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EP18: Ski Talk with Mario Pigozzi

Interviewer: Matteo Luzzeri
Published on The Water Ski Podcast
Released on February 18, 2020
Transcribed by Matteo Luzzeri, Bill Thompson, and Kevin Roundhill


Mario Pigozzi 0:00
I have to give them the best best pull in slalom, in jump or tricks, and not helping because I'm totally the opposite theory that we have to help the skier. We can help the skier being more natural with them. And actually, sometimes I enjoy so much to drive an event and everything that I enjoy I also spend my emotion with the skier so if I can see the skier that needs a little words or something, actually, I appreciate to talk with a skier or to give one little word that they can help you. But after, with the driving for me is with slalom, to be more straight. And sometimes we have some skier that has some issue because they say hey, you are I don't know harder. But for me, my goal, is to be straight.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:23
Hey, what's up everyone? Welcome back to The Water Ski Podcast or welcome to The Water Ski Podcast. If this is the first episode you tune in for, my name is Matteo Luzzeri, and with this podcast I'm basically trying to promote the sport. Promote the sport primarily through the voices of the people in the sport. And wow, what a person I got to interview for Episode 18. This is Mario Pigozzi. He's the owner of the Catalina Ski Lake in Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic, father of the Pro Skier Robert Pigozzi, who you might have heard from in Episode 16, and Mario’s story is particularly interesting. Like several guests, and probably like most of the listeners, he found out about the sport through his father, but really got into the sport and understood the level that you could get into various disciplines and whatnot, through an interesting work experience that Mario candidly shared with us in this interview. However, one of the big reasons why I wanted to interview Mario was his driving. He's widely regarded as one of the best drivers in the world, with several World Championships and Pan American Games and Pro tournaments under his belt. And so we just talked quite a lot about driving. What makes a driver good, what is the role of the driver in a tournament, tips to improve one's driving, whether you're already a driver that drives some tournaments and you're trying to become a senior, or you're just someone that is at the lake and wants to help out ski partners by giving them a better, fair, more straight pull. Mario really shares what he has got to understand about driving and some of the experiences he's had. One bad one, and not necessarily bad in terms of his driving, but an experience that shaped him into the driver that he is today and his understanding of what a driver should do. And also makes a point that I found profoundly humbling, I guess, when he said that basically, he knows that he's done a very good job if he has been as anonymous as possible, meaning people don't know that he's there. But uh, let's not spoiler too much. I’ll let you enjoy this interview. Mario is a fantastic man and a very noble soul, someone that I highly respect since I was a little kid. I've known Mario for ages and I'm very happy that I got to sit in front of the microphone with him and got to hear his story and some of his beliefs and skills about driving. Keep supporting the podcast if you haven't reviewed on iTunes on Apple podcasts. Sorry, I should keep this straight. If you haven't reviewed on Apple podcasts, please go on there, leave a review. It really helps with charts, which is one of the main ways in which I'm trying to promote the sport through the podcast. But yeah, thanks a lot for the support and enjoy.


Matteo Luzzeri
Alright, Mario well, so such a blast to have you here. Well, actually you're having us here because we're in the Dominican Republic. But thank you for joining me for the podcast.
Mario Pigozzi 4:56
It's a pleasure for me spending time actually with you, with your dad, and with my family because that's the first idea for me about water skiing,
Matteo Luzzeri 5:07
Like family time.
Mario Pigozzi 5:08
Yeah, yeah, that is the most important thing that makes me move in that world.
Matteo Luzzeri 5:14
Yeah. And obviously your family is quite substantial so you do get a lot of family time and we'll get there. I'm going to ask you the question that I ask to everyone. The first question so we get warmed up a little bit. How'd you get into water skiing?
Mario Pigozzi 5:30
Actually it was a funny story about my life. I had never been involved in that sport, more than skiing like with a combo behind a Zodiac or behind the little boat with my father's sailboat when I was really really young. And after, I was a good snow skiing level. And once, when I was a student in the university, I had a proposal by my father to move in a village like an Italian village, a touristic village in Africa and work in a water ski school. And for me, it was something like “What?!”. And that was the idea, spending just two three weeks working there.
Matteo Luzzeri
Ivory Coast, right?
Mario Pigozzi
Yeah, in the Ivory Coast, there was a big water ski school at the tourist level. And at the end, I spent four years working on that.
Matteo Luzzeri 6:34
So it started as three weeks and ended up for years.
Mario Pigozzi 6:38
Yeah, that was for me a big, big dream because I was involved slowly, slowly and the passion was really big. Every week more and more. I was curious to learn every kind of little part of the water skiing so I was involved with a jump, slalom tricks, barefoot… every kind of discipline. Everything with the boat and the water.
Matteo Luzzeri 7:06
Nice. And we spoke a lot about like just a few days ago, off the mic, about how that experience was a bit of a life experience for you because water skiing was maybe your biggest duty, I should say. But then you would also doing choreography, you had to do some shows at night, you had to welcome guests…
Mario Pigozzi 7:27
Yeah it was really nice because we had all kind of level of water skiing, so for me it was great starting from 0, just driving a boat with a out motor and the back was a special situation. Imagine in plenty of Africa, until the moment where I had to pull some professional skier because in that moment the Italian team was spending some weeks in Ivory Coast for the winter season. So I was in contact with Chicco Buzzotta, with Bubu Alessi, and all the big names of water skiing. So it was not just water skiing because actually it was just a part of the day, in the night it was like singing, dancing… It was not an easy experience because it was really hard and working a lot of hours. But for me water skiing was like a new world. And I was really curious to be involved with that sport that for me was pretty new. So coming back from Africa, I had the opportunity to find in my home town, that is Brescia in the North of Italy, actually a friend of ours, the first version of Jolly Ski in 1993. So the idea was spending the summer some weeks in that lakes with a professional coach and water ski boat and slalom and everything and after going to that kind of village and being in charge about their water ski school.
