By: Nicole Esplin
WATER SKIING WONDER APRIL COBLE-ELLER CONTINUES DREAM AS PROFESSIONAL SKIER AND CAMP OWNER IN LILLINGTON, NC
April Coble-Eller first glided across the water on a pair of skis as a 3-year-old encouraged by her dad’s love for the sport and the thrill of being pulled through the water.
Thirty-four years later, Coble-Eller was just minutes away from skiing her most memorable pass on the slalom course at the 2010 Malibu Open against a former student, who was the world-record holder.
“It was a night event, a head-to-head final competition,” Coble-Eller said. “We had so much fun until the last pass, the money pass. I went into this fighting mode. She made a comment at the end of the lake and said she couldn’t see very well. I thought ‘well that’s good, because I can.’”
It had been thirteen years since Coble-Eller had last won a professional water skiing event at age 24. “I wondered if I could win anymore,” she said.
Coble-Eller went on to win that night’s event, and add one more victory to her accomplishments as a water skier, which include 28 national titles, a world championship title and member of the US Ski Team.
“Nothing mattered that night except winning-I was in the zone. It was awesome.”
That last big win was two years ago. Now, as a 39-year-old skier living in Lillington, NC, Coble-Eller runs a water ski and wake board camp with her family. Her father started the camp when she was a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Coble-Eller’s father Gary Coble taught April and her sister Valerie Coble to ski when they were toddlers. Before April laced up her tennis shoes for her first day of kindergarten, she was skiing and competing. “Waterskiing has been in our family longer than I can remember,” she said.
Coble-Eller won her first national competition at 12 years old and turned professional at 17 years old. She started on the world tour 21 years ago, when she was 18 years old, and has been competing in international tournaments since.
Growing up, Coble-Eller practiced on a small lake in the town of Angier, NC.
“I skied on a pond. There were 25 club members, and we fought for ski time,” Coble-Eller said.
When the pond closed down, Gary Coble began looking for lakes for Coble-Eller to practice on. When he heard of an old rock quarry with multiple lakes for sale, he was hesitant at first.
“I was looking for a lake that I could buy or rent for a long, long time and I looked at literally hundreds and hundreds of lakes, but they were all too short,” Coble said. “I had almost given up, but we lost the lake in Angier, so I was really looking hard. I was a high school football coach, and one boy who played for me, a high school quarterback asked if I had been over to this property.
“I came over here and they had growth coming up, about 15 feet high. I actually had to cut my way in to see the first lake,” Coble said. “When I saw the first lake, I said, ‘man if I could just get a spot there, we could train there.’”
Coble took his wife Shirley to see the property, and the couple ended up renting an airplane to get a better look at the property. When the Cobles saw the ten lakes expanding across the rural Lillington backdrop, they decided to buy the property.
“We had to start doing something very quickly to generate income, so we started teaching people how to ski. That was in ’95,” Coble-Eller said. “Back then, I still didn’t know if I wanted to run a business. I didn’t go to business school; I didn’t know the first thing about running a business.”
Now, a full-time co owner of Coble Ski School, Coble-Eller is a natural at the work she does, both on and off the lake.
“April is geared a lot like me. She can work long hours, and it takes a lot of long hours here,” Gary Coble said. “They say it is typical of a football coach not to have any boys, and I had two girls, but April can drive a nail just like a boy can. She helped me build most everything here. We built it all.”
With 10 lakes in her back yard, multiple world-championship certified Mastercraft ski boats and a husband ranked top in the world in tournament boat driving, April has no need to fight for ski time.
April and her husband Chris Eller met at UNC on the ski team, and married in 2000. Eller was the captain of UNC’s ski team for 3 years, and after college was ranked nationally in his age division and has skied professionally in the Moomba Masters in Australia.
“We started dating in ’97 and I started working at the camp in ’98-’99 full time. Basically when I first started working there I was like every other instructor. I cut grass, drove the boat, and coached,” Eller said. “The first summer after I graduated I worked at a pharmaceutical company in Durham while still skiing. I would ski in the morning before I went to work, and ski in the afternoon when I got home.”
When business picked up at the Ski School, Coble’s father asked Eller to work full-time at the school, where he still works as Coble’s business partner.
“There’s not always something that you have to do every day but there is probably something that needs to be done,” Eller said. “At one point I may be a mechanic on a boat, and a couple hours later I may have to go do plumbing. Its pretty cool that I’m not doing the same thing every day. We’re sales people at boat shows and resort owners during the summer.”
World Wide Fame
Lillington is a small town in North Carolina, but champion water skiers around the world do not picture barbeque fests, Bible belt values and Campbell University when they think of this rural eastern NC town.
More likely, they will enter a daydream filled with a world-class water ski boat cutting through the surface of an aqua-marine lake.
The Cobles welcome skiers from all over the world at their ski school. In one afternoon, April coached, gave advice to an Australian man looking to start his own water ski park in Australia and received a complimentary hair cut from a student who owns his own hair salon in Time Square in New York City.
Due to North Carolina’s mild temperatures during the spring and fall, Australians and New Zealanders will travel to Coble Ski School for six months, from April to September, to work at Coble Ski School and train with Coble-Eller.
“I’ve been trying to get as much time with April as I can,” Katrina Pollard, a skier and camp instructor from New Zealand, said. “Just so I can learn from everything she knows. Really down-to-earth person, she’s good. You couldn’t ask for any better, really.”
Alpine skiers have been drawn to the camp too, including Olivee Bourdough from British Columbia.
“I alpine ski in the winter, and my friends started waterskiing to supplement,” Bourdough said. “They said you have to come try Coble Ski School.”
Coble-Eller has taught people from 2 years old to 92 years old to ski, including some of her peer competitors.
The most rewarding part of teaching people to ski is “watching people at any age gain self-confidence through the sport of waterskiing,” Coble-Eller said.
Throughout the course of the day, Coble-Eller and her instructors will coach all levels of skiers, from beginners who are learning to stand up on two skis to veterans, who have been skiing and competing for many years.
“I’ve been waterskiing for over 50 years,” student Jeff French said. “She gave me a couple pointers that I can’t wait to try this summer.”
“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” Coble-Eller said. “When you accomplish something you’ve never done, it’s breathtaking. Priceless.”
Looking to the future
Now, as a mother with two kids, 8-year-old Kamryn and 5-year-old Landice, Coble-Eller is still ranked top 5 in the world and competing at the Masters level.
April Coble-Eller practices by listening to her own words of advice she gives to others trying to accomplish their dreams.
“Be serious, every time you go out to practice,” she said. “Train like you are in a tournament every day.”