While watching fireworks this Fourth of July, chances are bystanders in Grand Rapids will look toward the Grand River throughout the day and wish for a little cooling off.
With a little patience, that can come true at the 2011 Global Invitational Water Ski Championship. Millennium Park's beach will host the event on July 9 and 10, where viewers will witness some truly original high-flying displays.
World class male and female water skiers will come to Grand Rapids for the first time from all over the globe to compete in slalom and long jump events for more than $40,000 of prize money.
"It will be like an Olympics-type event," said Jerry Brouwer, owner of Action Water Sports -- one of the many sponsors for the championship. "All the top athletes (of water sports) will be here, so it will be very cool."
Top names such as Will Asher and Karina Nowlen will dart between bouys as they're dragged behind a boat at 36 mph. In series of head-to-head time trials against other athletes, the field of competitors narrows down, as will the rope they hold on to with each successful run. The athletes who pass the most bouys with the shortest rope length win.
In the mens-only long-jump event, athletes such as Freddy Krueger will launch off a ramp up to 30 feet in the air and more than 200 feet in length at speeds between 65 and 70 mph after a few turns of the boat.
"Jumping is the most thrilling to watch," Brouwer said. "It's almost scary to watch. You almost close one eye."
And for those who aren't easily impressed, the competition will be infused with pure entertainment with the addition of show skiers, wakeboarders and barefoot water skiers. Yes, that means they ski with nothing but their feet.
All of this will be visible from Millennium Park's public beach, where visitors will be permitted to utilize all of the park's offerings at the cost of the normal entrance fee: $4 for adults and $2 for children. Essentially, for those who already planned a weekend at the beach, it's free entertainment -- who's going to argue with that?
"We thought that some place like Millennium Park would even be more special because it's close to downtown. It's got all of the amenities you could possibly want for an event like this: parking, concessions, nice bathrooms, it's got the splash park for kids and it's got a big beach so the people watching the action can wade in the water," Brouwer said.
Much planning had to be contributed in order for the luxurious park to host the event though.
"We didn't know if the size would work, so we did our due diligence on looking at the water and seeing if it was deep enough, wide enough, long enough and all that and it absolutely fit perfectly," Brouwer said. "That was a welcome surprise"
Last year, the event was held on a lake in the middle of Milwaukee and the public was "thrilled" with it. The city now plans on holding the event in the future, estimating nearly 80,000 attendants.
"We're hoping that Grand Rapids will embrace this and they will love it and that they will want to bring more events like this back in the future," Brouwer said.
Visitors are welcome to the event after 10 a.m. on both days when the park opens, with the admission fee on a per-day basis. The competitions start at 8 a.m. each day to accommodate the amount of athletes participating, so visitors will walk in on immediate action. For those seeking to attend just one day, more athletes will be present on Saturday when the competitive field is narrowed, and the best of the best will perform on Sunday with an awards ceremony ending the event at 6 p.m. Bleachers are not provided, so visitors are advised to bring comfortable beach equipment.