River Rats bring their love of waterskiing to the Mississippi

The 100 team members put on weekly shows filled with tricks, pyramids and family fun.

Hannah Maccarone practices her poses before performing in the River Rats Aquatennial Show on the Mississippi in Minneapolis on Fri. July, 2017.

Easton Green

Hannah Maccarone practices her poses before performing in the River Rats Aquatennial Show on the Mississippi in Minneapolis on Fri. July, 2017.

Katie Lauer

The thought of being pulled behind a speeding boat and launched off of a ramp while balancing on skis may scare some.

It is for Freddie Plessner, but he loves doing it anyway.

“[I like] the fear of it and the adrenaline building up when you’re going up the ramp and just stepping off of a ski,” 12-year-old Plessner said. “I get most scared when I go barefoot, because you’re going 30 miles per hour with no skis and no way to slowly sink.”

Plessner — who also snow skis competitively— joined the Twin Cities River Rats ski team only three years ago. He already feels at home jumping and performing on the river.

“You just try it; it’s not that hard,” Plessner said. “My dad didn’t want me to stop trying things, so that’s probably how I got this good in that little amount of time.”

As part of the team, Plessner performs for crowds in the River Rats’ hour-long weekly show filled with tricks, music and jokes. A 36-person pyramid, hands-free ballet line and barefoot speed skiing are just a few of the team’s acts.

This year’s show theme, “Rats Academy Rocks,” features school-themed skits and songs with homemade glittery costume changes and charming characters.

Team president and boat captain Trevor Judd said while performing itself is a blast, seeing the team improve is one of the most rewarding parts of River Rat-hood.

“Freddie’s 12 years old and doing helicopters off the jump,” Judd said. “Seeing all the stuff that we’ve worked for put together and to see it all come together is really something. [Younger members] get to experience all the stuff that we did when we were that young.”

Judd began skiing when he was three years old. A River Rat for the last 17 years, he said he loves the aquatic sport. But it’s the people that keep him coming back.

“Anyone can go to their cabin and go water skiing for the day, but it’s not the same,” he said. “The longer you hang out together, the crazier the ideas get. But not in a bad way.”

One of these “crazier” ideas was putting together a 36-person pyramid to end this year’s Aquatennial performance. Pulling out from around the corner of the Mississippi River, the towering structure was set against a freshly-lit Minneapolis skyline.

“Nobody gets to ski with a skyline like that,” Judd said.

Even though they’d never performed a pyramid that big in around 10 years, the River Rats pulled it off with ease. That comes as little surprise, as many of them spend nearly every evening on the water.

Julia Schade, a seventh year team member, is among them.

“This is like my family,” Schade said. “I’m here every single night, four or five nights a week. This is my life in the summer.”

While the teammates become like family due to the sheer amount of time they spend with each other, many actual families also join the team.

“If you’re not skiing, you’re driving a boat. If you’re not driving a boat, you’re working at the concession stand,” Schade said. “There’s not a family member that’s not participating in some part of the show.”

The 20-year-old said that while many people have heard of the Tommy Bartlett show in Wisconsin Dells, there are still some who don’t know about the local show the River Rats put on.

“It’s that, but better,” she said. “The pyramids are bigger. The jumps are bigger. The lines are bigger.”

While the Bartlett team is paid to not fall, these imperfections are what make a River Rats show better and more human. Schade said it’s all about the love for water skiing and sharing that love with the audience.

“They don’t care if half of the pyramid fell,” she laughed. “They just want to see how excited you are out there.”