The Chain Skimmers made history in 1980 as the only amateur water ski team in the world to own its own performance site. Here, the Chain Skimmers burned the paid off $42,000 mortgage on their Lake Pleasant site in Conover at the team’s 25th anniversary reunion in July 1995.
The Chain Skimmers made history in 1980 as the only amateur water ski team in the world to own its own performance site. Here, the Chain Skimmers burned the paid off $42,000 mortgage on their Lake Pleasant site in Conover at the team’s 25th anniversary reunion in July 1995.
CONOVER — Of the many lessons that came out of the COVID pandemic in 2020, among them was flexibility. 

In the case of the Chain Skimmers Water Ski Show Team, last year’s concerns about the global COVID-19 pandemic postponed their gala 50th anniversary celebration to 2021.

“It’s the 50-year reunion plus one,” said 1974-’82 Chain Skimmers alumnus Jack Stoskopf, Jr., who is assisting the club with its gala golden anniversary reunion, set for this Friday-Sunday, July 30-Aug. 1. “It was supposed to be last year, but with COVID it had to be cancelled. We couldn’t get together last year.”

It seems absence, and a year’s postponement, makes the heart grow fonder. Stoskopf said “hundreds of alumni” are expected to be in the North Woods for the reunion.

“The Chain Skimmers have allowed literally hundreds of people to form lifelong memories, lifelong friendships,” he noted. “Reunions are for people to get together and see each other and reminisce about old times. We have many, many people from the 1970s (Eagle River) T-dock era who are coming to the reunion.”

Last year’s decision to cancel the 50th anniversary reunion was difficult, but necessary, according to Chain Skimmers President Anastasia Cokinos, an Illinois native now in her fifth year with the team.

“It was just too dangerous to have a large gathering at the time, so we decided to push it back,” said Cokinos, an English and elementary education senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee. 

Cokinos said the Chain Skimmers are looking eagerly to this weekend’s three days of alumni reunion festivities.

“We’re really excited to see everyone,” Cokinos said.

Among the highlights of the weekend comes on Saturday, July 31, with the 2021 Chain Skimmers performing for alumni and the general public at 11:30 a.m., with alumni skiers, boat drivers and announcers headlining with a variety of acts from the past 50 years from approximately 2-4:30 p.m., with concessions available for purchase all day. 

Given the anniversary reunion weekend, there will not be a 7 p.m. show on July 31. 

As part of the festivities, the Chain Skimmers will be holding a 240-ticket cash raffle, with prizes of $2,500 for first place, $1,500 for second place, and $1,000 for third.

“The public is invited to hang out at Lake Pleasant all day,” Stoskopf said.

Youth-led organization

As a youth-led nonprofit, members of the amateur Chain Skimmers Water Ski Show team manage all aspects of show operation, planning and running the shows as well as managing the business end of the organization. 

Current Chain Skimmers board members range in age from 14-22. 

Team membership at present numbers 40 in the Junior Club, ranging in ages from 6-15, and 25 in the Senior Team, ranging in ages from14-45.

Currently performing before large crowds at Lake Pleasant in Conover as they stage their 51st season of waterskiing exhibitions, the Chain Skimmers came away from the hotly-contested July 15-18 Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships on Lake Wazeeca in Wisconsin Rapids with several honors, including highest scoring jump act and most outstanding female skier recognition for Cokinos, who “grew up on the Chain Skimmers” while spending summers at the family cabin on Watersmeet Lake. 

The Chain Skimmers also placed fourth overall in Division 3 competition and earned a third place finish in ballet.

Chain Skimmers show directors for the 2021 state competition were Thomas Hubbard, Marty Gerstenkorn, Bill Clark and Sam Rutkowski.

“We were definitely one of the smaller teams out there,” Cokinos said. “I think we skied a really clear show that everyone should be proud of.”

A storied legacy

The Chain Skimmers have amassed a rich history over their past 50 years of entertaining North Woods residents and visitors with a wide array of tricks, jumps, flips and stunts, winning the state tournament in 1976 and 1982 and placing second at nationals in 1976, 1977 and 1978.

“Back in the day we were one of the top dogs,” said Eagle River native Stoskopf, a 1978 Northland Pines alumnus and the father of current Chain Skimmers Treasurer Mark Stoskopf. “Now, it’s difficult. Membership is a challenge in these small communities. Three Lakes has a team, Minocqua has a team, Tomahawk has a team, Sayner has a team, Manitowish Waters has a team, the Chain Skimmers has a team. They (teams) are everywhere. Getting the numbers of participants on the team up is a challenge. Unless you have larger numbers, it’s hard to put on major productions like some of these clubs are doing now. The Chain Skimmers are always looking for new members, people to participate. They’re always welcome to approach any member.”