Matteo Luzzeri 9:19
Yeah. So in those four years, obviously, you learned a lot about the sport. Did your skiing get better? Did you have time to improve your own skiing? What did you like to ski on?
Mario Pigozzi 9:31
Actually, I was doing all the disciplines because that was the part of being in that kind of school. And every night we had one hour just for us, skiing and learning and practice. After for me it was great because in Italy, I could work a little bit more the techniques, and from the beginner, my favorite discipline was Jump, because for me was a little bit closer to snow skiing. And for that reason I was a little bit more involved with that discipline.
Matteo Luzzeri 10:14
Yeah. It's funny cuz I just interviewed Robert earlier today. And he said it, “My favorite event was Jump” and obviously became a world class slalom skier. But we did talk about his passion for jump. So we now know where he got it from.
Mario Pigozzi 10:29
For sure. And actually, you remember that we spent good time to work on the slalom course with the comb jump skis to make sure…
Matteo Luzzeri 10:40
Yeah, we did the lowest speed challenge here in Dominican Republic. You won hands down. That was fun, that was fun. So get those 4 years, you learned a lot about skiing, you improved as a skier. So we are, what, early 90s?
Mario Pigozzi 10:59
Yea it was early 90s because it was the moment that I was finishing university. And after 1995, I moved to the DR for my own job that is architect, actually. So for that reason I stopped totally the water ski world, for me it was like a little period of my life. And I start to work here in DR. So I moved myself and I had my start to have my family and in 1997, Robert was born and for me was great because I live actually 200 meters far away from the beach. And I said, Wow, this is a country where actually we can ski all year long. So in 1999, I bought my own Ski Nautique, the first one. That was a big step…boat owner, And I had the opportunity to take my exam as official driver in Italy, because at that time I was still involved a little bit with the Italian Federation. And I started a little bit to pull friends and kids in the bay here in the ocean in front of the house. Until 2003 when I understand that in Dominican Republic they were organizing the Pan American Games. So I was like a little child in a candy store and say, Wow, that is beautiful. And I understood that it was in a river in Santo Domingo in the city. And I moved there and when I arrived I saw a jump ramp, a slalom course, and actually there were Les Todd and Chris Parrish, and all that kind of names and I was wow, that is my place. There only one thing, like three days after the tournament, everything died. Like the fisherman, they started to cut all the buoys and the jump ramp with the current of the river was like 3km south. Nothing more. So I said “alright, that is not the right place for water skiing”. And I had the opportunity to buy land where I started to make my own dreams, having my own lakes. And actually all the people here in DR were telling me “You’re a crazy guy! You're spending money to push mud and everything”. We spent like two months just trying to catch the land because it's not an easy country to find water and all the ground is like a rock. So it was really really difficult to make our own lakes. And after two, three months, we could find the right spot. And in three more months, I had my own lakes ready.
Matteo Luzzeri 14:11
Only three months? Wow. So let me ask you this because I interviewed Keith a few weeks ago. And when I asked him, he basically found a piece of land and said “Okay, I want to lake here” but he didn't really consult with anyone and sort of build it. What was your story? Did you talk to someone that had done a lake before?
Mario Pigozzi 14:30
No, I just started to study a little bit and check in all the manmade lakes in Florida and everything. And you know, I'm not an engineer, but I am an architect. So I was in that kind of situation to work with a lot of machine and everything. It was something normal for my job. And I started to check you know, I was sure to find water like 20 meters deep so that was for me the best option. Actually, the first step of the lake was a little bit shorter, like 550 meter, maybe 570. And the spot was a little bit short. So I started turning every single pass in slalom. And after I had the opportunity to buy more land and dug it, and after 6 years now, my lake is 700 meters.
Matteo Luzzeri 15:33
Which is perfect. And I remember because I think our first time, my dad actually was telling me this, and you told him that, the first year we came was the first year that lake was finished.
Mario Pigozzi 15:44
Yes, in 2004 actually. Yeah, because the Pan Am Games were in 2003 in the summer, and in 2004 my lake was ready for the first clients. For me it was such an honor to have you guys…for me it really was a big dream to have you guys in my place.
Matteo Luzzeri 16:08
Yeah, it was fun. I think it was kind of like “things coming back” right? Because we came with Claudio, you were among the very first members in Brescia in the early 90s when Claudio founded this club, so kind of dots connecting again. And when I'll post this we'll definitely post the picture we have in the office of the very first members, with dad, you, and Claudio…
Mario Pigozzi 16:30
skiing in the Christmas time I still remember….
Matteo Luzzeri 16:37
Oh, yeah, yeah, in Brescia… not here with 25°C
Mario Pigozzi 16:41
It was in Brescia actually. It was snowing and with 3°C. And us, crazy, skiing, barefooting, making pyramids and everything. Just the craziness.
Matteo Luzzeri 16:54
Yeah. And so… you get your lake… Robert told me he was already skiing a little bit…
Mario Pigozzi 17:02
Yeah, he was like very first steps, beginning with two combos and start to learning to ski with one ski. It was like, he actually was seven years old. And he was not so happy to ski. He was scared and everything… “No, I don't want to train, I don't want to ski”. But, step by step and with my passion, I think I could change him a little bit.
