WINTER PARK — Race veterans Jacqui Thomas and Chris Acosta are regulars at cleaning up at the Spring Splash. Thomas has three victories behind her in the women’s ski division, while Acosta has lost track of how many times he’s won the men’s ski race (“I just kind of go for it, then usually I’ll get a pretty good paycheck by the end,” he joked). This year, Winter Park Resort will be giving away up to $3,500 in cash prizes for first, second and third place finishers in both men and women’s ski and snowboarding categories, for 12 winners total. For those hoping to have some fun and pick up a little extra cash, both Thomas and Acosta were generous enough to offer their insider insights, tips on the art of pond skimming, as well as their thoughts on the iconic event’s costume culture.
How long have you participated at the Spring Splash?
Thomas: Since 2010, but I missed 2012.
Acosta: I guess since I was old enough, which I think is 18, so five or six years.
What’s the best costume you’ve ever seen there?
Thomas: That’s though. My friend dressed up as a NASTAR racer and had all the pins.
Acosta: This girl was totally blue, like a big Smurf. Jacqui was a huge Smurf, too. I think they made it a pair.
What are you planning on wearing this year?
Thomas: I’ll maybe be a hula girl, with a hula dress, a funny hat and some leis, depending on the weather. Hopefully I don’t get wet.
Acosta: Probably just a swimming suit and a tank top.
What makes a good Spring Splash outfit? Is there a fine line between flair and freedom of movement?
Thomas: Yeah, you definitely don’t want something that’s going to catch in the bamboo forest. It should be something that’s not going to fall off or get caught, so you don’t expose yourself to the crowd. There was a guy who just wore a banana hammock once, and that was a bit much. But he definitely rocked it. My first year, my friend and I wore bathing suits and were Smurf One and Smurf Two. Generally, people wear colorful leggings, fun hats, bight clothing, whatever.
Acosta: Oh, definitely. If you wear a massive sumo wrestling blow-up costume you’re not going to be very fast. If the weather’s nice, it’s probably skin to win.
What’s the obstacle course like? Do they change it up every year or could you do it with your eyes closed at this point?
Thomas: The past three year’s I’ve done it, it has been relatively the same. You start off backwards, they push you out through the starting gate. Then they send you through a bamboo forest, and a lot of people get caught up in that. Some people lose skis and clothing. Then they have a big turn to the whoopdeedoos with netting that you have to duck under. You have to pump to get some speed, then sometimes they have another little feature before the runoff to the splash. They used to let you guess your time, and whoever got the closest won a prize as well. It doesn’t take that long. People would guess two minutes, but it’s less than a minute for pretty much everyone. I usually get 28 seconds.
Acosta: It’s typically the same. You start backward, hop around and do a 180, go thorough the bamboo forest, then my favorite part is the whoopdeedoos. You’re going up and down, and you’re pumping and trying to get speed through it. Then there’s a bank turn and ski as hard as you can to the finish.
What are your tips for a flawless pond skim?
Thomas: Keep your tips above the water, don’t lean back too much or lean forward. It’s like landing on snow. Or if you’ve been wakeboarding and you’re trying to clear the wake, it’s very similar. Get your center of balance and keep the tips up.
Acosta: Don’t lean back and don’t lean too far forward. Speed is key. The faster you can go in, the better your probability to come out dry.
How often do racers actually stick the pond skim instead of wiping out?
Thomas: I’d say 10 percent stick it. I’m not good at guessing that, because I’m on the race course for part of it. I haven’t been able to watch the whole thing start to finish.
Acosta: Most people just wipe out, to be honest with you. When someone does make it across the pond, the crowd goes wild. It’s a lot of fun to hear, even when you’re up racing.
How can race hopefuls train beforehand?
Thomas: It definitely takes agility, you have to keep pumping and skating to gain speed. It’s really fun, and I think everyone should try it once.
Acosta: Well, you can visualize it from the previous season. A lot of it is just inspecting the course and figuring out where you can gain speed. Imagery, you can call it.
Any other tips for first-time racers?
Thomas: Don’t take it too seriously and have fun.
Acosta: To get through the bamboo forest, look for the opening. Ninja your way through them. That’s the trickiest part. It seems like most everyone falls through the bamboo forest.