Janesville-based Rock Aqua Jays hoping to return to winners podium

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, May 11, 2017

JANESVILLE—Newcomers and longtime fans should expect “greatness” out of the Rock Aqua Jays for their 2017 show ski season, which opens Sunday, May 28.

“That's what we plan to put back on the water this year: a free, entertaining, fast-paced, family-friendly show,” said show director Aaron Schoelzel.

The local amateur water ski show team's biggest challenge will be to return to its winning ways.

“We haven't won nationals the past two years," Schoelzel said. "Our heads are hanging a little bit, but we're ready to get back to the swagger of being the champion and push through the disappointment of not winning the last two years.”

Winning will require positive attitudes and the willingness to be great teammates, he said.

The team also will unveil a first-of-its-kind, custom-built boat—powered by three 300-horsepower motors—that is bigger than any other boat in the show ski industry, he said.

“That's a big deal and will make me a happy show director,” said Schoelzel, who was the show director in 2014.

Veteran Aqua Jays boat driver Tom Cullen will operate the rig, which will pull the team's big acts, including the barefoot lines, barefoot pyramids, trios, and some of the jump and swivel skiers.

“Having a boat that is brand-new and very well constructed provides great peace of mind for me and the boat maintenance crew. We can count on it to be there for us for years,” Schoelzel said.

“Ski Wars: Return of the Gainer,” the Aqua Jays' version of "Return of the Jedi,” is this year's show theme.

The story—featuring skiers performing 18 different acts, in costumes, to music—will focus on Darth Swivelus (played by Josh Hergert, a former club skier) and his quest to find a mystical crystal and create a super weapon to destroy Planet Traxus (Traxler Park), Schoelzel explained.

Award-winning announcer Brian Cullen has been cast as Obi 1 Cullen (think Obi-Wan Kenobi, the respected Jedi knight). Virgil Cupples will portray Yoda, the legendary Jedi master.

Stage props will be created by Dave Williams and Nick Dries, theme coordinator.

Costumes will include stormtrooper masks and outfits accented in white, gold and purple, Schoelzel said.

“We will reuse a substantial amount of costumes from years past,” he said.

Music, some from the "Stars Wars" soundtrack and "Star Wars" parody, will be up-tempo to entertain audiences.

The Aqua Jays have a busy schedule in store.

They again will host the Mercury Open Tournament on Saturday, June 24, at Rock Aqua Jays Stadium along the Rock River in Traxler Park.

The club also will host Independence Day on the Rock—a Fourth of July celebration—before competing in the Wisconsin State Water Show Ski Championships on July 20 to 23 on Lake Wazeecha in Wisconsin Rapids. Then they're off to the Division I Show Ski National Tournament on Aug. 11 to 13 in Loves Park, Illinois.

After that, the club will host the 2017 U.S. Wake Sports Festival on Aug. 15 to 19 in Traxler Park.

The Aqua Jays are among the world's top water ski show teams with more than 60 tournament victories, including 19 national championships. Schoelzel invites longtime fans and those who have never seen the team to watch the twice-weekly shows on the river.

“You can't find the caliber of entertainment we provide for free anywhere," he said.

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