Matteo Luzzeri 17:38
Right. Yeah. And he spoke at length about like, how it took him a year to learn how to fully start with one ski…
Mario Pigozzi 17:45
With some coaches coming like a Claudio, coming from Italy, and he told me “Hey, Mario, I'm a friend of yours. I know you since like 20 years ago. Make your kid do another sport, water ski is not his sport”
Matteo Luzzeri 18:03
Yeah. And it's funny how things turned around, right?
Mario Pigozzi 18:06
Yeah, that is life. You can never say no.
Matteo Luzzeri 18:14
Yeah, you can never tell. So, you started your own lake and then… yeah, we did come to ski. But what was … because I remember already in the first year, you had some skiers…
Mario Pigozzi 18:24
Yeah, actually I could find the little kids in the school in the college in Santo Domingo. So my first idea was to buy a minibus, a van, and I was picking them up at three o'clock pm outside from the school, bringing them to lake skiing, having like the homework, and after I was driving back. That was during the week, and in the weekend, they were coming with the family. So we started slowly just with slaloming because they were like 10, 12, 13 years old. And I could prepare like a little team of water skiers, like very low level. And actually, our first experience, like Dominican Federation was in 2006, in Mexico that there was a Pan Am Championship in Guernavaca. You know the place very well because you skied there during the winter season. And we arrived with a brand new team of water skiers. With Robert that was, imagine, he was nine years old, a little fat boy, and with other three, four young girls, and we had our experience in the world of water skiing in the Pan Am or Latin American region. So I started to organize my own Federation. I was the President, and I was just a coach, president, chef, in charge about everything…
Matteo Luzzeri
Bus driver, driver, boat driver…
Mario Pigozzi
Everything. So the first tournament actually was not really good because I had two or three little girls having just their first pass or the first gate because the minimum start speed was the maximum speed that they could ever do before. And from that experience, I think, Robert and another couple of little girls, they said “Okay, we really enjoy that sport, and we want to train a little bit harder and seriously.” So when we came back, we started actually to work a little bit more.
Matteo Luzzeri 20:51
Now, at what stage of this story, you kind of stopped skiing? Because you know, I could see Robert or young kids watching you jump, say, and go “Wow, I want to do that one day I want to do that…” but my understanding is that you sort of like when the lake was done you had already sort of stopped skiing…
Mario Pigozzi 21:13
Yeah because, at the beginning I was working with a Chilean driver that was helping me, and after one year so I could ski actually, everyday. I was just jumping because my back has had a lot of problems since I was born and I understood when I was like 23-24 years old. So slalom skiing for me was really painful. Every set for me was like a one week without moving myself because it was too much. So I was enjoying jumping, making a lot of slalom with the two ski and making a little bit of tricks. After one year the driver from Chile left because he had some trouble in his country. So for me it was really difficult for skiing because I was spending so many hours driving the boat and Robert was still too young for driving. And I start to enjoy more the part of driving and coaching. So it was like a period of transition. And actually I was enjoying a lot that part of the sport, because I started to appreciate the part of being a driver. And during the winter season there were a lot of people coming, like you, like Fabrizio Merlo, we had the Italian team and everything, and so they told me “Why you are not driving in tournaments? You are a driver from the Italian Federation.” And I said “Okay, let's do it.” Because the same way. I was traveling with my little team in the Latin American tournament season or in the Pan American, so I started to be a Latin American driver.
Matteo Luzzeri
Ah, so you were an official driver from Italy before…
Mario Pigozzi
Actually, yeah, Candido gave me the exam and Fabrizio “Titò” and after I stopped to drive in a tournament for about three years. And I started another time in 2008 actually because I hosted the first Latin American Championship here in my lake. Yeah. And so I asked to be one of the official drivers and that was my first experience. So in 2008 for me was the first tournament at a very high level for me because we had some great skier like Toti and Pipe Miranda, some skiers like Javier Julio, a lot of professionals skiers so you know for me was a great experience.
Matteo Luzzeri 24:07
How was the feedback? Because I remember that winter (I wasn't part of it) the Italian team came to train, and that was before that Latin American right?
Mario Pigozzi
Yeah, it was in 2006.
Matteo Luzzeri
And so they were telling you “Dude…” like, you know, the Italian team has lots of good slalomers. So were they telling you “why don't you become a driver”?
Mario Pigozzi 24:26
Yeah because actually they were enjoying my kind of driving and everything. And also Bubu told me “Hey” when normally I was spending two months in Italy in the summer. So they start to say to me “Hey, do you want to drive in that tournament?” I don't know, at your place or in Recetto or other places… so I started to drive a little bit. And for me was great. I enjoyed that experience a lot.
Matteo Luzzeri 24:52
And yet you had your first driving tournament here…
Mario Pigozzi 24:59
In Latin Americans, actually was in 2008, because I spent two years being an Italian driver.
Matteo Luzzeri 25:06
Ah, so you were registered with the Italian Federation…
Mario Pigozzi 25:08
Yeah. And after I just switched and I asked permission to switch to Latin America because, for me, there was more opportunity to drive here, in the Pan Am region or in Latin American region.
Matteo Luzzeri 25:23
True, because you're here pretty much the rest of the year.
Mario Pigozzi 25:25
… and actually it was really hard, because I started and they would put me every time driving like, series three of tricks, but it was good for me. For me, it's not important, like the level of the skier or the series or everything I was enjoying that part to, to be like a team with the skier behind me. And that was the reason that I started to try to improve my driving, not just in slalom, in jump, in tricks or anything, because for me, it was really great. A great experience, a great emotion and so I was thinking “Okay, I can do something for that sport that did a lot for me, for my life”. And so I want to do something for that sport.
