A Closer Look

The Rock Aqua Jays

Janesville's Champion Waterski Team

Story by Teresa Nguyen

July, 2021

Maintaining excellence is something the team strives for on a regular basis. 
The 2001 Rock Aqua Jays 5-Man Front Flip
Photo courtesy of The Rock Aqua Jays
A Few of The Rock Aqua Jays 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
Guinness World Record Pyramid - 80 person - Sept. 2018
National Record 8 barefoot pyramids - Aug. 2019
Rock Aqua Jays Ballet Line.jpg
The Rock Aqua Jays Ballet Line
Photo courtesy of The Rock Aqua Jays
Starting the Group

Years ago, there was a fun group called the Rock River Boating Association for area boaters and water skiers. 

In 1961, the Rock Aqua Jays blossomed from the Rock River Boating Association. It was named Rock, for the Rock River. Aqua, is the Latin word for water. And Jays, is for the high school mascot at the time. The name is a beautiful reflection of the community.
The group began meeting at Riverside Park and stayed there for a number of years. One of their special events was a “boating gala” event at Riverside Park. 

Around 1965, the Rock Aqua Jays officially moved over to Traxler Park, where there was once a swimming area with a bath house. The City of Janesville has allowed the group to lease that area for over 50 years. 
Events

The Rock Aqua Jays have hosted 26 of the 42 National Championships, and the World Tournaments in 2012 and 2014. They have welcomed teams from faraway places such as Canada, China, Germany, Belgium and Australia! 

In addition to the larger events, the Rock Aqua Jays ski show has partnered with local organizations. Sometimes you can find the Hedberg Public Library bookmobile at the shows, as well.

Challenges

Maintaining excellence is something the team strives for on a regular basis. It can be hard to attract younger participants and keep them. 
Rock Aqua Jays Award Wall.jpg
The Rock Aqua Jays has earned numerous trophies and awards!
But the team offers a great product, a fun family environment, teamwork and a lot of different skill levels, so it’s a terrific experience for anyone wishing to join. There are skiers with all skill levels from beginners to top level skiers. The group has also developed a great reputation in our community. 

Flooding has also been one of the biggest challenges, and it seems to be happening with higher frequency. It’s not just an issue when it rains in Janesville, but also when it rains north of here from Newville to Fond du Lac. That precipitation drains down into the Rock River all the way to Janesville. 

Flooding restricts the team’s practice time on the water. Even though the city allows the group to practice in one limited area, they prefer to go farther up river to rehearse. The flooding is an issue that has to be addressed at a higher government level. It affects many communities of Wisconsin.
Tim and Susan Cullen in 2001_edited.jpg
Tim and Susan Cullen in 2001
The couple met through skiing on the team
The Flood of 2008

2008 was the group’s hardest year. The team the team couldn’t do any shows. When the team can’t do shows, the team can’t bring in income. They had already paid for insurance, they had hardly practiced and had tournaments scheduled. A tournament was supposed to be in Janesville, but they had to give it away because the whole park was under water! 
It did some damage to their building structure, but the lasting damage was the financial effect on the group. Luckily, the team had some savings and was wise on how they spent their money. The group came through it all in the end.

Sources of Revenue

The Rock Aqua Jays are 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. 

They also have wonderful sponsors such as Mercury Marines in Fond du Lac. There are also some very generous people in the community who donate to the group. 
And whether it be 20 dollars or 1,000 dollars, every dollar matters. Many donate anonymously, as well. 

The tournaments are a big fundraiser. The money made through the events help improve things for their members, to purchase equipment and such. 

A few years ago, the group purchased a new set of bleachers, which brought them close to 5,000 seats! 

Becoming Involved

The Rock Aqua Jays offers a “Learn to Ski” event with USA Water Ski & Wake Sports. The team picks up quite a few members through the event, whether they’re 5 years old or 15 years old. They want to try it, so they get them out in the water and the kids love it! Often, the students join the team the next year. 
If someone new to the team is under 16, it is a requirement to join as a family. The team needs people to ride in boats and help on the shore. It’s one of the best family sports you can do. 

Go see the shows, and if you think you might want to try it, consider joining the team! It’s great exercise and you get to meet so many new people. There are even many couples in the area who met through skiing. 

The Pyramids, Couples and Training

The tops of the pyramids are always little ones…whoever is most brave! The smaller girls go up to the top. You won’t see any guys up there, as they need to be at the bottom of the base. 

In 2018, the Rock Aqua Jays created a Guinness World Record Pyramid with 80 skiers!
20190124_103614.jpg
This year's theme is Toy Story Waterski Adventure
The skiers are very athletic. Sometimes they do the barefoot pyramid going at 40 miles per hour and then bail off the back!

The couples get to determine who they ski with. The couple needs to have good teamwork and coordination as a pair.

The team all do training at a local gymnastics studio, Creative School of Arts. They practice from January through April. The guys work on the trampoline, on their flips and the girls work on those pyramids. They teach them the proper ways to climb the pyramid and how to balance. They train the group with spotters and mats, so it’s a safe way to learn.
39441735_10155854705261819_531502185700130816_n.jpg
In 2018, The Rock Aqua Jays make the Guinness World Record Pyramid with 80 skiers! Amazing!
Photo courtesy of The Rock Aqua Jays
The Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic halted many shows for the team in 2020. They had to cancel their annual 4th of July waterski show, sponsored by Festival Foods. The difficult decision was made in the interest of public safety. They rescheduled the show for Labor Day weekend, but that also had to be canceled for the public’s safety, as the pandemic raged on.

It also created challenges with practices and the team had to create smaller group practices with social distancing and such. Practice is so important for the team to be successful on the water!

In spite of the challenges of that year, the Rock Aqua Jays were allowed to host the Indmar 2020 Show Ski Nationals in August, 2020. 
The stadium usually holds 3,000 but it was limited to only 225 for the event and it was streamed online for the public. Only competitors, staff and family were in the stands for the events, with masks required.

Leading Tourism in Our Area

The Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Show Team is the most successful water ski show team in the world with 63 total tournament victories including 20 U.S. national championships since 1975!

The Rock Aqua Jays shows are a fantastic source of revenue for our community, as well. Over 100,000 people attend the shows, special events and tournaments each year, resulting in a biennial economic impact of more than $5 million. That makes the Rock Aqua Jays one of the leading tourist and entertainment attractions in south-central Wisconsin!
The 20-time national champions perform water ski shows, free of charge, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

The team can bring in anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people to their Sunday night shows. Their Wednesday night shows are close to that in attendance.

Supporting the Group

The pandemic took a toll on the group in 2020.  Much of their revenue depends on being able to perform and hold events. If you would like to help our awesome, local waterski team continue its wonderful success, you can do so in a variety of ways:
The awesome guys from this year's show - taken on Wednesday, June 30th
Use the Cash App: $RockAquaJays

On Amazon Smile: Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Club

Checks can be sent to:

Rock Aqua Jays
PO Box 1046 Janesville, WI
53546


You can also inquire about the group at info@rockaquajays.com

Sources:

Interview with Tim Cullen, Honorary Member of the Rock Aqua Jays
https://www.rockaquajays.com/
Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Show Team Facebook Page
logo.jpg
5 High!.jpg