Water ski team the Twin Cities River Rats puts on shows all summer long for anyone who loves water, stunts, and spandex. While plenty of people have been violently dragged behind a pontoon boat on a lake, is that all it takes to become a River Rat?
Dustin Ludwikowski is a high school chemistry teacher by day, and a River Rat by… day as well. (But, you know, on off-days.) He’s now in his seventh year with the River Rats, and says that the summer spectacular is way more than just boats and skis.
“It’s like Broadway meets water skiing,” he explains. “There’s always a theme, a story, music, and acting. This year we’re doing a Little Rascals theme: River RATscals -- get it?”
Having been a water skier for nearly 20 years, Ludwikowski explains that the physical demands of becoming a River Rat are secondary to attitude and teamwork.
“If you’re a solid skier with good upper body strength, that’s important for lifts and stuff like that,” he says. “But we have kids as young as probably five who are part of the team, so if you have a good attitude we can really show you how to do the rest. The teamwork aspect is way more important; figuring out how to work with 20-something other people.”
While show season only lasts a few months, Ludwikowski is in training all year long. Working indoors on gymnastics mats, he and his fellow Rats are able to practice the lifts, jumps, pyramids, and stunts that make the show a can’t-miss event.
But even the best preparation can’t prepare you for every scenario, as he himself has learned the hard way.
“I’m lucky that I haven’t really had any serious injuries, except the time I almost died,” he deadpans. “Me and a girl were doing doubles, and something went wrong where we got pulled off of the dock too soon. She popped right back up, and I got dragged behind the boat underwater on the show-course until someone was like, ‘What happened to Dustin?’”
Falls, flops, and cartwheel tumbles are also potential Rat-related injuries that performers should be prepared for, but Ludwikowski believes the risk is well-worth the reward.
“When you go to school or live in Minnesota you start to find people who like to do the same things as you,” he says. “Everyone on the River Rats is so welcoming and friendly. It’s always been so much fun to be a part of.”
While the team performs all summer long with weekly shows on the Mississippi River, the Aquatennial performances are the main event of the season. This year’s shows take place on Thursday and Friday, kicking off promptly at 7 p.m. each night.
IF YOU GO:
Twin Cities River Rats Aquatennial Shows
6:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 19-20
1758 W. River Rd. N., Minneapolis
Free; click here for details