Matteo Luzzeri 26:18
Yeah. Well, you certainly did a lot right? You basically created water skiing here the DR, and you are widely recognized as one of the best drivers in the world. Before we get to driving, because I want to get to some of your advice, and your journey. So obviously your first tournament as a driver here was a big tournament, like a title event!
Mario Pigozzi 26:42
Yeah, it’s like your European Championship or Pan Am Championships, because we had all the categories from Under 14 to Senior 2 or Senior 3.
Matteo Luzzeri
Yeah. And who was driving also, do you remember?
Mario Pigozzi
I think he was like a Mexican driver. He was a recognized driver in Latin America, I think now he is not driving anymore, and perhaps another driver from Peru. I think that he is still driving. So we were three drivers. And I told you, for me it was a great experience. And after the first big big tournament for me was the Junior Worlds actually at your place in 2010.
Matteo Luzzeri 27:26
Were you like… Can I ask you this? Were you nervous? Like those first tournaments or two… because you've driven by now you've driven a ton of great events titled like World Championships, Pan Am games, you know, Pro tournaments…so many. But in those first few tournaments, were you like … nervous?
Mario Pigozzi 27:47
No. Actually, I was surprised about that. Because normally when you do something for the first time, at a big level, you are super scared to be judged from the skier, the coach, the other judges and everything. And I was spending so many hours here driving people from different levels that for me was totally normal. And I think that is the part that makes me more natural on the boat. You know, I feel the skier, I feel everything, I feel the emotion of the skier, the situation, but I'm always not nervous. It's the part that I've seen a lot of time in other judges or drivers, that when they have to jump in the boat, they are still a little bit tense, but I'm not. I'm totally in my world. You know, I feel really natural sitting in the boat and pulling you.
Matteo Luzzeri 28:53
Yeah, it's interesting. And I think the fact that you spend a lot of time in the boat has definitely helped you, right? You had your first big tournament experience, but you had hundreds and hundreds of hours in the boat driving, someone from 10.25m to someone who was trying to run their first pass. And as you told me several times to you is the same importance, right?
Mario Pigozzi 29:24
Yeah. For me, it's the same emotion when I can pull a kid for the first time with combos, or I can pull the first time running a slalom course, or if you can run 10.25m. It's a big emotion for sure, but for me it's exactly the same emotion. I think that is the best, best part. After, I became the driver of the women, because you know very well because of Robert that was starting to compete. I had the opportunity to drive more women. I was trying to find some different category where Robert was not skiing, but he was skiing in open division since he was 12-13 years old, because our Federation… our team was so little that he was competing in Under 14 and open division. So for me it started to be a little bit of a problem driving men and I'm very famous now to be the driver of the women.
Matteo Luzzeri 30:30
Right? So yeah, that's true. So 2010 Junior Worlds… Was that your first Worlds?
Mario Pigozzi 30:36
Yeah. And the next year I was straight to Dubna.
Matteo Luzzeri
Right, for the Open Worlds!
Mario Pigozzi
Yeah, and it was very difficult because the other drivers were putting me on the side… “Hey, you are a Dominican driver from the other part of the world. What do you want to drive?”
Matteo Luzzeri 30:57
Series 7…
Mario Pigozzi 31:01
Yeah. But slowly, slowly for me it was not important to drive Series 1 or Finals or something like that, for me it was much more important to be there enjoying that time.
Matteo Luzzeri 31:12
Yeah. Can you share a story where you … whatever driving story, maybe one that makes you proud or some driving experience that you remember with a particular emotion.
Mario Pigozzi 31:24
I can remember Dubna, Women Tricks Finals. Last skier on the dock, Iris Cambray. And with Marian Malaquin as the pin guy in the boat. And you know, I speak French very well, so I was always trying to speak the same language of the skier and of the release man. And you remember, Dubna was a really difficult spot. We were turning around a dock house and going straight to the course. And it was the first year where we were using, you know, the two boys, the green buoys and red buoys for slalom. So I asked like I did with the others “Do you want shore side or ramp side?” I don't remember but Iris fell like in the fourth trick. And they asked me a re-ride because I was on the opposite side. And I said “No, look, you told me that side” and we stayed discussing and you know, she was top seed in the final. And so she couldn't have the re-ride because actually the chief judge asked me and I said “Hey, I understood that way and I pulled like the other 12 in the right spot, so I don't know why you're telling me”. For me, that was very, very hard. So we improved from that moment. You know, the little sheet where we put everything, write it, and I'm totally… but for me it was really, really hard. Yeah, because I was feeling so bad for Iris actually. And I was feeling bad because I understood that I was in the right spot. And from that moment, when I'm in the boat, I'm really focused to try to not have the wrong speed and everything… but it's okay now. We are in a good, good way.
Matteo Luzzeri
Has it ever happened to you to miss the speed? Say, you had to pull someone at 58kmh and it was 55kmh…
Mario Pigozzi
Especially with the kids, when you are hurried up from the chief judge or the jetty marshal they say, “hey, go go go go”, and you have a kid that normally starts with a low speed can make that first pass that you are in a wrong speed. You have so many things, especially in jump that you now have a lot of different settings to put on the boat. We are under pressure because we have a scheduled time. We have so many skiers and you try to do your best, but we are human. For me it's very important to give the skier the second chance because I think the skier is really the protagonist of the tournament. We are actually a way to make it easy and make the tournament running. To me that is the most important part.
Matteo Luzzeri 34:36
Yeah, it’s kind of like the skier has the stage you're just providing the stage the best way you can.
