BRAINERD, Minn. — Chris Dens celebrated his sixth wedding anniversary by breaking a world record.
On Sunday, July 12, Dens water skied around Hartley Lake on 11-foot-tall stilts, unofficially breaking the previous world record of 10 1/2 feet set by Glen Sperry.
“It's an amazing feeling,” Dens said of being 11 feet high water skiing. “Just exhilaration. It’s an exciting moment. There was quite a high.”
Dens, 30, works at Cosmetic and Family Dentistry in Baxter and also is a founding member and president of the Brainerd Ski Loons team.
Dens was a part of the Twin Cities River Rats while he went to dental school at the University of Minnesota. He married his wife Mandy in 2014, and moved to the Brainerd lakes area to be a dentist and start the Brainerd Ski Loons team along with Jim Larson.
“I grew up in Brainerd doing some of the water sports,” Dens said. “When I was stuck in the Cities for the summer, I realized I needed to get on the water and be on a lake. One of my dental school classmates had been a part of a three-event water skiing team and told me to join the U of M team.”
The University of Minnesota ski team partnered with the Twin Cities River Rats to borrow the boats and that’s what introduced him to show skiing.
“I’d never heard of show skiing,” Dens said. “I went and checked it out and they were doing all this crazy stuff I had never heard of. It was just a fun group of people. Good families and I made a lot of friends.”
What made him want to try for the world record of 11 feet was when he came across a video of Sperry skiing on 8-foot stilts.
“I saw a video of him doing that and I thought, ‘Oh that looks so cool, I want to do that,’” Dens said.
The next step for Dens was learning how to make stilts. He posted on Facebook that he wanted help in his new goal and it was Sperry who reached out to try and help.
“He called me up actually to give me some tips and tricks,” Dens said.
The first stilts Dens made were 3 1/2 feet high. Next he made some 6 1/2 feet high. Finally, he decided to jump all the way to 11 feet to see if he could break the record.
“It’s every kid's dream to break a world record,” Dens said. “Whatever it might be. It just seems like this was right up my alley and I looked at it and thought, ‘I could do that.’”
Dens noticed a big difference when he went from 3 1/2 feet to 6 1/2 feet.
“The first time I went up on the 6 1/2 feet stilts I was like, ‘This is so tall,’” Dens said.
Another reason for trying to ski on stilts is to incorporate it into the shows for the Brainerd Ski Loons.
The Ski Loons canceled all their shows for 2020 because of COVID-19, but he hopes next summer to entertain people with stilt rides.
Dens estimated it took about 20 tries to finally get up on the high stilts. When he fails, it takes about four minutes to get the stilts built back up again to try another attempt.
“I don’t have to rebuild the whole thing. It just depends on which of the safety mechanisms give out first,” Dens said.
Once he made it up, he took one trip around the lake no problem. He thinks he could go a few feet higher.
“I think I could maybe go higher one day,” Dens said. “It’s pretty finicky at the start. Once you are up, smooth sailing, but to start everything has to be right — the rope, the skis, the boat driver — a lot of it is the boat driver just dialing it in.
“It was a lot of tweaking in the mechanics. Using a pylon, using a longer rope, what height do we set it at. The stilt skis are designed with safety features in mind so when you fall you don’t break a leg.”
Dens built the stilts in the garage of his home. He used the advice he got from Sperry on the phone to guide him to build stilts that would get the job done.
Although Sperry’s record of 10 1/2 feet was well established in the water skiing community as the record before Dens broke it, it’s still unofficial. Dens submitted an application to Guinness to hopefully make it official.
“It takes three months to process it,” Dens said. “So once I get the approval from them, I’ll probably do it again and make it official, but right now it’s official as it can be without being Guinness.”