THE WATER SKIER, THE DICTATOR AND THE POP STAR
What once was my favorite story from my career as a professional water skier has little to do with waterskiing. It was my favorite story, in part, because it did not make any sense. The event was a complete mystery to me, those who experienced it with me and everyone to whom I told the story. What happened could well be described as a Forrest Gump-type moment; an unwitting chance-encounter with a historical figure.
In June of 2013, along with a small international group of athletes – water skiers, jet skiers, and flyboarders – I traveled to Awaza; a beach resort town on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. It was here that we met Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. He is known by the people in his country as the “backbone of the nation,” the “leader of the fair state,” the “dear son of the Turkman people” or simply as “the president.” But for those who do not fear him, he is known as the totalitarian dictator of Turkmenistan.
This story will try and make sense of this bizarre set of circumstances that landed me face to face with the dictator and Jennifer Lopez. The three of us come from opposite sides of the globe, but this geographical distance does not seem far enough to account for how estranges our worlds are from one another.
Perhaps the only similarity between Turkmenistan and the waterskiing world is their eccentricity, and despite this eccentricity, both have, few exceptions, stayed out of the mainstream media spotlight and remain mysterious to most.
Lopez, on the other hand, lives at the centre of the mainstream spotlight. As one of the most famous faces of the last couple decades, everything from her music to her films and her personal life is on public display, save but one thing: her dealing with some of the vilest dictators and crooks on the planet. Lopez is not the only famous musician to be lured by millions of ill-gotten dollars. However, this part of the music industry operates primarily in secret.
This story will lift the veil on these three worlds, track their histories and explain how they came to collide on a beach in Central Asia.
Although this is the story of a bizarre waterski show and concert and how it happened, it is also a commentary on the strange relationship the western world has with isolated dictatorships and its moral indifference.
Intended impact of the story:
There are several ways I hope this story will impact the audience. Firstly, it is an adventure story. The foundation of this story that sets up all the other elements is this strange and exciting trip to an unknown country by a small group of waterskiers. The story will create an element of suspense and intrigue that draws the reader in.
Secondly, it is a history story about three unexplored worlds – Berdymukhammedov’s (Turkmenistan), Lopez’s (music industry that deals with dictators) and mine (waterskiing) – and how they came to meet in June of 2013. This story will provide the reader with an education in these three topics which are rarely written about.
Lastly, this story is about the end of innocence. This story will be about the shattering of my own naivety to the evils and injustices of authoritarianism, and in the process, challenge the audience to question why we are so complacent to this injustice.
My aim is to make the story exciting, educational, and leave the reader a little bit uncomfortable.
Although the events of this story take place back in 2013, the stories major theme of authoritarianism is more relevant and significant today. Back in 2013, liberal democracy had appeared to be on the rise for several decades and was accelerating with the beginning of the Arab Spring. However, lingering conflicts in the area have led some say we are now in the Arab Winter. Not only in the Middle East has liberal democracy seen a reversal of fortunes, but all over the world, there has been a surprising revival of authoritarian leadership. This includes several European nations who have seen the rise of nationalism – and also in the United States with the election of Donald Trump. Some historian worry that this trend is the result of this generation of people growing up never experiencing or seeing the horrors of authoritarianism as the previous generation had in World War II. It is important as a journalist to expose the evils of authoritarianism and remind a younger generation of its perils. To accomplish this, my story will draw parallels between Berdymukhammedov’s regime and the Third Reich and reference the works of George Orwell and Hannah Arendt.
- Open in the change room in Awaza, Turkmenistan
- The ski team is preparing for the show and looks out the window at the special guest that the show is for
- A long precession on cars arrives, the last being a black Porsche Cayenne with gold trim, which pulls up in front of a long green carpet that one person may walk upon
- Withhold identity to increase suspense
- Should capture the major
themes of the story:
- The collision of these estranged worlds
- The western worlds moral indifference to the existence of authoritarian regimes
Three scenes from spring 2013 in the lead up to the event:
- I am preparing for what would be a busy waterskiing season in Muskoka when I receive a phone call from Australia offering me a contract to ski a show in a country I had never heard of
- Jennifer Lopez receives the amfAR’s
Humanitarian Award at a fancy ceremony in New York City just weeks prior to
flying in a private jet to Turkmenistan
- Describe the ballroom, the stage and her dress
- Quote from her speech: “When we all come together, we can change the world. Thank you.”
- Turkman government officials nervously preparing
for the dictators 57th birthday celebration
- Explain the danger and fear they must have of the spontaneous political purges through arbitrary arrests for “political corruption.”
- The government official discussing what to get this eccentric dictator that will curry his favour
Three history sections:
- The first waterskier, Ralph Samuelson, amazing his neighbours after carving a couple of wood boards into skis and fashioning a toe rope from a clothesline and iron ring.
- The first water ski shows in Cyprus Gardens
- Raise of international popularity
- Modern-day water stunt show and the new technology
- Beginning of her career
- International popularity
- Status as one of the world biggest stars and the attention it garners
- History of her accepting contract to preform for seedy individuals
Turkmenistan and Berdymukhammedov:
- Description of the Turkmenistan that Berdymukhammedov was born into in 1957 that was controlled by communist Russia
- Khrushchev’s new policies different from Stalin’s
- Collapse of the Soviet Union
- Formation of the Turkman state, and the power seizure by the Turkman Communist Party and Turkmenbashi
- Turkmenbashi establishment of an isolated totalitarian
- Oppressive laws
- Personality cult (description of his golden statue that rotates to always face the sun)
- Corrupt elections
- Continuation of a soviet power model
- Political purges, arbitrary arrests and murders
- Death of Turkmenbashi and raise of his dentist Berdymukhammedov
to power (only head of state in the world who is a dentist)
- continuation of the authoritarian state and personality cult
- Segway to Berdymukhammedov 57th birthday celebration
Scenes from the event:
- Flight from Istanbul to Awaza airport. (Description of the portrait of the dictator)
- Spotless and empty brand-new airport
- The bus ride through the desert. (Description of workers covered from head to toe so that only a slit for their eyes exposed sweeping away every last grain of sand on the spotless highway)
- Description of the empty Awaza beach town report
- Extreme security measures
Waterski show practice:
- The viewing area fit for a Roman emperor
- The scuba divers scoping for bombs
- The skiing itself
- Meeting Casper Smart and inviting him to go wakeboarding
Return back and pick up the opening scene of Berdymukhammedov arrival
- Waking down the carpet
- Sitting in the viewing area
The water ski show:
- Everything directed towards and preformed for just one person: the dictator
- Riding in the boat, talking with the skiers, ect.
- Quotes from the skiers about Lopez
The trip home:
- Unaccounted for plane bookings
- Suspicions airport security
- Man trying to jump out of the airplane
- Lucky to be able to leave Turkmenistan when so many are trapped there and unaware of the outside world
- Wondering who those faceless people sweeping of the highway were
The MRP will also include a multimedia website with:
- Introductory video that combines footage from waterskiing, Jennifer Lopez, music industry, and Turkmenistan
- Short biographies from the principal characters in the story
- Photographs from the event
Peyrouse, S. (2012). Turkmenistan: strategies of power, dilemmas of development. New York, NY: M.E. Sharp, Inc.
Turkmenistan’s foreign policy: positive neutrality and the consolidation of the Turkmen regime. New York, NY: Routledge.
USA Water Ski Foundation website. www.usa-wwf.org
Dickinson, J. (2015). Famed Cypress Gardens founder made his own splash on skis. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/os-flashback-0802-20150802-story.html