Mario Pigozzi 34:42
Yes. I have to give them the best pull in slalom, in jump, or tricks but not helping, because…I'm totally the opposite theory that we have to help the skier. We can help the skier by being more natural with them. And actually, sometimes I enjoy so much to drive that I also enjoy to spend my emotion with the skier. So if I can see the skier that needs a little word or something, actually I appreciate talking with a skier or to give one little word that can help them. But after, the driving in slalom for me is being more straight. And you know, sometimes you have some skier that has some issue because they say “hey, you are hard” or other things, but for me… my goal is to be straight.
Matteo Luzzeri 35:45
For everyone, straight, down the middle to the best of your ability.
Mario Pigozzi 35:46
Yeah, that is my goal
Matteo Luzzeri 35:51
That's an interesting dynamic, because every skier is a little bit different, right? So some skiers like to talk with the driver or with the boat crew…
Mario Pigozzi
And I can check when the skier is so nervous that he wants to be focused. I respect that a lot. Just with a view, with my eyes, I can understand. And then there are some skiers that I really enjoy pulling because they start to talk with you…
Matteo Luzzeri
Give me an example
Mario Pigozzi
Brooke [Baldwin] I think she's the best skier that I can pull because she starts laughing with me and asks me “Hey, have you seen that movie?” And I say “Hey, come on, Brooke, you are skiing”. But there’s a lot of skiers that actually enjoy talking with me.
Matteo Luzzeri 36:39
Okay, so, the Iris story, maybe not the happiest story, right?
Mario Pigozzi 36:47
More for her than for me, I was feeling really bad. And actually, after the Worlds, the first tournament that I pulled in France, first skier on the dock… Iris Cambray. I was so nervous. And Christophe was in the boat with me and he said “Hey, don't worry, I know that is the part of being in the boat working for us and everything. We try every time to do everything for our athletes. Sometimes we can do it and sometimes not, but don't worry, you do your job and that’s okay”.
Matteo Luzzeri 37:22
Okay. What about a moment where you were really…? Because again, I don't know that proud is the right word, particularly with your approach to driving. If your goal is to drive as straight as you can for everyone the same way, it's tough to be proud of your driving. But, any memory that you have where, I don't know, maybe there was like a runoff or something that made you go “Wow, you know, there was a big moment.”
Mario Pigozzi 37:50
For me, every tournament… I’m living every pass like I'm skiing behind the boat. So I want to try to always give them the best pull. And for me, I don't care if it's from France, Italy, USA, Canada or any other country. I try to give them the best pull to make them happy. That is the best part, when the skier finishes a tournament and is happy about his result. And perhaps that is not winning, but they feel that they skied good and everything so for me that is the best part. After pulling finals at the Worlds or in a particular Games… it's nice because you can live the emotion of the skier when they win, but as I told you also in training, I have exactly the same sensation and the same feeling pulling people.
Matteo Luzzeri 38:52
Yeah, I can see how hard it would be to have a memorable moment. If you take it the same way every time, no matter the skier,l no matter the tournament…
Mario Pigozzi 39:03
…and, you know, we can have a bad day like you can have a bad day skiing in which it’s a little bit harder to feel the rhythm of the skier behind. But as I told you before, we are human, so you have a day where you feel that everything is easy. And some days where you feel, I don't know, perhaps if you have a boat that you are not used to driving a lot. I'm super lucky because I can drive all kinds of boats and I travel a lot. So for me, it's very important. I can also do 10 hours of flight, jump out, and I like to go in a boat and train, like you, because I want to have a very good feeling with the boat and the skier so I want to train with a different boat. And actually I'm super lucky about that because I have the opportunity to do it. When I come to Italy for the holidays I spend perhaps sometimes driving the boat because I like to be there and I like to train before a tournament…
Matteo Luzzeri 40:08
…and we abuse it a little bit honestly because obviously when you show up, the first thing is “Hey Mario, would you mind…”. But it's very clear with you. After you drive a couple of Worlds, and you've driven how many? I don't know, seven…
Mario Pigozzi 40:28
Yeah, perhaps between the Junior, Under 21, Open… I was in Dubna, Chile, France, and now in Malaysia.
Matteo Luzzeri
So four Open Worlds, then a Junior… you've driven a ton of Worlds…
Mario Pigozzi
But look, not because I want to be there. The problem we have in Latin America is that we don’t have many drivers. How it works is that the region votes for their driver. So I'm always on the ballot because of that, not because I want to be there for some reason. And perhaps sometimes it's easy because I'm there for my son. So it's easy to organize everything and they want me there.
Matteo Luzzeri 41:18
That's a good point. I guess what I wanted to say is, after driving a couple of Worlds, you could have gone like, “I'm the shit, I'm a great driver, and that's that”. But I have never seen you like that.
Mario Pigozzi 41:34
No, no way. It's not my idea. I want to be there and help the sport. I think we have so many good drivers. Every driver is a good driver. It's just sometimes we want to be the protagonists in the boat. “I'm a driver and if you ski well is because I was driving well.” No, no way. That's not my idea. Who skis good is the skier behind the boat. So I have to give you the best pull but not help you to reach more buoys or gain more meters by doing something that is not by the rules, you know? So I have to give you the best number in jump, and for me it is going straight in the course. Because that is the way they taught me when I was learning to drive. You have to be there. Now we have so many electronic systems to track our pass and everything, so I think we have to be there. That is a big, big problem at least here in Latin America. I'm working a lot about this. In Latin America, the lakes are always in a very nice golf course, country club or something. So we have so many drivers of clubs. And what I really was surprised about was that they started to say “Yeah, I'm a good driver because I help the skier, and when I drive he can have three more buoys or he can do this and that”. And actually I was working with that and I am trying to teach them that you don't need to help the skier. And if you want to turn a skier into a professional skier, I think you have to give him the same pull that he is going to find in a tournament. There's no way that you are coming at my place and you run four more boys than your PB, and after when you go competing or in another place, you are not able anymore to run that pass. For me it is the most frustrating experience for a water skier or if you do a result, and I'm going to you after I finish the tournament and I say “Hey, Matteo, Congratulations! But I was on your side at two and three, so you could reach the four…” In your mind you say “Hey, come on. So he was helping me. I was not skiing good. He was helping me.” And that I think that the worst thing we can do.
