ORLANDO – It’s not every day that people walking through Lake Eola Park are likely to see men and women in the lake itself, and on water skis.
But that’s exactly what was on view Monday afternoon, before an audience that included Mayor Buddy Dyer and City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who were happily cheering on the water skiers.
”We are very proud of Lake Eola Park and our newly refurbished fountain,’’ Sheehan said as the skiers came back onto dry land. ”And I hope it won’t distract from the skiers.’’
The city can expect to see a lot more water skiers at Lake Eola in the coming months, leading right up to September, when the City Beautiful will host the first ever Soaked event, a new extreme water festival coming to Orlando on Sept. 7-8. The festival will feature world champion water skiers competing for a hefty grand prize, and for those who opt to be spectators rather than participants, there’s also going to be music, motor shows, carnival rides and food.
”We are so excited to have this event at our signature park,’’ Sheehan said. ”I want to personally invite everyone downtown to see this event.’’
Shortly before city leaders announced the upcoming event, professional water skier Ryan Dodd took to the lake, offering a taste of what’s to come.
‘’Since I was a little kid, this has been my dream,’’ Dodd said. ‘’We’re bringing the Soaked festival to the heart of downtown Orlando, and we’re really going to raise the bar. We’re going to bring people from all over the world here to Orlando.’’
That means not just a great event, Dyer said, but also an economic boost to the city.
”What a lot of fun,’’ the mayor said. ”We’re really excited to be able to host Soaked. This is much more than just a sports and entertainment event. This is about economic development as well. This event is one of those events that will help us solidify Lake Eola as a destination for tourists, as well as local residents.’’
The mayor noted that Lake Eola has hosted water ski events in the past, including in 1985, when Lake Eola hosted the opening tournament for a 10-city water ski competition.
But Soaked, the mayor added, would likely bring a lot of spectators to the downtown park.
‘’We are anticipating more than 15,000 people coming to this event,’’ he said.
The event will feature night jumps on an illuminated lake and performances by some of the best known water-ski jumpers from around the world. Tickets for the event will cost $15 per day and can be purchased at soakedorlando.com.
‘’Central Florida is not unknown to water skiers,’’ said Paul Lovett, the festival’s organizer. ‘’We’re happy to bring it downtown and wrap our event around it. These are world athletes.’’
And, noting that many of them come to Central Florida to practice their skills in the region’s year round warm climate, Lovett added, ‘’We recognize today that 80 percent of these athletes call Orlando home.’’
Those athletes will hit the lake for wake boarding and slalom skiing competitions, and then in the evenings, the grand finale will be a Night Jump set on an illuminated Lake Eola. Jumpers are expected to brave speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, then execute soaring leaps that can reach up to 200 feet high – or higher.
‘’They’re going to risk their lives to entertain our crowd,’’ Lovett said. ‘’We have a competition for weight boarding here as well. Why have we got the world’s greatest athletes? Because we have a $100,000 prize. This is the richest waterskiing event in the world, and we’re bringing it to downtown Orlando.’’
There are also going to be stages for concerts and car shows, kids attractions, and food and beverage stations.
‘’It’s an action-packed weekend,’’ Lovett said.
‘’I encourage everyone to come out and watch and find out what water skiing is all about,’’ Dodd said.