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Wild, Wet And Wondrous
Jack Falla
August 05, 1985
The best water skiers in the land are Sammy and Camille Duvall, a brother and sister who slalomed to the top behind the horsepower of their dad
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August 05, 1985

Wild, Wet And Wondrous

The best water skiers in the land are Sammy and Camille Duvall, a brother and sister who slalomed to the top behind the horsepower of their dad

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With bodies Nautilized to the max, with skin that looks as though they've done some power tanning with their powerlifting, with their sun-bleached hair, all-American good looks, "how ya'll doin' " personalities and more trophies than you could haul with twin outboards, brother and sister Sammy and Camille Duvall are, in appearance and achievement, America's Golden Boy and Girl—some might say The Great Bronzed Hopes—of the emerging sport of pro water skiing.

We're talking consistent excellence here. Sammy, 22, of Windermere, Fla., the world's overall (i.e., combined jump, slalom and tricks) champion for the last four years, is the first man since 1960 to win the sport's Triple Crown (the 1983 Worlds, a biennial event, and the '84 U.S. Nationals and Masters). He is currently on a tear in which he has won the overall title in 12 of the 12 tournaments he has entered since August 1983, including the Masters two weeks ago. Camille, 25, of Winter Park, Fla., was last season's leading woman money-winner, and after eight tournaments of the '85 pro tour she leads again. The Duvalls are probably the most dominant brother-sister combination in sports history, in large part because they are driven by more than just high horsepower boats.

"Our success comes from us having the drive and our parents giving us the direction," says Sammy. Their parents—Diane, 47, and Sam, 47, of Orlando, both former amateur skiers—also kicked in some serious money to help make their children the best of this nation's 18 million water skiers. "I figure we spent twenty-five thousand dollars a year for 10 years," says Sam, a construction company executive, who admits his kids probably could have become brain surgeons for less. He spent a lot of that $250,000 on leasing a private lake near the family's former home in Greenville, S.C., setting up a ski course, hiring live-in coaches like former world-class skiers Ricky McCormick and Linda Giddens, and flying his children to tournaments around the country.

"We wanted them to excel in something, although it didn't have to be water skiing," says Diane.

Maybe not, but skiing had a leg up because the youngsters got so much early exposure to boats and skis. In fact, it's a wonder they didn't imprint on a towline and transom. "When Sammy was two, we'd put him in his life jacket and take him in the boat in a car seat," says Diane. The children were on skis at four—"They were so light we could pull them [from the bow] with the boat in reverse," says Sam, who did that to minimize the frightening sound of the engine—and both won their first tournaments at six.

With three different ski boats providing the pull—"so they could practice behind whatever kind of boat they'd get in the next tournament," says Sam—it was the parents who provided the push. "We pushed them about as hard as you could without causing problems," says Sam, who set up a 12-set daily training regimen calling for two sets of slalom, tricks and jumps in the morning and a repeat of the program at night.

"I don't train that hard now," says Sammy, laughing and recalling the day he went to his first ski school. "The instructor told me, 'It's a tough program here, we ski five or six times a day.' I told him, 'My daddy says I'm going to ski 12 times.' "

Daddy also attended to mental preparation. Diane likes to relate this story: "At one tournament where everyone was telling the kids, 'You got to beat this guy,' or 'You have to watch out for that girl,' Sam told them, 'You only have to ski against yourself.' Then he went out and bought an extra chaise longue and set it up on the beach. And when the kids asked, 'Daddy, who's that for?' Sam told them, 'That's for Self. Let's see how good Self does today.' "

Daddy, according to Sammy, "is a hard-driving, straight-ahead businessman." Yet at the recent Masters, in Callaway Gardens, Ga., pacing the dock in golf shirt, shorts and his 15-year-old lucky red Converse All-Star low-cuts, Sam Duvall appeared quiet and self-contained. At least until Sammy nailed a 185-foot jump, virtually locking up the overall title. "Come on, get out of here," Sam yelled, smacking his hands together as Sammy (carrying his father's hopes) soared off the top of the ramp.

"Sometimes I think he thinks we're him—if you know what I mean," says Camille of her father's vicarious pride in and need for his children's success. But she says it without rancor or regret. The younger Duvalls clearly love what they do and are grateful to their parents. "They helped make us what we are, and how many people are world champions?" says Sammy. Since childhood, the kids have gradually taken over from their father in the matter of pushing, cajoling and challenging each other.

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