Matteo Luzzeri

Yeah, I would agree. I think this sport is already so complicated enough to understand…
Mario Pigozzi
Whoa, there are so many factors. When you are jumping in the water from the dock ready to start, you are so nervous that you cannot imagine. So because of that, for me it is about giving you that kind of confidence. Why do people want the same drivers? I don't know, Les [Todd] for jump, Mario for women slalom… Because when you jump in the water you know exactly that the driver is not a point in your mind that you are worried about.
Matteo Luzzeri
It is not a variable.
Mario Pigozzi
Yeah, that is the idea. You know, “Ha, Mario is driving so in slalom I’m okay. I'm not worried about ‘Whoa, how is that driver going to drive? Is he too hard, he is going…’” No. That is the point, to give the confidence to the skier behind the boat.
Matteo Luzzeri 45:28
Yeah, it's brilliant.
Mario Pigozzi 45:32
And as I said, every single driver is a good driver. But we have to stop thinking that we are good drivers because skiers run more boys or jump more meters just because we were driving the boat. No, you guys are the very protagonists of the sport. We are just anonymous, you know? Doing our job, giving you confidence, and doing so by the rules.
Matteo Luzzeri 46:02
That's exactly what I was saying. As a skier who has to think about my own technique, equipment, conditions, and all this, the less variables I can have, the better. And it's hard in our sport. So the driver, exactly as you said. If I know that there's a good driver in the boat, then I know…
Mario Pigozzi 46:23
…my mind is totally free, so I can be worried about skiing, if it's windy, rollers… But at least the driver is not a question that you have in your mind. What happens is, as I told you… we have so many good drivers but come on… we need to be trained. I don't pretend… if I stopped to drive here at my place or at your place in summer, I don't want to be in a big tournament after perhaps 5 to 6 months without driving. Sometimes that is the problem we have. We are chosen by the some rules by the IWWF, and sometimes there’s a driver that is not working during the winter season or they stopped to work in a club or ski club, and they want to go because they are voted by the region to drive at Worlds, or Pan Am's, Euros, or something like that. I think that’s not a good idea. Because for you, driver, that go and drive that tournament, you feel very nervous because we were not driving. So you lose a little bit of the feeling with the skier. And so the result is very bad.
Matteo Luzzeri 47:52
That's what I think. A lot of listeners that we have are beginning skiers. You know, they are amateurs. I just received an email today about these skiers in Orlando, natural lakes, seven parents with little kids on a boat, they're pulling each other… And I think one of the things people don't realize is that the driver is a judge. And their job is fairly straightforward. But it takes a lot of motor skill to drive, it is a skillful job and it requires practice. But you guys are not checked on your practice. It's not that you have to tell the Pan Am region “I've clocked 300 hours of boat this year”
Mario Pigozzi 48:42
But because of that, we have to be honest with ourselves. And I told you Matteo, if tomorrow I cannot drive anymore here at my place or in another place I go, and they asked me to be driving a tournament. Honestly, I take a step back and say “no, I'm not prepared for that”. I prefer to start to drive a little bit more in practice and everything. After that, perhaps, I can drive a tournament again.
Matteo Luzzeri 49:21
So with that in mind, you obviously said there's a bit of a lack of drivers here in the Latin American region. And, you know, there's a lot of listeners we might have who want to improve their driving, if nothing else to give a better pull to their friends. What are some of the recommendations you will give to beginner drivers?
Mario Pigozzi 49:44
Talk a lot with a skier and talk a lot with a coach. That is very important. Sometimes, you know, you are scared to tell the driver you are driving the boat “Hey, you were totally on your side or you were going with the skier on every buoys”. We have to be very honest. And accept the critics, because I told you I started with a lot of critics from the beginning, so learn about talking with a skier, the coach and other drivers. And if you have the opportunity to make a video and send it to a good driver that you know with a lot of experience and ask. And I always try to spend a lot of time in Latin America with other drivers, young drivers, new drivers, just to teach them and also in the club. I talk with them. And I say “Hey, come on, work a lot.” And don't be just proud to be “Hey, I pulled that guy that is making buoys at 10.25m or 41off”. No, drive every kind of skier. Because you will learn a lot with beginners that perhaps they don’t have a good rhythm and feeling that kind of freedom with the skier behind. That is my part to be a driver, to feel the skier behind, you know, I go straight but I feel you. And I don't know, I'm always with one eye on the mirror, and I check the skier. That is another part that was funny actually in the finals in Paris, because I was driving the final men and women just because Robert did not make the finals. So they asked me to drive the finals. And I was watching the skier behind and the judge, who is a friend from France, says, “Hey, what are you doing? You're crazy”. And I said, “Come on. I am here, we're in a final in the Worlds. I cannot watch the skier?”. And I said “Hey, be careful. If I'm straight. If I'm straight, it's okay. Let me check the skier”.
Matteo Luzzeri 52:03
So this is actually like how you drive, you keep an eye on the mirror...
Mario Pigozzi 52:07
Always because I like to keep an eye always on my boat path.
Matteo Luzzeri 52:12
Okay? Or so you check your boat path...
