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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Nguyen

Rock Aqua Jays - 2023 Story

Janesville's Champion Waterski Team


Story by Teresa Nguyen

Photos by Kim Hoholek Photography

August, 2023


A Partial Listing of Awards and Records


20 U.S. National Championship titles

18 Wisconsin State Championship titles

First amateur team to build a 5-tier pyramid outside the United States (2013)

Highest scoring act in history of water ski show competition (482 out of possible 500 points for a 4-tier pyramid in 1985)

World-record for largest pyramid built by one team and during competition (44-person triple 4-tier pyramid in 2003)

World-record (co-holder with Chinese water ski team) for largest pyramid built outside the U.S. (55-person quadruple 4-tier pyramid in China in 2012)

World-record for largest pyramid ever built by one team (47-person quadruple 4-tier pyramid in 2013)

First amateur team to perform and compete in the Peoples Republic of China

First amateur team to perform in the United Arab Emirates

First amateur team to perform in Lebanon

D1 Wisconsin State Champions - 2017

D1 Wisconsin State Champions - 2018

Guinness World Record Pyramid - 80 person - Sept. 2018

National Record 8 barefoot pyramids - Aug. 2019

D1 Wisconsin State Waterski Show Champions - 2019

National Championship Winner - 2021

Guinness World Record Pyramid - 93 person - 2022

City of Lakes Champions - 2023

DI Wisconsin State Champions - 2023


Janesville’s Rock Aqua Jays has been a decades long source of pride for the Rock County community and for the state of Wisconsin! The 21-time National Champions team performs family-friendly, free shows every Sunday and Wednesday from Memorial Day through Labor Day and hosts exciting competitions throughout the year right here on the beautiful Rock River.


It is a homegrown organization made up of a local team of dedicated athletes who work hard year in and year out, rising to the challenge of becoming champions time and time again. Watching the team, one is thoroughly entertained and amazed by their towering pyramids, ballet lines, cool jumps and barefoot water skiing!


Today’s story is a behind the scenes look at our amazing Rock Aqua Jays team and what it takes to keep the water splashing and the trophies coming!


A Brief History of the Group


In the first half of the 20th Century, there was a group called the Rock River Boating Association, which included some skiing and, of course, boating. Then, the earliest organized group, which led to the Rock Aqua Jays, was formed in 1961.


The name is centered around Janesville symbolism. Rock is for the Rock River. Aqua is the Latin word for water. And Jays represented the Janesville High School mascot, from the era when the group was formed. The entire name reflects our community.

Riverside to Traxler


The team started out at gorgeous Riverside Park, where they performed and practiced for years. There was a “boating gala” event at Riverside, as well.


Around 1965 the group officially moved their location to beautiful Traxler Park on what used to be called Goose Island. The area used to be just a local swimming spot with a swim house.


The City of Janesville has allowed the group to lease that Traxler Park area for over 50 years.


Events


The team is known for hosting events, including over half of the National Championships, and even World Tournaments! In addition to the larger events, the group has partnered with local organizations such as the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin or the Hedberg Public Library bookmobile, which can often be found on site.


Challenges of the Team


Maintaining a high level of excellence is the biggest challenge for the team. Today’s youth get involved in sports opportunities and a lot of other activities, so it’s hard to attract them and keep them. But, if you can offer a great product in a fun family environment, terrific teamwork and opportunities for different skill levels, it becomes an appealing, fun experience. The group has skill levels ranging from beginners to top level skiers.


Throughout the years, the Rock Aqua Jays has works hard to maintain their level as a national caliber team and keeps up a great reputation.


Funding & Sponsorship


The team is funded solely through donations, traditional fundraising, advertising revenue, sponsorships, food & beverage sales, hosting special events, membership dues and the sale of logo merchandise. The organization does not receive any public funding for its operations.


The Rock Aqua Jays gets their engines from Mercury Marines in Fond du Lac, which helps the team out because they have proven to be successful and they get a lot of exposure. There are also wonderful people in the community who donate to the Rock Aqua Jays. And whether it be 20 dollars or 1,000 dollars, every dollar adds up! And many wish to donate anonymously.


Hosting national tournaments is a big task, but also a big fundraiser. The money from these events helps improve the skiing experience for the members and helps us to put on better shows for our audience. It is used to purchase and maintain equipment and important improvements like that.



You might say, “Hey, I want to try that!” The team offers is a “Learn to Ski” event a couple of times a year, depending on the water conditions. The group picks up quite a few members who attend those sessions. You can try it whether you’re 5 years old or even if you’re a teen! The trainers get the “students’ out in the water and they usually love it! One can then join the group. They usually become long-time members after that.


If you’re under 16, it is required to join as a family. The Rock Aqua Jays needs folks to ride in boats and to help out on the shore. What a terrific family sport with something for everyone!


The Pyramids


The pyramids are created by the bravest. However, you won’t see any guys up there near the top. They need to be at the bottom of the base. The smaller girls go up to the top. Sometimes they do the barefoot pyramid going at 40 miles per hour and then they have to bail off the back!


When the littlest ones grow and need to be replaced, it’s a tough conversation to have. But the captains and show directors have to have those discussions. The men get shuffled around, as well, or sometimes they just don’t cut it. It might seem unfair, but for the team to stay at the top of the game, to compete with other talented teams, those switches and shifts need to happen.


Couples get to determine who they ski with, though. It depends on how well they work with a partner. You need good teamwork and great coordination.


Training


There is a lot of off the water gymnastics training that goes on. The team practices from January through April. The guys work on the trampoline, working on their flips and the girls work on climbing those pyramids and other muscle training.


The trainers teach them the proper ways to climb the pyramid and how to balance. They are trained with spotters and mats, so it’s a safe way to learn.


Support in Janesville


The community has always been wonderfully supportive of the Rock Aqua Jays, whether it’s the City Council, City Manager, the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Janesville, Inc., Forward Janesville, Inc., the Rotary Club, the Lion’s Club or the general public. And, in turn, the Rock Aqua Jays continues to provide free shows for the community. The team has tried to maintain their place as a group offering both entertainment and competition.


And, boy, do they do it well!


See the Shows!


The Rock Aqua Jays encourages people to come see the shows which are held every Wednesday and Sunday evenings throughout the season from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

If you like it, give it a try and join the team! It’s great exercise and you get to meet so many new people. There are even couples who have met while skiing together on the team. It’s just a great sport activity for any age.


Thank you, Rock Aqua Jays, for making Janesville proud!


Consider a donation to the Rock Aqua Jays to keep this wonderful team at the top of the charts!


Visit the Rock Aqua Jays on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RockAquaJays






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