Remembering skier Bill von Zabern


On Jan. 5, 2019, the Canyon Lake Ski Club, Wakeboard Club and ShowCal Skiers held their annual Polar Bear Day event on the main lake. This year happened to be a special event for many in attendance. This marked the 10th anniversary of the passing of Bill von Zabern, who passed away at this event on Jan. 3, 2009.

Bill’s morning run started off in grand fashion with a flying dock start and then barefooting up the lake. After barefooting, he switched to his hydrofoil. Bill was doing his normal routine with some flips and had just completed a wakeback roll when he suddenly collapsed into the water. Bill’s wife Karen quickly noticed the boat flagging them at the dock. Bill’s friend Kevin Thayer immediately drove Karen to the boat where Bill was.

Karen, a nurse, quickly realized Bill had no pulse and immediately started CPR. They continued CPR until the paramedics arrived. Bill was rushed to the hospital where he passed away the age of 42. According to Karen, Bill died of natural causes.

Have you ever noticed the giant letters at the parks around the community? The idea for these letters came about after Bill’s untimely death. Those letters are there to help the first responders find you in a timely manner. If you ever have an emergency in one of the Canyon Lake parks, be sure to refer the letter when dialing 911.

Bill was an active member of the Canyon Lake Club Ski Club as a competitor, performer, coach and judge. He was an accomplished barefoot skier and won several titles, including a National Overall Championship in the Men’s 2 at the 2000 US Barefoot Nationals. Shortly thereafter, Bill refocused his efforts into the sport of hydrofoiling. In 2004, Bill became the Flight Worlds Overall Champion. in the Masters division.

Bill’s real claim to fame came on Nov. 3, 2008. This would be the day that he would attempt to break a record for consecutive flips on a hydrofoil (air chair/sky ski as known by most) without stopping or falling. The number he was chasing was 1,416 set by Geno Yauchler. It was a 14-year-old world record that most thought would never be broken.

Bill did not wake up one morning and say he was going the break the record. He trained for that day for six long months. His first flip took place at 8:03 a.m. that November morning. From that point on, Bill continued to circle Canyon Lake on his quest to break the long-standing record. At 10:30 a.m., the record no longer belonged to Geno. It was now the hands of Canyon Lake’s Bill von Zabern.

Bill had no intention of stopping at that point. Five and a half hours into the journey Bill was still flipping and had not stopped or crashed. At this point, he has now done 2,832 flips consecutively, more than doubling the old mark. When he got thirsty, they had a chase boat that would pass water to him in a basket.

When it was said and done, Bill was on the hydrofoil for six hours and 30 minutes and completed 3,058 flips without crashing. Boat driver Mike Murphy rode 56 laps around Canyon Lake for a total of 160 miles at 24.9 miles per hour. When asked what he was going to do after completing 3,000 plus flips. He replied, “I am going to Halloween Haunt.”

Besides doing more than 3,000 consecutive flips, the endurance to be pulled behind a boat is astonishing. Bill was no stranger to endurance events as he also participated in marathons, triathlons and Iron Man events. He also once rode his bike across America to raise money for charity.

Bill is survived by his wife Karen, mother Evelyn, brothers Fred, Robert, James and Joe, and the many friends that loved him dearly.

A few months after Bill’s passing, Karen purchased a memorial plaque in his honor and had it installed near the ski pavilion on Vacation Drive. Karen also proudly donated the clickers her late husband used in setting the 2009 hydrofoil world record to the Water Ski Hall of Fame and Museum in Polk City, Florida.

After his passing, the US Hydrofoil Association honored Bill with “That’s Incredible Award” for the world record he broke on Nov. 3, 2008. Karen accepted the award on his behalf.

RIP Bill, may your days be filled with many wonderful memories and a smooth lake.


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