By Daniel Paulling '08
Rollins College senior Erika Lang's passport is filled with stamps from all over the world: Australia, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Russia. Junior Dorien Llewellyn has traveled throughout Europe enough times that he can discuss the finer points of several countries.
Welcome to the life of a professional water skier.
"We don't make a ton of money from it, but we do get to travel a lot," Lang said. "It's pretty fun, the connections I've made and places I've been able to go. That's my favorite part of the sport."
Lang and Llewellyn have a seemingly impossible workload in trying to balance being a pro athlete with pursuing bachelor's degrees full time, but they've managed to do so.
Lang holds a world record in tricking, and she and Llewellyn each won individual titles in the same event at the 2017 NCWSA Collegiate Water Ski National Championships last October in Zachary, La. Lang also graduates in May with a major in international business and a minor in Spanish, and Llewellyn is an honors student one year away from finishing his physics degree.
Their rigorous practice schedule, which can be 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours each day, led to this success. The two spend time on the water before class, in between classes and after classes, sometimes on Lake Victoria, sometimes while working with other coaches throughout the Orlando area.
Their proximity to lakes and quality coaching makes Rollins home to one of the best water ski programs in the country. The Tars finished in the top five for the fourth consecutive season at nationals last year. (Water skiing isn't an NCAA-recognized sport, which allows athletes such as Lang and Llewellyn to represent their schools in competitions despite being pro.)
"If you're a professional skier and if you're serious about skiing, there's no better place than Orlando," Llewellyn said. "It's why probably 95 percent of all pro water skiers are living in Orlando or in the South Florida region. That's why I chose Rollins."
Well, that and to study physics.
Llewellyn loves to "geek out" over his sport. He finds the angles he takes leading to the ramp in jumping competitions and acceleration around buoys during slalom competitions to be fascinating and even plans to do his honors thesis on the physics of crossing wakes. "I would hope that is part of it that excites me," Llewellyn said. "If it's not, I chose the wrong major."
What Lang and Llewellyn do with water skiing after graduation remains uncertain.
Lang, who would like to work in marketing or pursue an MBA, and Llewellyn, who plans to pursue a master's degree in engineering, would like to spend time focusing solely on their pro careers, like most college athletes at the pinnacle of their sports do.
But they realize there isn't enough money in their sport to support themselves forever. When asked why Lang mentions her world record seemingly as an aside, she said, "Obviously, I'm proud of it, but I don't know. It's only water skiing, so I don't think of it as a huge, major thing."
They also realize something else: Those hours spent perfecting their tricking routine or shaving a few inches off on their slalom run or adding a few inches to their jump are worth more than awards or sponsorship money. There's something else that makes them do practice set after practice set each day, something that leads them to travel wherever their sport takes them next.
"I think skiing is one of the biggest hidden-gem sports," Llewellyn said. "There's millions of people in the world that go out and get up on two skis and have an absolute blast and they think that's the end of what water skiing is, but then you come out to an event and you see guys go 200 feet to 250 feet off of a ramp, guys are doing six flips in addition to 720s and spins over the ropes. It's a completely different world. It's really a sport anybody can fall in love with."