On Saturday, Santa traded in his reindeer and sleigh for a 250-horse-power ski boat. The shiny red J-Craft sped across Perry Lake, tracing the shoreline. Gripping the toe rope behind, event organizer Scott Waites – dressed in a full Saint Nick costume – carved on a slalom ski, kicking up a spray that turned his red coat dark crimson. Local resident Derek Rickward skied next to him, peering through a snub-nosed Grinch mask. Their respective white beard and green tufts of hair blew back in the wind as they edged over the wake towards the crowd of hundreds that lined the banks of Mirror Bay.
This incongruous sight has become customary for the small town of Kearney in November, as this marked the sixth annual Santa Claus Charity Ski Show that supports the Burk’s Falls Lions Club food drive.
“This event is really important to the town of Kearney,” said Kearney Mayor Carol Ballantyne. “We don’t have a big population, but everybody in this town has big hearts, and they come out to all events, and they donate to everything and help each other out.”
With donations still coming, Waites expects the event to raise $6500 and collect almost 4000 pounds of food; this makes it the largest charity in Kearney, which has a population of 974.
This collection comes after a year in which the food bank has experienced higher usage and is sorely in need of replenishment, said Ballantyne in an interview with Muskoka411.
“This is going to be a huge boost to our food bank in Burk’s Falls. The shelves are almost depleted, and they are just dancing up there with the food and the money we’re giving today.”
The event began with a parade down Main Street with homemade floats and Santa Claus throwing candy to the crowd. The ski show, which ran off the public dock in Mirror Bay, featured barefooting, wakeboarding, swivel skiing, flyboarding, hydrofoiling, comedy acts, and a human pyramid.
The 27 performers, dressed as elves and other Christmas characters, came from all over the Muskoka region and beyond. They comprised professional and amateur skiers, boat drivers and spotters from Summer Water Sports, Fern Resort, Lake of Bays Marina, Muskoka Extreme and Kearney residents.
The ski team also included 13 Canada National Water Ski Show team members, including this reporter, fresh off their fourth-place finish at the World Tournament in Winterhaven, Florida.
“The water ski community is so small. Everybody likes each other – everybody has the same interests. Even if we are competing with each other sometimes, there’s still that comradery. I think everybody is happy to get together and give back to the community,” said Team Canada member Jordan Long. He won Male MVP at the 2022 World Water Ski Show Tournament.
The Santa Claus Charity Ski Show began in 2015 as a one-man show.
“It was kind of just a lark,” said Waites in an interview with Muskoka411. “Nobody has ever waterskied December 15th, (so) I’ll buy a Santa suit – normally, the lake is frozen – and I’ll ski around mirror bay… It was like a flash mob. People went like, ‘Wow! What’s going on here? Santa’s Skiing!'”
After this, Waites said he saw an opportunity to raise money for the community and the food drive. From this initial conception, the show has evolved over the years.
“The Team Canada show skiers brought in a professional grade of skiers… We brought in the Grinch. We brought in Cindy Lou Who from Whoville, Mrs. Santa Claus and all the elves. It’s turned into a very magical (event).”
This year’s event was sponsored by Rickwards Small Motors Inc, Scarlett Point Retreat, SWS Marine, Muskoka Auto Parts & Buyers Products, J-Craft Boats, NyDock, West Edge Building Company, Reynold’s Excavating, Fork on Main, Fetterley’s Gas, DJ’s Bar and Grill, Pit Stop 518, Nostalgia Antiques, Hunters Bay Radio, Lake of Bays Marina, Muskoka Extreme, & Long and McQuade Gravenhurst.