By Kris Leonhardt
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Steve Hahner has been around water his entire life. Since birth, his existence has been woven around a relationship with water.
“I grew up across the street from the Water & Light, way before it was as big as it is now,” said Hahner.
Growing up in Wisconsin Rapids in a simpler time, gave Hahner ample opportunity to become familiar with the lakes and rivers in the area, and it wasn’t long before he was gaining some skill on water skis.
“The Aqua Skiers broke away from the Boat Club,” Hahner recalled, who was just nine at the time. “When they broke away, they skied that first year, and then they needed to (recruit) people. My brother was skiing with them – my brother, John; I was the youngest of four boys, and he was the second oldest. He was elected vice president, and they went out recruiting people in high school – that was a common way back in those days and they still do it, in fact.
“I think he was going down to the YMCA, because they were going to meet down there with the different high schools in the area and have a sign-up day. I had learned to water ski two years before that, behind my brother’s boat, and my mother asked him as he was going out the door, ‘How old do you have to be to get in the Aqua Skiers?’ John said, ‘I don’t know.’ Well, she said, ‘Take Steve along.’”
Hahner was turning 10 that summer that he joined the Aqua Skiers, and he held tight to it until he was called to the Navy.
Hahner’s service in the Navy placed him right back on the water, working on a submarine tender in Guam.
“I dove just about every day,” he recalled.
After four years in the service, he returned home and right back to the Aqua Skiers.
“I skied with them until I went into the service,” said Hahner. “Then, I went back with them when I got out of the service. The boat driver retired, so I became the boat driver. Then, we started having a family… and I had started doing water ski tournaments as an official. There was a conflict of interest rule, and you couldn’t be in a ski club, and they started enforcing it about that time – about 77-78.
“So, I dropped out of the club.”
Hahner then began a long career as a safety official. He watched as the sport developed from basic water skiing to a finely-tuned competitive sport with a complex system in place for performance safety.
From a three-event competitor to his work as Chief Safety Director, Hahner has been a staple of Rapids water-skiing since 1959.
Spending countless hours with the sport recently earned him a spot on the 2018 Wisconsin Water Ski Federation Hall of Fame.
Hahner has also earned the USA Water Ski Foundation Lifetime Achievement award.