John and Gay Soutter believe they have found the tap to the fountain of youth — while travelling at high speeds and skimming across British Columbia lakes on a pair of water skis.
Both of the Soutters, who have been married for 54 years, are in great physical condition, and they credit their passion for water-skiing for much of that.
John will be 78 in November, and Gay is 74. They met soon after John arrived in Canada from his native Australia in 1964 and landed a job at a food processing plant near Chilliwack where Gay also worked.
John was 23 when he asked Gay, age 20, to take his hand in marriage.
“I asked him if he wanted a ride home . . . he didn’t have a car and it was his first day at work,” said Gay, with a smile. “I had missed meeting four Aussie guys who had started at the plant the day before and I was intrigued by this new guy from Australia . . . I had always wanted to visit there.”
They fell in love and were married less than a year later.
For the past several years, the Soutters have split their time between their summer home at St. Andrews, south of Penticton, and another residence in Burnaby, in Metro Vancouver.
They bought their home near the St. Andrews golf course in 1998 and have spent every summer in this area since then.
When they are in the Okanagan in late spring, summer and early fall, they spend three or four mornings every week with the same routine of jumping on a pair of water skis with their friends on Skaha Lake.
At age 77, John not only excels on water skis, but many years ago conquered the challenge of skimming across the water without skis, on his bare feet.
“We both started skiing together in Penticton in the 1970s,” said John. “We used to come back on the weekends starting the first of July . . . and rented boats from the old marina on Skaha Lake, and we’ve been skiing there every single year since the 1970s.
“My brother-in-law came over from Australia and showed me how to barefoot water-ski. I guess I was probably in my early 50s. I had water-skied as a younger child back in Australia, but never barefoot. I basically started on a dare from my brother-in-law.”
Like any athletic endeavour, practice makes perfect in water-skiing, be it on the back of a board or barefoot, he said.
“It takes some getting used to for sure . . . it really tickles the feet,” he said. “It still tickles the feet every time I do it, but you get used to it. You go out for a run barefoot, take a little break and go out again. Pretty soon, you get the knack of it.”
While many might think it’s painful, John said that’s not the case.
“I’ve never had to build up calluses on my feet or anything . . . my feet are still the same,” he said. “The only thing you have to be careful of is to not hit anything in the water, obviously. I usually ski using a single ski and only go barefoot for a bit of fun. I’ve only been out barefoot twice so far this summer.”
Joining him and his wife for daily early-morning visits to Skaha Lake are his longtime water-ski buddies James Clark and Doug McPherson, the owner of Grant King Men’s Wear in downtown Penticton.
John said he and his wife would water-ski more often than they do, but often windy conditions on Skaha Lake make that difficult.
“If the water is not smooth, we don’t go out because we’re obviously not too keen on falling at this stage,” he said. “We keep doing it as a bit of a challenge.”
Gay’s passion for water-skiing started when she was age 12 and living near Cultus Lake in the Fraser Valley.
“We didn’t have a lot of money back then, so I wasn’t able to go as often as I would have liked,” she said. “When we got married and started coming here (Penticton area), that’s when we really started skiing a lot together, and we’ve been at it ever since.”
Both John and Gay like to start their day with a refreshing rip around Skaha Lake soon after getting out of bed.
“We ski usually most mornings for a couple of hours in the morning,” he said. “Once it gets busy, we leave. We’re usually out at 7 or 8 in the morning and are there for a couple of hours until the lake starts getting too busy.”
While water-skiing will always be their favourite athletic endeavour, John and Gay stay active and fit away from the water.
Gay is an avid golfer, playing two or three times a week, and also attends yoga and pilates classes. Their house in St. Andrews also has a pool, and they both swim regularly.
John is a regular jogger and also continues to train with weights.
“I start every single day with 100 pushups as well . . . just to get the blood circulating,” he said. “You got to keep moving or else your body starts to seize up and crap out.”
John and Gay have no plans to hang up their water skis any time soon.
“Not a chance,” he said. “I still enjoy it very much. It’s such good fun to get out there and run up and down on the water. I’m skiing with guys a lot younger than I am, but we have a good time.”
Gay says all the time she and her husband spend together water-skiing is quality time because they love the sport so much.
“We always have a good time,” she said. “It’s such a fun thing to do together, and hopefully we’ll be able to do it for a few more years yet.”