You read that correctly—only we're talking about water skis, and the closest body of water has probably never seen a (legal) water-ski run. (Anyone foolhardy>"/>
You read that correctly—only we're talking about water skis, and the closest body of water has probably never seen a (legal) water-ski run. (Anyone foolhardy enough to do so would require a detox shower out of Silkwood.) Yet this is where Wiley's Water Ski Pro Shop has been located for some 40 years: right in the heart of South Park, basically ignored by the neighbors. Which is just fine with founder Paul Wiley, who still works in the shop now owned and run by his son, Darren.
Wiley grew the thriving business out of his West Seattle basement, manufacturing beautiful, custom wood skis from ash, mahogany, and zebrawood—the sort of premium rain-forest stuff only seen today on guitars and high-end kitchen cabinets. During the '60s, with baby boomers and Boeing engineers able to afford waterfront homes on a single paycheck, Wiley and ski makers like Connelly and O'Brien made Seattle a thriving center of handmade slalom boards.
But today, says Wiley, "If you have a wood ski now, it's like an antique car." (Samples of that era cover the ceiling like a museum—literally hundreds of wonderful old skis with names like "Glide-O," guaranteed to induce nostalgia for water-skiers of a certain age.) He recalls recently selling some vintage woodies to a customer who wanted to match his wooden powerboat. Fiberglass and Chinese imports changed the industry, and Wiley's is the boom's last—and probably largest—family-owned survivor in the nation. "We're one of the biggest in the world," he notes proudly.
With garage doors rolled open to the parking lot and a puppy leashed in front to greet customers, the funky, friendly retailer sells wet suits, ropes, life jackets, and custom-fit skis with plastic-and-neoprene bindings. "That's kind of an art that no one else has," says Wiley, demonstrating how various grades of binding material stretch and shape to a water-skier's specifications. Indeed, the die-stamping machines in back resemble nothing so much as a custom boot-maker's shop. As any jock will tell you, it all starts from the feet.
Son Darren helped pioneer wakeboarding in the '80s, and now kiteboarding has been added to the shop's mix. (Wiley's sells plenty of flip-flops, T-shirts, and sunglasses, too.) And though Wiley is now 65 and semiretired, the advent of fatter skis has made the water newly inviting for other aging boomers: "It brought a whole lot of guys back into the sport." &mdash Brian Miller — 1417 S. Trenton St., 762-1300, www.wileyski.com.