Mario Pigozzi 52:15
Every single buoy. So there are people who're checking in the front and my kind of way to drive, in slalom at least, is checking every single pass, every single buoy, if I'm where I'm supposed to be.
Matteo Luzzeri 52:32
So your eyes go I'm guessing from mirror, to forward, to mirror, to forward and do you, because I've heard different things, so some people like to watch to spot say two or three boat guides...
Mario Pigozzi 52:47
For me it's very very difficult to make like a sign. There's a lot of drivers that make a sign with duct tape, on the right side just to maintain the line with the buoys. For me it's very, very difficult because I told you that is my way to drive. So if I have that little piece of paper, my eyes always go there. So I'm not feeling like I’m driving naturally. And I told you just spending some hours of practice with different boats, when you jump I don't know from a 200 [Ski Nautique] to a new Nautique or to Malibu or Mastercraft, the boats are different, so you can be a little bit on your side or on the left side and everything. So check your boat pass, and after I feel that so I'm always watching the mirror and in the front.
Matteo Luzzeri 53:41
Okay, so in the front you're seeing the next boat guides or very far....
Mario Pigozzi 53:46
Very far away, to the end of the course.
Matteo Luzzeri 53:49
Yeah, because I've heard different drivers saying “I look at this, or…”
Mario Pigozzi 53:53
We don't have to be always with the same theory or something. If you feel natural driving that way, do it. And I don't want to change the way you drive. But for me the most important thing is, if you feel natural doing what you are doing.
Matteo Luzzeri 54:14
Yeah, so feeling natural in the way your eyes are going, obviously checking the boat path, right? Now when you say video I'm assuming end-course camera would be the top?
Mario Pigozzi 54:30
Also, filming with someone in the boat and film your slalom pass and after you can check actually in every frame How was your boat pass and you know exactly if you were driving straight or in one side or moving on every buoy.
Matteo Luzzeri 54:47
So basically like a camera in the boat straight down the course.
Mario Pigozzi 54:52
Like you guys when you ski you want to film sometimes to check your position and everything, for me is exactly the same. So sometimes when I jump in a new boat or when I jump from the Master to a 200, I ask “what do you think?” to the skier or to the coach. And please, please, please don't think that you do something wrong if they call you by the judge tower, and they say… hey, it's normal guys. Okay, so it's not like an offense when they tell you “Hey, you were a little bit on your side or moving”. It's normal. We are human and sometimes we cannot feel the rhythm with a skier or something like that.
Matteo Luzzeri 55:44
Right, you have to take it as feedback, like the judges tower is telling you “Hey, Mario, you are here or there”
Mario Pigozzi 55:50
Sometimes the chief judge or the judges, they are scared to tell us “Hey you were not in”. It’s only way we can learn, right? If they say to us “Oh, you were perfect”. And after they say “Hey, that driver was totally on his side” - it’s not a good way to learn. Please don't be scared to tell us that we were making something wrong or if we are making something good, you know, you are also good. That is, that is the part.
Matteo Luzzeri 56:27
We know it, like the quicker the feedback, the more effective you know? So like, I'm assuming, don't be scared, you know, as a judge to call up and say “Hey, good path”. Or, “Hey, you’re straight but a little bit on the right”. It's a good point. And so yeah, take video, be natural, drive the way that feels natural to you. And I’m assuming that you mean also in terms of how you sit in the boat, how you grab the steering wheel...
Mario Pigozzi 56:49
Everyone has his way. I've also seen people driving with two hands, I've seen one, but like really high or moving a lot. If they feel good like that and the skier feels good and the path is straight…
Matteo Luzzeri 57:18
Right. I think always the ultimate proof is the path right? Like watch the path and then, yeah...
Mario Pigozzi 57:28
And the feeling with the skier. Talking with the skier every time. Also in jump, I try to go close to the numbers. But sometimes the pull for the jumper you ask the skier to the jumper, what they prefer to have, if they feel you are in the path in the right spot. So if they prefer to be a little bit wider, if they normally go split and you go a little bit wider or narrow or something like that. So talk with a skier. Don't think that you are the boss. So, you know more than them… No. We always need to learn from the skier.
Matteo Luzzeri 58:14
Some people might not know the jump course is way wider than the boat, so the jumper gets to choose, tells the driver, “Hey I want to be red dead in the middle or wide split” as we call it, or “narrow split”. So that's the discretion of the skier to say “okay, Mario” or any driver. “I want to be here or there”. So you are where they ask you to be, but they might want to be..
Mario Pigozzi 58:41
Not exactly where they ask you because I don't know sometimes also, the ramp is not exactly exactly in that point or the angle is open or closed or they feel a little bit better. So ask them, after every single jump ask the jumper, ‘It's okay? You feel good?’ So it's better.
Matteo Luzzeri 59:05
Well then, I gotta ask you do you prefer driving slalom or jump? Your own personal preference…
Mario Pigozzi 59:11
No, I really enjoy both. For sure I have more experience in slalom because in my place I have no people jumping. Now, I have my kids actually jumping almost every day. But also if you ask me “do you enjoy tricks? I enjoy tricks also. Because for me it’s exactly the same. It's a different feeling, for sure. Perhaps more natural for me is slaloming. But jumping also for me, it's great.
Matteo Luzzeri 59:50
Yeah. Well, I was hoping I could get a preference but I didn’t get it.
Mario Pigozzi 59:53
No. (laughs)
Matteo Luzzeri 59:55
Okay. So yeah, and obviously I guess we sort of said it without saying it… a lot of practice.
