Bennett’s Water Ski & Wakeboard School
By Breanna Smith
The crystal blue waters, shiny MasterCraft boats and cozy cabins make it feel like summer all the time at Bennett’s Ski School. For more than 40 years, the renowned ski and wake school has put Zachary on the map – training the world’s top talent, sharing the joy of watersports with hundreds of campers each summer and hosting televised national championships, all right here on Barnett Road.
The seasonal school is open from February through November, with collegiate teams typically taking advantage of the camps offered early in the year. When summer rolls around and school is out, the cabins, sprawling acreage and crystal blue lake bustle with wakeboarders and waterskiers. Everyone is welcome, from wannabes and beginners to world champions.
Owners Jay and Anne Bennett are lifelong, and well-credentialed, water sport enthusiasts. The two hold 42 national titles between them. Anne continues to compete – and win – while Jay focuses on coaching. In 2020 alone, Anne was named the National Women 6 Trick Champion, earned second place in Jump and Overall and fourth place in Slalom. Recently, Jay was named the 2020 USA Waterski Volunteer of the Year. He was also inducted into the National Collegiate Water Ski Association Hall of Fame as a member of the inaugural class in 2018.
In the Beginning
Jay began waterskiing and wakeboarding at six years old at the local waterski club near his parents’ camp on False River. “I had homemade everything, even when I was competing at a high level I was still using homemade trick skis,” Jay said, standing in the Pro Shop on-site at Bennett’s, which boasts of every product a wakeboarder or water skier could need.
His passion for the sport quickly became a mission to help young water skiers and wakeboarders develop their talents.
Jay and Anne Bennett began their ski and wake school on False River in the 1970s. While searching for a place with a private lake, they stumbled onto an abandoned crawfish farm in Zachary.
“There were 11 ponds back here and the front was a lake also,” Jay recalled.
With a lot of hard work, a little luck and one hell of a vision, they broke ground on Bennett’s Water Ski School in 1979. The family worked tirelessly, building every aspect of the world-class facility themselves. Bennett’s opened to the public in 1980.
Soon after opening, Bennett’s began hosting the National Water Ski Championships, broadcasting their slice of Zachary, Louisiana to televisions across the world.
Sharing the Sport
Each year, hundreds of eager campers arrive at Bennett’s Ski School for the week-long water sport experience. Whether they are brand new to the sport or seasoned skiers, campers leave with new skills and cherished memories.
“The summer camp program has become very successful,” Jay said. “Many of our students come back year after year to enjoy their sport.”
It’s not all watersports and training, though. Campers enjoy the game room, swimming pool, basketball courts, fishing, movie nights and even field trips to Marble Slab Creamery. They can also observe the instructors training for their respective water sports for a boost of inspiration.
Before the campers head home, they show off their new skills on the water.
“Families come out on Friday and they get to ride in the boats and see what their kids have learned and most of them are in awe.”
Campers learn from several instructors, including Jay, Anne and 15-time World Champion Hanna Straltsova.
Hanna, a Belarus native, attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe to obtain a Masters degree and ski for the ULM Waterski team. There, she set the National College Jump Record at 159 feet and added several accolades to her impressive resume. In 2017 and 2018 she won Jump, Slalom and Overall at the US National Collegiate Championships and was named National Collegiate Female Athlete of the Year in 2017.
With 31 European titles, four pro wins, two world records and the title of Cable Skier of the Year three years in a row, she offers unique insights and instruction on the sport backed by a powerful passion.
2021 was the most eventful and successful year in her career. She was named Masters Champion, King of Darkness Champion, Stillwaters Pro Team Challenge Jump Champion, European Jump Champion, US Open Night Jump Champion, and earned second place in both the Malibu Open and
Worlds Overall and Jump competitions.
You don’t have to sign up for summer camp to experience the world of water sports. This year, Tri-Lakes and Bennett’s Water Ski and Wakeboard School are bringing back the LA Night Jam for the first time since 2013. Louisiana’s only water sports festival and professional extreme water sports competition and show will take place Saturday, June 18 beginning at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 per car. Limited VIP tickets are available for $100.
The festival will feature several competitions, including Extreme Distance Water Ski Jumping, Freestyle Ski Jumping, Slalom Skiing, Extreme Barefooting, Trick Skiing and much more.
Visit lanightjam.com for more info & to purchase tickets.