out on the Butler Chain of Lakes or back in Pennsylvania, where they lived for some years, their flashy boat doesn’t go unnoticed. “We get compliments on it all the time,” Jean says. “They like the design. It’s kind of like having an old car—it’s very pretty.”
The Asbells and Campbells bought their Ski Ray from salesman Gary Yeomans of Parker Boats in Orlando. “The folks at Parker Boats are good people,” Jean says. Gary himself owns a Ski Ray 190 SK/OB in bronze, a testament to the line’s lasting value. All four Ski Rays have been in use for at least a decade, but if not for their vintage-looking graphics, any given observer would guess otherwise. Even their owners tend to forget they’re riding onboard a classic boat. “It’s held up great,” Carl says. “We only reupholstered it a few years ago, and it still looks brand new.”
Sea Ray took pains to design a ski boat that was as comfortable and family-friendly as it was hardcore when they started the Ski Ray line. The Tournament model featured snap-in cushions for turning bow seating into a complete sunlounge.
Carl and Jean, who own a Sea Ray 370 Sundancer as well, often take their Ski Ray out for a quick jaunt and a picnic lunch on summer afternoons when they’re not in the mood for skiing. Joe and his family appreciate the thoughtful layout of the interiors. Built-in coolers and abundant onboard storage make outings hassle-free. “We have wakeboards for each of the kids’ sizes,” Joe says, “and we pile it on and just go.”
“Everything on this boat is reliable. Everything is simple. It fires and goes, and that’s the beauty of this boat.”
That sense of being able to pack up and hit the water was a key selling point for all three families. Even though the Campbells’ son has tried numerous boats throughout his competitive skiing years, Carl and Jean haven’t wanted anything else.
Doug, likewise, is content with his effortless, uncomplicated Ski Ray. “The wakeboard boats nowadays are unbelievable,” he admits. “It’s amazing the things you can get on a boat. The boats 15 years ago didn’t have any of those things, but they did the job just as well.”
“Everything on this boat is reliable,” Joe adds. “Everything is simple. It fires and goes, and that’s the beauty of this boat.”
Perhaps of equal worth is the price point of a Ski Ray. “At the time we bought this, any other outboard ski boat you got was probably $10,000 more,” Doug says. Today, the quality of the boat still far exceeds its cost.
Carl and Jean have gotten offers out on the water. “One time we were pulling the boat out on the Butler Chain, and a man in a brand-new boat said, ‘I’ll trade you!’” Jean laughs.
But even the promise of a new boat can’t pull these owners away from their Ski Rays. “Sometimes, sure, I’d like to have a newer boat,” Doug admits. “But until I see something better or I stop water-skiing, I’m not going to buy anything else.”
With the three boats zipping around today, it’s not hard to see the appeal. There’s something alluring about the stamina of these boats. The urge to pull on skis or a wakeboard and fly across the open water is almost contagious. Ski Rays are just like those lively people—they make you feel inspired and bold.
The Campbells, both in their 70s and not ashamed to share it, try to get out as often as they can. They might not be able to compete with their diehard skiing son (who on his 35th birthday did 35 flips in a row on skis to prove he still had it), but they might just give Doug and Cynthia’s nieces and Joe and Jill’s kids a run for their money. Most times that Carl and Jean hop onboard for a simple outing, they catch that elusive Ski Ray spirit and find themselves taking turns on the wake. “The funny thing is,” Jean says with a far-off look, “when I get up on my skis, I don’t feel any different than I did 10 years ago.”
Now that’s the kind of vigor that makes us all smile and shake our heads.