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"At that speed the ramp looks like a wall," says Kris. "The natural tendency is to lean backward, but you need to be forward to get a good lift. If you're too far forward, you eat it—go right over the top and take a terrible fall."
The LaPoints do most of their skiing at Kris' place just outside of tiny Los Banos, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley. Also in residence is a tailless tomcat named Cat and a few million catfish. Kris' private water-ski Utopia does double duty as a 55-acre catfish farm. Bob regularly commutes the 120 miles to Los Banos from his house in Castro Valley, the San Francisco suburb where he and Kris grew up. He's usually accompanied by an assortment of friends. In exchange for help with the chores, Kris gives Bob and his buddies beds to sleep in, all the fish they can eat and, most important, a chance to "ski their brains out."
About two-thirds of Kris' property is covered by 12 man-made lakes stocked with fish. "I sold about 10,000 pounds last year," says Kris. "That isn't a lot, but I'll have 50,000 pounds this year, and I have the potential for 100,000."
The biggest of the lakes is 1,600 feet long, large enough for two slalom courses and a jump. Skiing on it serves a useful purpose beyond providing the LaPoints with practice. "The decomposition of food and waste in the water uses up oxygen the fish need to survive," Kris says. "To replenish it you need to keep the water moving. A lot of fish farmers have mechanical aerators, but running the boat through the water accomplishes the same thing."
That's vintage Kris LaPoint. If there's a way to do two or three things at once, he'll find it. "He's the most intense and goal-oriented person I've ever met," says Cathy Marlow, the No. 4-rated woman slalom skier in the world, who has dated both brothers. "Bob at least will take time to relax—play tennis or racquetball or go snow skiing or scuba diving. He'll even have an occasional beer. Kris never. He has so many things going that he hardly ever gets more than five hours of sleep a night. The last thing he would ever consider would be going, say, to the beach and just doing nothing."
For the last five years Kris has had a dealership for MasterCraft Boats, and in September he and Bob and Robert Shirley, owner of the boat company, formed MasterCraft Ski, Inc. to produce water skis. Until this year, the LaPoints had performed on skis provided by manufacturers but carefully modified by the brothers. Although most skiers contend that you could put a LaPoint on barn siding and he'd still win, Bob and Kris are convinced that the thousands of hours they've spent testing and experimenting with skis give them a decided advantage. They are as obsessed with the nuances of a ski as a golfer is with the subtleties of a putter. The slightest variation in shape, weight, flex, bevel or composition can, in their minds, affect performance.
"In 20 seconds I can ruin a ski with a file or turn a halfway decent one into a good ski," says Bob. "You wouldn't believe how many good skiers are on bad skis and don't know it."
Kris even attributes his and Bob's long run of success to their preoccupation with ski technology. "We have always been in the forefront of those who've come up with new ideas about skis," he says. "And the testing we do helps make us adaptable. The water has a different feel at every site. Depth, mineral content, wind and temperature all affect how you run a course. A slalom skier has to be able to analyze those variables and then adapt. Our design work has definitely helped us in that regard."
Skiing isn't the only sport in which they make use of their mechanical and analytical skills. During the past few years both LaPoints have become increasingly involved in auto racing. In fact, they plan to race full time after retiring from skiing. "For now, though, it gives us a chance to do something competitive without the pressures we get at ski tournaments," says Kris. "In racing we're just like everybody else."
If their performances at the Bob Bondurant School in Sears Point, Calif., the most prestigious race-driver training center in the country, are any indication, they may not be like everybody else for long. "The LaPoints were two of the best students we've ever had here," says their instructor, Bob Earl. "They both were sensitive to the car, which comes from being relaxed at high speeds. You rarely see that with students."