Lutz water-skier, 16, describes the jumper's mentality: 'Closest thing to flying'

As long as he's been able to stand up, Lutz native Connor Pauley has been standing up on water skis.

"My grandfather had a boat, and he was into [skiing]," Pauley said. "As soon as I was able to walk, he threw me on some skis and we started going out there, and we were just carving it up!"

Pauley, 16, is no joke on the water. Having already set a state record in slalom, he recently qualified for the Masters Callaway Gardens Tour with a new personal-best jump of 152 feet.

"It's the hardest tournament [there is]," Pauley said. "This is a step above the Olympics."

What does it take to be a great ski-jumper? Balance, coordination, and athleticism help, but the willingness to take flight is paramount.

"It's the closest thing you get to flying," Pauley described. "When you get your skis underneath you, and you're getting that lift from the air, your skies are your wings at that point."

Approaching a ramp at 50 miles per hour that will send you beyond half the length of a football field isn't for the faint of heart.

"There's nothing else that compares to it," Pauley continued. "You're putting Gs on your body that nothing else gives you. I don't even like going to amusement parks anymore because it just doesn't do anything for that."

That's how the jumping community is: Achieving personal bests and pushing the limits.

"Whenever we get a [personal best] you're super excited for the first day. After that you want to go break it again," Pauley said. "It's almost like an addiction. We just want to go out there and just see how far we can go."