What’s life without a little risk? “Banana” George Blair would have said, “Absolutely nothing.”
Blair lived an unconventional life. He was a pioneer in barefoot water-skiing, who entertained large crowds on the water in his customary all-yellow swimwear well into his 90s.
Blair passed away in 2013 at the age of 98, but his passion for the sport kept him young, healthy and full of vigor.
He’s a Water-ski hall of famer, who is the only person to have skiied on all seven continents. But, his vitality extended off the water, too.
“He skied on a hydrafoil at 48 and flew solo at 53. At 68, he rode a camel, at 75 he snowboarded,” his obituary read. “He drove a race car at 81. At 83, he sky dived and surfed. At 85, he rode a bull. In his 90s, having suffered more than five broken vertebrae in 50 years, he continued to ski using a training boom or harness to hold his frail body above the water.”
With all of the adventures and accomplishments also came a few beautiful crashes. Perhaps the one that stands out the most is in some wonderful footage from Growing Bolder.
Blair called the optimistic aging media group when he was 93 to let them know that after a year of being bedridden with a severe case of pneumonia, he would be taking to the water again. Yes, he was in pain from a lifetime of back surgeries and a broken neck, but he was bound and determined to “battle back” and ski again.
“I can’t stop him. Nobody can stop him,” his wife, JoAnne Blair, said. “Believe me. I tried 10 years ago.”
With assistance getting to the water and in a harness, he was given one shot, against doctors’ orders, to get up on his feet.
As the boat picked up speed, Blair’s feet were skimming across the water, but his weak wrists gave out, and he spun out of the harness and into the water.
Blair gave a thumbs up and a big smile from the water, realizing that his feet, once again, hit speeds no other 93-year-old could take on.
Have a look at this memorable day, and as it turns out, the only footage documenting his last time water-skiing.
Blair began water-skiing at 40, as a way to recuperate from a spinal fusion, of all things.
According to a 1992 article in the St. Petersburg Times, Blair needed the surgery after he was thrown out of a moving car in an argument over beans during the Great Depression. His doctor urged him to recover from surgery where the water was warm, so he moved to Florida.
Lodged in a hotel near a water skiing school, Blair watched the skiers daily. One day the instructor approached him and asked if he’d like to give it a try. At first, Blair didn’t think it was possible.
“I was in a steel (back) brace that went from my armpits to my waist,” Blair said, “and it was covered in leather.”
The instructor encouraged him to try, so Blair, using a training boom attached to the boat, skied for the first time. He was 40.
“I was so happy to do something athletic,” Blair said. “It was like I was born again.”
At 46, he learned how to barefoot, and went on to perform in water circus shows in New York, New Jersey and Florida. He could even ski with a tow rope in between his teeth.
Blair passed away at his home in New York City with his wife, JoAnne, by his side. As impressive as his skiing skills were, even more monumental was the family he created as a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.
You might say his life wasn’t just a flash of yellow on the water. It was a flash of brilliance.