Chug, chug, vrooooom!
The engine caught and the boat began pulling away from the dock. The chilly morning air already caused a ripple of goosebumps across my exposed skin. I tightened my grip on my towel, using it as a shield from the wind since my bikini provided little protection. The uncontrollable shaking and teeth chattering already plagued me despite the fact that I was not even wet yet.
It was my turn to go first. I dutifully stripped my towel and sunglasses, trading them for a life jacket still damp from the day before. All heat left my core as the last buckle clicked into place.
I took a deep breath – as deep as my jacket would allow – and jumped into the lake.
I gasped as the icy water took my breath away. Entire body convulsing, I finally gained the control to reach out and secure the skis the boat driver had tossed after me. Last came the rope, which splashed down just to my left.
“Ready?” He asked.
All I could do was nod and stare at my white knuckles wondering why I thought it was worth it to suffer such cold. The boat lurched forward, dragging me out of the water. Strong, yet relaxed, my legs found the reclined chair pose and I giggled. The wind, dotted with lake mist, rushed past me. I watched the world fly by – peaceful in my own bubble – until the boat turned. I attempted to follow in the boat’s path, but hit the wake and went sprawling off to the right.
Feet back on the familiar wood dock, I promptly followed in the tradition of making myself a cup of hot chocolate despite it being the last week of July on West Lake, Okoboji, Iowa. I settled my cheek against the warm foam cup and listened to the comforting gulg of the waves lapping under the dock. I watched the last fishing boats float along as the first sailboats and speedboats began to take over. By the afternoon, the pontoons and larger boats full of music and laughter speckled the lake’s surface.
Fillenwarth Beach Resort has become somewhat of a summer home for my family. Each morning begins bright and early with waterskiing at 8:00 a.m. We take turns watching brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins from beginners to pros as we sip our hot chocolate on the dock.
From there, we split off. Some for arts and crafts, others for a canoe ride or game of ping pong. There is almost always someone sunbathing, reading, or floating along with the waves just off the main dock. And as the day progresses, family members pass each other in the clubhouse, along the docks, and on boat rides.
Boat rides include: history cruises, views of some of the most expensive lakefront properties, sailboat rides, and family cruises.
But whatever the day brings, we all meet up again for the iconic Fillenwarth sunset. Sitting in a line of rocking chairs above the main dock, we watch the last of the boats chase the vibrant oranges and reds as they fade below the horizon.
While it offers entertainment and relaxation for the wide range of ages and interests of our extended family (managing to keep everyone content), it is not so much the place that we fell in love with, but the people. The Fillenwarth family treats the entire resort as their home and each visitor as their personal house guest.
Fan-favorites like Lynn Fillenwarth and her dog, Stella, can be seen walking around the main dock and through Cottage Colony, mingling with resort guests. And Greg Drees leads history cruises that reveal how the local Okoboji area has developed, including stories of some of its most notorious figures.
Everyone at the resort, from the servers to office workers, have incredible stories to share. Strike up a conversation with the boat driver and you might find out that people like Tom Hanks and Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis have looked at property around the lake. Your ski boat driver might give you some tips on how to improve your technique – or you might just end up discussing the merits of Steve Irwin.
In the end, Fillenwarth really is family tradition. Family tradition that has lasted over 100 years and brought many of the same families (including mine) back year after year. I can only hope to see the traditions last 100 more.