Mario Pigozzi 1:00:02
Yeah, that is the base. Practice, practice, practice. The more hours you have, the more skiers, totally different level. Don't pretend, “Oh no. I’m not pulling that guy's because it's running just at 43kmh” or something like that, “He’s a beginner.” No, it's very important because they teach you, also they pull not exactly like we are used to with a professional skier. So sometimes the pro skier makes a mistake and you are ready to fill it. When you drive for beginners most of them are not in a good rhythm. So you learn to maintain the boat and the feel in the boat also with a bad rhythm.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:00:56
So then, I have to ask, in terms of slalom, who are some of the skiers (and I'm sure you drive them dead straight), who are the some of the skiers that were more of a challenge to drive, maybe because their rhythm is a bit off or they're powerful skiers?
Mario Pigozzi 1:01:12
I enjoy a lot, like four weeks ago, to pull Aaron Larkin. And with a Mastercraft. That
was challenging, but very, very challenging for me. So I was enjoying that part.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:01:32
Yeah, not easy. Very powerful onside, cruising offside.
Mario Pigozzi 1:01:38
Yeah. But also Robert sometimes is challenging. So for me, it’s great to have a good training guy to pull.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:01:50
Yeah, exactly. If you needed someone to train driving unexpectedly, I think Robert is a good training partner.
Mario Pigozzi 1:01:54
He can surprise you sometimes with a very very hard turn. So I have to be always very, ‘Hurry up and ready.’
Matteo Luzzeri 1:02:09
All right. So, to sum - Practice, take video, don't be afraid to drive any level of skier and be comfortable and natural in the way you drive and work on that. Yeah, I can see that. And it's funny because I have obviously skied behind a lot of great drivers, and you spot different things. Like how they sit in the boat, how they grab the steering wheel, where their eyes go. I think it's been very interesting in the last two or three years where Vincent and Tony with the Water Ski Broadcasting Company, they have that camera on you guys.
Mario Pigozzi 1:02:54
Yeah for us was a little bit... you have signs everywhere: Be careful. The microphone is working. For me it's natural to talk with the judges and everything. With the skier… I never say something bad so it’s okay. But you cannot scratch your nose or something like that because all the people are watching you. (laughs) It's okay.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:03:22
You never know when Vincent is gonna switch that camera on you.
Mario Pigozzi 1:03:25
We can maintain aplomb also driving
Matteo Luzzeri 1:03:30
So what's for 2020 for you? Any plans, traveling?
Mario Pigozzi 1:03:40
I can’t tell you. I don't know because I'm not going to drive a lot of tournaments like ‘19 because I want to spend a little bit more time with my family, with my kids. But I will be in Europe in the summer because Robert is running the European tour. And after I don't know. Because in the program there’s the Junior Worlds and I didn't apply, just because it's very nice and good to give opportunity to other drivers. And perhaps Senior Worlds because I know the place, I know the organizer. I really enjoy driving the Seniors, because I have no conflict, for once. I think that they enjoy that part - to be a team with the driver. They enjoy talking with you and everything. So, I really enjoy that. So perhaps I will be in Bordeaux for the Senior Worlds.
Matteo Luzzeri
Have you ever driven Senior Worlds?
Mario Pigozzi
Matteo Luzzeri
So you've driven all the Worlds?! Junior, U-21, Open, Senior?
Mario Pigozzi 1:04:53
Yeah, the only one (missing), the University Worlds. I’ve driven every single Worlds. I was in Chile, actually two years ago in the last Senior Worlds. And I was in Seseña - I was driving a lot. And perhaps most of the drivers, they are not happy about that. But I told you guys, it's not me that I want to apply, it's our region that they want to vote me and because of that.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:05:23
So maybe a little lighter schedule for you, more family time. Yeah, sure, it's understandable.
Mario Pigozzi 1:05:30
It’s not easy. Last year, I was traveling a lot. And I was traveling too much. And sometimes it's a little bit harder. I have a lot of clients here in my place, so I want to give them my time. Especially in the winter season.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:05:51
Makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. Well, Mario, this was a true pleasure, anything that we didn't touch on, something you wanted to say?
Mario Pigozzi 1:05:57
Come on, guys. Jump in a boat, start to drive and make your test and everything - we need you.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:06:05
We need drivers!
Mario Pigozzi 1:06:06
We need drivers. We need judges. We need people that really want to help the sport. And don't be scared if you have kids or parents or a brother or sister that skis. I think it's the only way that we can be close to that sport, because actually, we are not receiving money. We do it just for fun. And so we try to do the best we can do. And we need a lot of people helping us to maintain the sport at a good level.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:06:39
It's a good point. Yeah, it's a good point. Well, any young drivers or young wannabe drivers that you're listening to this, get your practice, do your test, and don't be scared. I can share a story with you. You know Sean Hunter, and his dad was not the highest driver, the one below. And one winter he said,”‘Okay guys, I want to become a senior driver.” Even the skiers have to be a little bit open minded and say, “Okay, let's do it.” And so the way he did it - luckily we had an end course camera. Turn it on, ski, 38off, 39off, however far, and then go back and watch. So it takes a bit of willingness from the skiers as well. Like, we need to help the drivers improve as well.
Mario Pigozzi 1:07:34
Yeah. Talking with us and talking, “Come on. We feel that, that, and that.” We are always connected with you. So we need to be connected with you guys. If not, it's very difficult to give you the best pull.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:07:55
Yeah. Well, fantastic. Mario, thanks a lot. What do you say we go for some dinner?
Mario Pigozzi 1:08:02
Thank you, Matteo for the opportunity. You are doing a lot for our sport. Thank you.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:08:09
Thanks a lot. See you soon.