While the Chain Skimmers are closely associated with Conover, their home for more than four decades, the team’s roots are in Vilas County seat Eagle River.

“In 1970, a bunch of kids got together and started to ski at the T-docks, summer residents mixed with a few local residents and it just grew from there,” Stoskopf recalled. “There’s a lot of history. We could talk forever.”

The water ski show team’s early success, fast growth and widespread popularity forced a change of venue after the Chain Skimmers outgrew their original T-docks venue on Yellow Birch Lake, their home from 1970-79.

“We became too big for the T-docks,” recalled Stoskopf, who served as the club’s treasurer, vice president and president at various points during his tenure with the Chain Skimmers. “We were having 2,000 people there and cars were parked all the way back up to Nelson’s ACE. It was decided by the city that we couldn’t use the T-docks anymore.”

Stoskopf, then a 19-year-old college student, and fellow club officer Ken Baier, found the team’s current home at Lake Pleasant in Conover and served as signatories for a $42,000 deal for the private lake and the 107 acres completely surrounding it. In so doing, the Chaim Skimmers made history as the only amateur water ski show in the world to own its own performance site. Following their final payment on the Lake Pleasant tract, the Chain Skimmers’ ceremonially burned their mortgage at the club’s 25th anniversary reunion in July 1995.

“We came upon Lake Pleasant — an absolutely beautiful place — and found out that it was for sale,” Stoskopf recalled. “We worked to put in an offer on the lake and closed on the property March 1, 1980. It was completely untouched property, so there was a lot of work to do to put on shows that summer. Leaving Eagle River was difficult because we had a huge following, but the fact the club has thrived for 41 years after leaving Eagle River is a remarkable thing. Hundreds and hundreds of kids have been able to participate, and thousands and thousands of vacationers and local people have been able to continue to enjoy watching the ski shows and the creativity of young people.”

Added five-year Chain Skimmers veteran Cokinos, who plans to move to the North Woods after graduation from Marquette: “I’m really proud of our team. I’m really proud we own our own lake and have maintained this property and run ski shows. I think it’s something to be really proud of. We’re primarily a kid-run team.”

Careers launched

Across the team’s half century history, Stoskopf said more than 20 Chain Skimmers skiers, announcers and boat drivers have moved on to professional status with globe-trotting professional road shows as far afield as Japan and Germany, and at a variety of well-known domestic venues including Tommy Bartlett’s in the Dells, Sea World, Cypress Gardens, Great America, Marine World, Magic Mountain and Indiana Beach, among others.

“We’ve had probably more go professional than any amateur ski club anywhere,” Stoskopf said, noting 1982 Chain Skimmers president Alex Jacobson enjoyed a 30-year career with Sea World in Orlando, rising from announcer to head of entertainment, while 1976 Chain Skimmers president Mark Vouisard, “probably the first Chain Skimmer to go professional,” spent his entire career at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Fla. 

Among the most recent to perform professionally is Cokinos, who spent three years as a part-time water-skier with the famed Tommy Bartlett water, ski, sky and stage show in Wisconsin Dells prior to its COVID-spurred permanent closure last year after a 68-year run.

For Plover resident Stoskopf, now retired with an Eagle River area vacation home, lessons in teamwork and leadership learned with the Chain Skimmers proved an invaluable asset across his 37-year career as a Wisconsin educator.

“It (the Chain Skimmers) enhanced all of our experiences growing up, trying to find our way in the world — experiences that have helped people in their careers that have spun off their participation in the club,” he noted. “For me personally, at various points during my time with the Chain Skimmers I was the treasurer, vice president and president. It gave me the opportunity to develop leadership skills, which contributed to some of the professional parts of my career. I had a phenomenal career. I truly tie that back to my experiences in my leadership role as a kid. I give the club credit for me heading down a successful leadership path.

Season winding down

Through August, the Chain Skimmers will perform 7 p.m. shows on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Lake Pleasant, 5280 Highway 45, three miles north of Conover. The final Chain Skimmers show of the season will be held Labor Day Weekend at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 4.

More information is available by calling (708) 205-9180 or visiting Chain Skimmers Water Ski Show Team on Facebook.